Following staggering and traumatizing recent eventsGeorge Floyd, COVID-19, voter suppression, storming of the Capitol, #StopAsianHate, abortion bans, the war in Ukraine, Will Smith at the Oscarscombined with the avalanche of microplastics, landfills, deforestation, billionaires in space, mass species extinction, and industrial agriculture, it seems to me that the destruction of freedom goes hand in hand with the destruction of nature. In 2022, it feels like all the earth, democracy, and wildness itself is endangered.
In 2015/2016, JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike, now-head of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, and I started a conversation about extracting earth from the site of Malcolm Xs birth home. Its seventeen acres of prairie and wetland; nature and life found a way around this neighborhood that once had a healthy Black community. We came up with the idea of a decompression space that acts as a greenhouse for seedlings to be transferred to the Shabazz Gardens, but also a space for spiritual reflection within a green zone.
When the word wild shows up, it is typically being employed to suggest, of its unwitting subject, the absence of order, planning, care, or thought. When applying it to you, the speaker means to proclaim that your emotions are running hot, youre out of control, your hair is flying, you dont know the rules. It imposes a judgment of impropriety. It says that you cant be trusted.
In 2021, while being interviewed for a story in Art in America, the writer mentioned a paper by Jane Gallop entitled The Ethics of Reading: Close Encounters (2000). After the interview, I printed the essay from my home Xerox machine and set it aside. A few days later, while going through my weekly readings, I noticed a smashed bug! It seems that it crawled into my printer and became part of the text itself. A new composition emerged: a smashed bug whose expelled bits and wildly distributed printer toner obscure the original text. With this highly textured new text, we are reminded that a text is never finished. The substrate, the paper, can hold annotations, emendations, evolving textures, and glitches.
Art imitates life, though today a lot is the other way around. You always pushed the boundaries much before I did. You had vision and got us to relocate to the wild East Village in the eighties where crime and drugs made rents cheap and artists came in droves to a neighborhood that looked like a bombed-out Berlin after the war and performance clubs sprung up, operating with no licenses or city permits.
Viva Ruiz and I are both artists who have made work about abortiona form of healthcare increasingly criminalized and rendered inaccessible in the US, and a social justice issue underrepresented in the art world. I spoke with Ruiz about freedom, abortion, and their ongoing project Thank God for Abortion (2015present), which celebrates agency, the people who need an abortion, and the people who provide that care.
There is that school of world travel that poo-poos traditional tourism. It lampoons camera-happy tourists as grifter anthropologists. It insists that to truly travel, you must forgo colonial comforts and live like a local.
The artist is the star soloist of the performance, and any arts worker who works in an artist studiowhatever position they holdmust understand that the crux of their job is to give the artist an environment at center stage to be free and creative. There is a certain intangible origin of the imagination from which ideas emerge and crystallize into artistic production. Such a birthing process requires the artist to harness the possibility for expression, free of constraint or limitation, and, in doing so, perhaps tap into a pure, unadulterated version of themselves.
I want to consider art as a public service. Wildness in art is about art being supported as a part of the fundamental way society functions. Especially considering its major role in honing our current perspectives and our sense of visual memory. For art to arise naturally in public and shared spaces, organically and practically it would simply require a philosophical shift encouraging us to find ways to support and engage with art through a variety of simple approaches.