0:10DYER: Great. Good evening, everyone, welcome to Tate Modern. My name is Sonya Dyer and
0:15I’m one of a team of Public Programs curators working across the Tate and it gives me great
0:20pleasure to present tonight’s event, which is the 6th in the American Artist Lecture
0:24series, featuring Glenn Ligon. Previous discussions in this series have featured Brice Marden,
0:31Maya Lin, Richard Tuttle, Spencer Finch and Julie Mehretu. The series is a collaboration
0:37between Art in Embassies, the U.S. Embassy in London and Tate and it seeks to bring the
0:43greatest living modern artists, American artists, to the U.K.
0:49Before we begin, just a few acknowledgements to thank the people who made tonight possible.
0:53Firstly we would like to thank Matthew Barzun, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom,
0:58and his wife Brooke Barzun. Thanks to Virginia Shore, Chief Curator at the U.S. Department
1:04of State, Office of Art in Embassies. And to curator Welmoed Laanstra, from Art in Embassies.
1:10The series was initiated by Marjorie Susman, the wife of the former U.S. Ambassador to
1:15the U.K., Louis B. Susman. Now I’m sure we are all familiar with Glenn
1:21Ligon’s work. He’s one of America’s leading contemporary artists, perhaps best
1:25known for his now landmark series of paintings in which texts were written in black against
1:30white backgrounds . Ligon continues to explore subjects of race, language, desire, sexuality,
1:36identity in his work, whilst also utilizing a broad range of media from painting, drawing,
1:42print, photography, film and sculpture installations, including his iconic neon reliefs.
1:49Ligon’s work is characterized by a sharp examination of American history, capturing
1:55its complex, ever-changing identity. He has also curated and features in the exhibition,
2:02Encounters and Collisions, currently at Nottingham Contemporary and soon to transfer to Tate
2:07Liverpool, opening on the 30th of June. And if you get the opportunity to go to Nottingham
2:12or to Liverpool, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful show, incredibly intelligently
2:17and sympathetically curated, with a brilliant catalogue.
2:21So tonight’s format is a conversation between Glenn Ligon and leading fashion designer,
2:27curator and his great friend, Duro Olowu, followed by questions from the audience. We
2:33are recording tonight, so we ask that, when it comes to the Q&A section, if you could
2:37wait for the microphone to reach you, that will allow us to record your questions as
2:41well as any answers. Otherwise it’s a bit strange in the recording. We are expecting
2:46to have quite a busy house tonight so you may need to as we move along, get closer together
2:51so we can get a few more people in. But I think that’s it for now. It gives me great
2:56pleasure to hand over to Virginia Shore, who will continue with the introductions, thank
3:02you. SHORE: Thank you, Sonya. Hi, my name is Virginia
3:10Shore, I’m the Chief Curator at Art in Embassies, which is a program within the United States
3:16Department of State. I want to thank everybody for coming tonight and thank the Tate, because
3:24this is our sixth our sixth in the lecture series which was supposed to be our final,
3:30but we’re already working on what the next few lectures are going to be so we’re going
3:36to extend the series. It’s been really incredible, working with the Tate and working with Marco
3:40and Anna and everybody here, so, thank you. I also
3:45wanted to say thank you to Brooke Barzun who’s been an incredible supporter of Art in Embassies
3:50and also helped us make realize this project. A quick soundbite about Art in Embassies,
3:57just to give you some sense. Our program began in the 60s, actually it began in the 50s with
4:03the Museum of Modern Art and in the 60s JFK made it a State Department Program. But what
4:09we really want to focus on is the evolution of our program and the last decade. In the
4:14last decade what we’ve been able to do is go from a loaned program of American art for
4:20all the ambassadors’ residences to a program about cross-cultural exchange.
4:26So our program now, we work we’re on a major building campaign after bombings in north
4:34Africa, we are rebuilding a significant number of our embassies and consulates and with every
4:39one of those new buildings, we now oversee a percentage of the building costs and those
4:45that money goes toward art. And what we are able to do is expand the mission of the program,
4:51not just to be about American art but to be about art from the host country as well as
4:56American art. So we’ve become a program about cross-cultural exchange and promoting
5:02artists from the host country as well as America. And I and you may have seen the construction
5:09going on in Battersea but in the next two years we’re, speaking about being in London,
5:14we’re going to have a new embassy opening here in two years so we are right now in the
5:19midst of working with some incredible artists from the U.K. as well as the United States
5:26and we have a lot more work to do, but in the next few years you’ll see some of your
5:31artists, as well as American, grace the walls and become basically the face of our embassy.
5:41The only other thing I wanted to say is we believe in the great quote, great civilizations
5:49are remembered for their cultural legacies. And that’s what we’re dedicated to doing.
5:54So on that note, what we’ve all come here for tonight, Glenn Ligon, a great partner
6:00to Art in Embassies, thank you, and Duro Olowu, thank you so much, look forward to hearing
6:06your talk. (audience applause)
6:09OLOWU: Hi, uh (laughs) Good evening everyone, it’s great to be here.
6:16LIGON: Thank you for doing this, Duro— OLOWU: No, I—
6:21LIGON: So above and beyond— OLOWU: Yes, but money will do anything.
6:26LIGON: (laughs) OLOWU: I know we’ve talked about an introduction,
6:30Glenn’s body of work, but I think it’s important to say once again that his work
6:36is represented in some of the world’s best museum collections—the Tate Modern, MoMA,
6:41Pompidou, the Whitney, and you know his retrospective in 2011 at the Whitney, traveled to LACMA.
6:51He has, his recent show is the curatorial show at the Nottingham Contemporary but he
6:57had a wonderful show at Camden Arts last year. So without further ado, I’m going to start
7:06asking Glenn questions about a bit about his work,
7:09background of his work over the last two decades but also about something which is very dear
7:15to me and which I discovered is very dear to him, which is fabrics and things that inspire
7:20him. So with, Glenn can you tell us about your artistic practice over the last two decades?
7:27LIGON: Well, we have this image of a coal-dust painting which uses a text by James Baldwin
7:33so many people might be familiar with this body of work. And I would say basically my
7:39work for the last … oh my god, I’m so old (laughs) I was just thinking, last twenty
7:46years but I have to add a ten to that, last thirty years or so, has been sort of a text
7:53based practice, in a variety of medium—painting, neon, prints, some film work—but all sort
8:04of centered around text in some way or the other.
8:09So this was an important series to me because, one because of Baldwin and his writings but
8:15two it was sort of a, it’s been an ongoing investigation. There’s these, this series
8:20of paintings that’s continued for a number of years so and it’s led to other ways of
8:27thinking about text. So maybe if we could have the next
8:30OLOWU: Next image, thank you. This is this is from the Come Out series.
8:36LIGON: Come Out series, exactly. And this actually had a sort of strange genesis. I
8:44was working with a group of students from the University of Pennsylvania who were doing
8:48a course, a curatorial course and the curatorial course is organized around picking one artist
8:54and studying their work and doing an exhibition at the ICA Philadelphia. And they approached
9:00me to do this and I though oh, okay, sure, but what are you going to talk about for the
9:05whole semester but (laughs) they somehow thought there was enough to talk about for a whole
9:09semester. And they did a studio visit and you know that
9:13sort of lull at the end of a studio visit where you’re kind of like not sure what
9:18to ask anymore and someone asks, well, what are you listening to? And I said, oh, I’ve
9:22been really thinking about Steve Reich again and I’ve been listening to his composition
9:27for 1966 called Come Out. OLOWU: Can you explain that, who is Steve
9:31Reich? LIGON: Yeah. Steve Reich, minimalist composer,
9:33though he hates that word, very very influential, sort of contemporary of Philip Glass, but
9:41fantastic composer. And in the early 60s he starts working with taped speech, so there’s
9:51a very famous song he did I think maybe in ’65 or ’64 called It’s Gonna Rain where
9:58he’s done a field recording, he’s recorded a black preacher on the streets of San Francisco
10:04and takes that recording and loops it so it creates this incredible kind of, almost like
10:11drumming, except with just his voice. So, in ’66, he’s asked to do a composition
10:19for a benefit concert, and the benefit is for a group of teenagers who are called the
10:26Harlem 6 who, in 1964 in Harlem were basically rounded up by the police, accused of a murder
10:34of a shopkeeper in Harlem, taken to the police station, beaten, held without access to lawyers,
10:43etcetera. And it becomes a very well-known case, lot of interest from the civil rights
10:49community around this case, James Baldwin in 1966 writes an essay called A Report From
10:58An Occupied Territory, it’s based on this case.
11:01So a benefit concert is organized for these kids, for their legal defense fund and Steve
11:06Reich is asked to do a song for this concert. And you know Steven Reich at that point doesn’t
11:13do songs, you know? (laughs) But he becomes very interested in the testimony from these
11:20six kids and there is a taped testimony, each of these kids has sort of told their story.
11:27And so Steve Reich listens to this testimony and he focuses in one particular kid, Daniel
11:33Hamm, who says, when he was in the police station he was he had been beaten, but he
11:38wasn’t bleeding so they wouldn’t take him to the hospital because he wasn’t obviously
11:43injured. So Daniel Hamm says in this testimony, I had to open the bruise up and let some of
11:49the bruise blood come out to show them that I had been beaten by the police.
11:53And Reich focuses on that little fragment of his testimony—I had to open the bruise
11:58up—but particularly he focused on “come out to show them”. And he puts those that
12:04“come out to show them” on two tape loops and sort of lets them run simultaneously but
12:09you know they’re running on tape recorders, it’s analog, and the tape recorders run
12:16at slightly different speeds. And the sound sort of goes out of sync, it starts in sync
12:23and then goes out of sync. And then he doubles that so there are four voices going and he
12:30doubles that and there are eight, so and because all the voices are going out of sync, this
12:35very clear sentence, “come out to show them, come out to show them” that’s being repeated,
12:40starts to overlap and turned into a kind of abstraction.
12:43So! A long explanation just to say, when these students asked me what I was listening to,
12:49I said that I was listening to this. And most of them hadn’t heard it before, so I played
12:53it for them. And then when I was thinking about it, I thought, oh this is so interesting,
12:57this is a voice from a particular sort of charged moment in American history, picture
13:05a moment sort of in our social history, political history, African-American voice, taken by
13:14repetition to abstraction. That’s my work. OLOWU: Yeah.
13:17LIGON: All my early paintings are about that. But it had never occurred to me to use a composition
13:24like that as the basis of work. And so that sort of launched that ship. So basically I
13:31decided to do these as silk screens, instead of using oil stick and coal dust which was
13:36the earlier painting. And just making silkscreens and doing a very simple thing where I take
13:42text and use one silkscreen that has justified text, margins are even on both sides, and
13:48one silkscreen that had left justified text so margins are ragged on one side and just
13:54screening them over top of one another and then by that kind of process of screening
13:59over and over again and misregistering and maybe we could have the next painting?
14:04OLOWU: Yes, could we have the next painting—this is, if I may point out, one of these works
14:08is actually part of the recent Tate acquisition. LIGON: The work on the right—
14:11OLOWU: Right. LIGON: But this was a view of the show at
14:14Thomas Dane Gallery, here in London, it was the first iteration of these paintings. And
14:22they’re twenty feet long and … so there’s a lot of things going on in these paintings.
14:26One, is the idea of using this repetition this silkscreen moving away in some ways from
14:32handmade, oil-stick paintings which I had been doing. The other was the size of, these
14:40were the biggest paintings I had made and it was really important to me in terms of
14:44the size to sort of surround, you know, in a weird way like the wall of sound, I was
14:51thinking about this sort of term from you know music produced, you know this sort of
14:56wave of sound that comes over you and fills a space. I was thinking about that, but also
15:02thinking about how do you talk about repetition and duration and sort of point to music—part
15:13of that is the scale of these paintings, you know.
15:18And so the one in the back is very very dense and it’s just been silkscreened many many
15:22times and so it goes to black. Maybe we could have the next—
15:25OLOWU: The close up. LIGUN: And this is a close up of the surface
15:29of one of paintings. And you can see that it’s a very handmade process, it’s, silkscreen
15:35is sort of semi-mechanical but you know I was there when all these paintings were made.
15:40This one actually was very funny because they misregistered the screens so that’s why
15:45it’s not quite straight, you know, if you see those two lines that don’t quite match
15:49up. And they’re like, oh, that’s a mistake but on the next pass we can fix that, cover
15:54that over and you won’t see it. And I thought, mm, like the mistake, you know? So a lot of
15:59my process is about sort of going with the mistake of something, and that was interesting
16:05to think about in relationship to Steve Reich because when he first started using these
16:11sort of taped speech things, realizing that the machines would go out of sync was a mistake.
16:19OLOWU: But it worked. LIGUN: But he understood it as something that
16:22could generate some really interesting possibilities. Could we have the next?
16:27OLOWU: Could I just ask, what do you think that this new process has lent to the visual
16:34density of your work, which I think has changed? LIGUN: Well you know what’s interesting
16:38about it is that density in my work was always about impasto about building up layers. And
16:44this is about building up layers too, except that these are very flat surfaces. So the
16:49building up of layers that happens is by the density of layering the silkscreen ink you
16:55know, image, text, over one another. But the surfaces the surfaces are quite flat you know.
17:04And it was a kind of a revelation to me to think about you know kind of visual density
17:13in that way, where it wasn’t about the sort of you know impasto of the surface, about
17:19the building up. And the impasto of the surface of the coal dust paintings was about using
17:23Baldwin’s text and you know the density of his words and having a kind of correspondence
17:30between the density of the text and the density of his sort of speaking style, writing, so.
17:35And this felt like it needed to be, at first I started actually thinking about these as
17:42coal dust paintings or oil stick paintings, and then I realized, no, it has to be a more
17:46mechanical process. And silkscreen is kind of old, you know, it’s kind of like digital
17:52has replaced it for a lot of people. So this is kind of old tech—
17:55OLOWU: Old school! LIGON: It’s old school, exactly, it’s
17:58artisanal. OLOWU: Is this an installation shot from Camden?
18:00LIGON: This is an installation shot from Camden Arts Centre show, so there were two big paintings.
18:04And this is a bigger painting, it’s made of four parts and it’s forty-eight feet
18:09tall by forty feet long. And you can see in the image there, there are things that happen
18:16across length of the painting because they were moving the screens around so on the right
18:25side of the image has this sort of moiré in it, sort of those dots are kind of this
18:30moiré. But when I looked at it I thought, it’s you know thinking about the Come Out,
18:37the original composition, I’m thinking that slipped between where he says bruise blood,
18:45I was thinking I was looking at these dots and thinking, oh, it’s almost like this
18:49sort of weird visualization of the idea of bruise but it sort of is really more simply
18:53a moiré pattern that’s set up by overlapping the—
18:56OLOWU: Well the other visual effect which at least which I the viewer notices is the
19:01real density of pattern coming through the painting.
19:04LIGON: Right. OLOWU: Which is interesting for me. And could
19:08you just explain if that was conscious or… LIGON: Well, that, you know, I think there’s
19:14always, like I said, we have there’s many areas of overlap but one of the areas of overlap
19:20is our interest in fabrics. You’re a scholar of fabrics and I am not, I just look—
19:27OLOWU: I wouldn’t say that… LIGON: No, I would say that, I, you know,
19:29I always get schooled when— OLOWU: Moving along!
19:32LIGON: (laughs) Moving along! But you know but I’m really interested in the kind of
19:37density that you can get in a flat textile. I’m interested in color cause very often
19:46most of my work does not use color and I’m always inspired by and thinking about color
19:51in these in the fabrics. I’m thinking about symbolism, particularly when you’re looking
19:57at African fabrics and how the abstraction is symbolic, you know? Because I always feel
20:05like I don’t make abstract paintings, I make paintings that have text that go towards
20:10abstraction. OLOWU: But more anti-twentieth, mid-twentieth,
20:12early to mid-twentieth century— LIGON: Right. But also this kind of repetition,
20:19too, pattern, fabric patterns are about a kind of repetition and a lot of my work is
20:24about a kind of repetition. Maybe we have the next I don’t remember what’s up.
20:29OLOWU: And it’s interesting because in using silkscreens to make a pattern, you do have
20:35to get to this point where there’s a repeat, an invisible repeat—
20:38LIGON: Right. OLOWU: So in your case the repeat is very
20:42visual, it’s obvious, but that’s part of the visual impact you want. This is a,
20:46you’re about textile, indigo textile. All with significant patterns on it, patters that
20:52signify various things. And it’s about early twentieth century indigo from (unintelligible)
20:59that really mastered the art of this textile and it’s interesting because of Japanese
21:06comparison but because it’s very interesting how that works. Could you tell us what you
21:11found useful or inspiring in a textile like this?
21:15LIGON: Well, first that it’s, it’s handmade, you know, and there’s an embrace of difference,
21:23you know. There are motifs that repeat in there, certainly, like that sort of sun/starburst
21:27but each panel is different. And that’s kind of the way I work too, you know, even
21:33when I’m working with silkscreen. It’s the same screen but the pressure changes when
21:39you’re printing it, it misregisters so each, you know, you can see every two-by-four-foot
21:47silkscreen panel, but the one next to it is going to be different, you know. And I sort
21:52of embrace that kind of difference in the work, how it makes it visually exciting. And
21:56also I just love the way there’s a grid, but it’s funky, you know, it doesn’t quite
22:01all line up. And that kind of embracing sort of, of the imperfect, the accidental, the
22:08improvisational. Yeah, exactly. OLOWU: Can we see the next image?
22:11LIGON: Yeah, the next? OLOWU: That’s another one.
22:13LIGON: Yeah. OLOWU: And maybe the next image? There’s
22:16a variation. This is woven, the other one is more, it’s printed and hand blocked.
22:23This is woven asoke fabric, (unintelligible,) silk and cotton, mid-twentieth. The thing
22:32about this fabric is it’s actually woven by hand usually by women on a very narrow
22:38loom, and then the strips are later sewn together by hand. Did that process, were you aware
22:44of this and did that sort of— LIGON: That, you know, that’s what I was
22:46thinking of in terms of the Come Out paintings, originally I was going to do this. You know,
22:51like literally make two-by-four foot sections, strips, and then put them together. And I
22:58thought, that was too hard, in a way, just technically. I couldn’t figure out quite
23:06how to do it. But also, I thought, well, Steve Reich is about these taking two voices and
23:16doubling doubling so these paintings that I was making that have these sort of four
23:20rows of the text were kind of like this idea. So they’re four strips, but they get joined
23:27together. But yeah I was looking very carefully at these. So there’s other work coming,
23:35that’s you know sort of trying to develop this idea—
23:38OLOWU: Develop this idea. But the other thing is, sorry if I’m butting in, but the other
23:42thing is, most of these textiles were made to be worn.
23:46LIGON: Right. OLOWU: So you get an element of movement in
23:48real life or in contemporary life or even at the time. You are creating canvases that
23:58are static and contained. How do you achieve the same sort of layered jacquard effect and
24:04get that contained movement in your canvases? LIGON: Well…I’m flattered that you say
24:11that (laughs) OLOWU: Why are you flattered, it’s true?
24:14LIGON: Okay. Well, it’s not something that I was thinking about consciously because the
24:18way… often the way that I saw these fabrics were flat as textiles, or museum displays.
24:25You wouldn’t see them necessarily as clothing, worn, exactly. But it was really interesting
24:33to me in terms of you know we talked before about imperfections, that sort of gives a
24:39sense of movement in these silkscreens from me.
24:42OLOWU: May we see some others, that are just. Again, this ewey(?) fabric, Cameroon, this
24:49is probably late 50s. Again you see the inconsistencies, and there’s another one that’s after this,
24:56which is more gridded but again that sort of perfect imperfection.
25:01LIGON: What I loved in this fabric is the color choices create this pattern but they’re
25:10not… you can’t figure out a system. It really feels like—
25:15OLOWU: Instinct. LIGON: Yeah. It’s instinct. But how do you
25:18sustain that over—this is a very large textile, you know, and so the genius of putting these
25:24strips together to create this overall sense of it’s one piece of fabric is kind of amazing
25:30to me, it’s something that I was thinking about in terms of making the paintings.
25:33OLOWU: Do you think it has to do with the reason for creating this fabric, do you think
25:37that adds to the intensity of the work and the artisanal skills involved. I mean this
25:43could be (French) or an English tapestry, it is of that quality. But most of these things
25:50were made for a reason—ceremonial or to signify something. How does that play into
25:56your work? Obviously we know the background to your painting, that you talk about, but
26:00is that always a consideration? LIGON: Not in a strict sense. I know what
26:05you mean in terms of like different fabrics had different functions, you know, a certain
26:11fabric was made for as you say a ceremonial function, a certain fabric was more every
26:16day, you know, there are different traditions depending on the country. So I was looking
26:20at that and I don’t know if I could necessarily have a direct translation between that intentionality
26:28and the paintings, but maybe as the work goes on. You know, maybe as, you know because I
26:36think the work that’s coming engages more directly with these fabrics. I’m not sure
26:42exactly how yet, you know, but it’s percolating. OLOWU: Does it does it allow for patience?
26:47Does it, is it necessary to be a patient artist when you’re working? When you’re thinking
26:52about these things and executing the work? LIGON: Well, yeah because I think for me,
26:58I’ve been looking at, thinking about African fabrics for a long time but the work didn’t—nobody
27:04looking at my work would think that, you know. And so it’s just about letting something
27:09percolate for as long as it needs to percolate. When the Steve Reich came along, I thought,
27:15oh this is a, a sort of strange, tangential way to sort of get into this more deeply but
27:21you know if you think about Reich, his interest in African drumming, he studied in Africa,
27:27there’s that but also the sort of notion of patterning in music in general. You know?
27:31OLOWU: So classical and… LIGON: So that’s a kind of correspondence
27:34between the textiles, you know. OLOWU: Can we see the next? Please. This,
27:39I know you love this image because we have again the interesting thing we discussed is
27:45that a lot of these woven textiles, a lot of these things that Glenn has reference or
27:51even used as inspiration are executed by women. Which is a very interesting thing to be because
27:59… is it something you can explain? These are the women, the Soninke women who are in
28:07Mauritania and Gambia and they are the ones that paint the houses and they also if we
28:12see the next image, they completely paint the indoors of their homes completely. And
28:18so the men build the houses and then leave. And there’s this idea that you’re not
28:22only surrounded, you don’t only see pattern on the outside, you live within pattern which
28:28is, I’m all for. (laughs)
28:31OLOWU: But in the context of your work, was that surround effect like sound again?
28:37LIGON: Right, certainly, I mean this is a fantastic image because you know imagine these
28:41are sound waves you know and you’re surrounded by this kind of visualization of sound. And
28:47that’s one of the things I was certainly thinking about in terms of the Reich. But
28:52also I think, look at how beautifully painted these are and sort of there’s a gap, there’s
29:00a doorway, but that pattern continues in such a beautiful way—
29:04OLOWU: The repeat. LIGON: Across that and so it’s super inspiring
29:08to see something like this and also sparks some ideas. But this, you know, the notion
29:14sort of this kind of surround I think has a relationship to your curatorial practice,
29:23you’ve curated two shows, can we have the next image?
29:26OLOWU: This is—okay, this is unexpected, I thought we were going to (unintelligible).
29:32LIGON: Oh, no. One, the first one was called material was in the gallery in New York and
29:39this sort of notion of the surround, of bringing all these things together, having a wallpaper,
29:45having a (unintelligible), a statue, photo crafts, contemporary painting, sculpture,
29:52Sterling Ruby, Kathy Bernhardt, you know, so maybe you could talk about surround, in
29:57terms of like thinking about curatorial. OLOWU: Well again for me it’s more to do
30:01with…I like things. You know, I’m a bit of a magpie. So (laughs) it’s more about
30:07just trying to get people to see what goes on in my head. And for you, what I think would
30:13be interesting to know is, how does—for me it’s easier to translate this into my
30:17work, you know. For you, because it can be a sort of—
30:21LIGON: You’re being modest. (laughs) OLOWU: Oh but it’s! Well, that’s what
30:24I do. It’s a collage of inspiration. But this idea of surround, if we could go to the
30:31next image, is very interesting. This is an Anni Albers, Anni Albers part of the Bauhaus
30:37movement which is another thing we both talk about a lot, etc. Which has links, you know,
30:43visually and aesthetically in certain ways to the African
30:46textiles and obviously other people were looking at other things and I think during that period
30:52people were a lot more open to that. That strictness of the Bauhaus, though, contrasts
30:56with the fluidity of some of the other fabrics we saw—what, which would you rather achieve?
31:03LIGON: (laughs) Well, I think a bit of both. I’m working within the tradition of painting
31:12that has some of its roots in this kind of material, thinking about it, but I’m also
31:18quite interested in like you know, other traditions, that sort of… and mixing them together.
31:24You know, that’s why I wanted to show an image of the curatorial projects you did because
31:30I’m always very inspired when I saw that show and the show you curated after that by
31:35your ability to mix together, not only in the curatorial work but in your clothing things
31:41from very different, supposedly disparate, you know traditions. And so to, and it was
31:49sort of a revelation and it was part of the inspiration for the show I did at Nottingham.
31:56Because I think, you know, you as a designer, me as an artist, we have a kind of you know
32:00virtual museum in our heads. Where things are very close together—
32:06OLOWU: Or in our homes, Glenn. LIGON: Or in our homes, where things are very
32:10close together. You know, but how do you manifest that? And I think you manifest that in the
32:18clothing but also in the curatorial projects. And my show at Nottingham…
32:21OLOWU: Manifests that. LIGON: Manifested that in the museum space.
32:25OLOWU: Having said that, though, with clothing like I said earlier, the movement aspect layer
32:29helps a lot. Can we just see the next images please? This is Gee’s Bend, quilts from
32:36Alabama, this is probably 1930s. Which again is something you were looking at.
32:42LIGON: Right, a whole group of, still going, of quilters in a very rural poor community
32:49in Alabama. So these are practical objects, you know, they were, you know—
32:54OLOWU: Scraps. LIGON: Scraps. But what a feast of scraps,
32:57in a way, like just thinking compositionally, about how these things are put together. And
33:04these are not people that were looking at contemporary art, they weren’t looking at
33:08they’re not going to museums they’re not looking at abstraction, you know, so they’re
33:11fantastic images when you see sort of older photographs of 70s of people going to Gee’s
33:18Bend and looking at these quilts and they’re hanging on clotheslines, they were used, you
33:22know. But it’s kind of like the best, you know—
33:25OLOWU: Compositionally. LIGON: Yeah, the most amazing compositions…
33:28OLOWU: Colors. LIGON: …And I know these were things that
33:34you were looking at, things I’ve certainly looked at, can we have the next—
33:38OLOWU: Yeah, can we have the next… we’re only using this to, Glenn, to illustrate the
33:45collage aspect, because in the earlier ones we, in the earlier images we’re really talking
33:51about the woven aspect and with my work, I do a lot of collaging of fabrics. Some of
33:56my prints, some old antique prints, mixed, European and (unintelligible) fabrics, etc.
34:02Could we go to the next image please? This is another Gee’s Bend, which you like,
34:07which you’re very fond of. LIGON: Because of those big elements, you
34:12know. Those repeating squares. But then they’re all off-center, they’re all unique, you
34:16know. This incredible kind of sense of improvisation to it. We haven’t talked about music and
34:21I mean we could have organized this—I know, that’s another talk, so next year when I’m
34:26back doing American lectures for the Tate part two—
34:30(laughter) LIGON: We can talk and we can just focus on
34:33music. OLOWU: But there’s a musical element to
34:35this. LIGON: Right, right. Could we have the next?
34:39Another one of Duro’s creation and its sort of mix of fabrics. And material. The second
34:47show that Duro did in New York. And again, a big influence on the project I did in Nottingham
34:54in terms of like bringing together all of one’s influences in the same space, so,
35:01you know, Nick Cave sounds to one of your capes on the right. Photography, Lori Simmons.
35:09OLOWU: Cindy Sherman, I think. But again, from my point of view, I felt freer to do
35:18this because I’m a designer so no one could accuse me of curating of placing things so
35:25close together or doing it wrongly. Was there that element of not fear, but were you cautious
35:31in your first curatorial debut? LIGON: Well I think in some ways yes, one
35:38does have a responsibility to the work, but in some ways I think I had to get over my
35:46inhibitions about how you know how these things fit in history and they’re and sort of talk
35:55about the show more in terms of how these things fit together in my head. So you know
36:00my idealized version of the show at Nottingham would literally be, all the work was touching
36:05because that’s what they feel like in my head! David Hammonds is juxtaposed with—
36:10OLOWU: Bruce Nauman… LIGON: Bruce Nauman who’s juxtaposed with
36:14Boetti and these things sort of you know the title of the show is Encounters and Collisions
36:21so it’s about this kind of butting heads you know, and so it would have been fantastic
36:27to literalize that, not possible in a museum setting, you know, because of various you
36:32know lenders and things (laughs) that just won’t let you put their things next to other
36:37things. (both laugh)
36:39OLOWU: Oh yeah. Which leads us nicely into what I think is an amazing show, really, I
36:46mean, it’s super. If anyone hasn’t seen this show at Nottingham, you really should.
36:51It’s a real feast for the eyes and for the soul. It is a very humble, I think, as an
36:58artist of your stature, a very humbling experience because you respect the work of these great
37:04artists, some of your work is in this show, sitting alongside a lot of these great artists—Boetti,
37:09Warhol, Beauford Delaney, Nauman, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye—I mean, people who would normally
37:17never be curated together… LIGON: And that’s one of the things, you
37:21know, this Boetti tapestry is the title of the show, Encounters and Collisions, and Boetti
37:29I think was an important figure for me there was a fantastic show here at the Tate, I think
37:32a— OLOWU: A couple of years ago. Amazing show.
37:34LIGON: A few years ago that Mark Offrey did, but Boetti was really interesting to me because
37:39he set up systems and then let people operate in those systems so there was always this
37:44kind of sense of like chance things could happen. The weavers who did these could choose
37:50the color. You know when, could we have the next image? So, the Boetti map there, the
37:57story, unless I’m getting it wrong, is that the weavers who did that map had never really
38:03thought about had never seen had never thought about the color of the sea? They had pink
38:09fed, so they used pink. OLOWU: And can we show where this was all
38:13done? It was done in Kabul, which Boetti, which Alighiero e Boetti would visit, he even
38:16had a hotel there at one point, at one point, and he would literally allow the weavers to
38:23he would guide he would show the outline, but they would be allowed to choose a lot
38:27of LIGON: So Boetti was important because of
38:29the show but in terms of sort of the notion of like you go some place you have an idea
38:33for something and then you collaborate on something, so things come together and they
38:38come together in unexpected ways. And so the show was really about saying, okay, these
38:44are all the influences I’ve had, looking at this room there’s a Cady Noland on the
38:50floor, can we have—can we go back, sorry, once? Cady Noland on the floor, a piece that’s
38:56based on … what’s her name, Patty Hearst? There’s a Richard Serra drawing, there’s
39:04Felix Gonzales-Torre, Candy Spill USA Today, the Boetti map, On Kawara. Could we have the
39:11next one? And then just going … Could we get the next one? Thanks. And then
39:16sort of going around the room, a David Hammonds body print, could we have the next image?
39:22And then, my America neon from the Tate, Joseph Beuys I Like America, America Likes Me on
39:30the monitor with the poster that was done in ’74 for that piece. So it was about sort
39:36of like putting all these things that are in my head together, together in the physical
39:41space. But we had to organize them around categories to make them make sense in some
39:46way for the viewer so it wasn’t just a nice group show with all these things in it that
39:52had no sort of underlying logic. OLOWU: And how… can we see the next image
39:59because I think it’s important. How for example do you think a lot of these… there’s
40:04a certain harmony in the rooms, which is very hard to achieve when you have such disparate
40:09work. How did you achieve that? This is one of your early door paintings and a Robert
40:14Morris… LIGON: Right, a Robert Morris, the felt piece,
40:17and a Robert Gober, the little drain piece in the wall. And leading into a room with
40:23Steve McQueen’s Bear. You know, honestly, I made a model in my studio of the exhibition
40:29spaces at Nottingham, I made scale models of all the loans that we had for the show
40:36and I placed them all very carefully in the spaces, trying to. And when I got there, I
40:41thought, well that doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, this doesn’t work, this doesn’t
40:45work. And so I really kind of had to find the rooms, you know? In a way that’s frustrating
40:52because you just, you had this sort of set of this is all going to work and then you
40:56realize, no, that’s interesting actually because things can be in different dialogues.
41:01Can we have the next image? So this is, I don’t know if this is a dialogue
41:06that was originally in the model but I thought it was an interesting to put this late Pollock
41:12next to the Morris next to Gober’s drain next to this text painting. Part of, you know,
41:20part of these juxtapositions are visual and part of them are formal in some ways but part
41:24of them are content-wise, you know, but I don’t, you know, I don’t know if as you
41:30said, these things would be in proximity, you know.
41:33OLOWU: But was there, were you cautious about, or respectful about what you placed next to
41:37each other? LIGON: Yes, I mean, there are certain kinds
41:40of readings of work that I didn’t want to, you know, over-determine by the kinds of juxtapositions,
41:46could we have the next… that’s a closeup of the …
41:49OLOWU: The door painting LIGON: The door painting. Could we have the
41:52next? For instance this piece is called Condition Report and it is a painting based on an image
42:03of a painting based on signs carried by striking sanitation workers in Memphis in ’68—
42:07OLOWU: So this is one of your pieces. LIGON: This is one of my pieces so I based
42:12the painting on a sign being carried by these striking sanitation workers and then I commissioned
42:19a friend who’s a conservator to do a condition report on the painting. So all those marks
42:24of you know smudges and fingerprints and cracks and stuff are his condition report on the
42:31condition of the this painting but by extension I think condition of our ideas about masculinity,
42:39about the Civil Rights movement or you know history, etc.
42:45Normally it would make sense, you know, there’s a part of the show that deals with, has images
42:51of Civil Rights protests and also images produced of and by the Black Panthers. This piece should
42:59seemingly go there. But, could we have the next slide? But I decided no, actually, this,
43:06let’s put this piece in juxtaposition with three artists—Lorna Simpson ,Lynette, Zoe
43:12Loenard… OLOWU: Lynette Yiadom…
43:14LIGON: Yes. OLOWU: Can I just say, is that, that was purchased,
43:19that’s a Tate purchase, the Lorna Simpson images.
43:22LIGON: Yes, it’s a piece called Photo Booth. Right. Zoe Leonard images from the early 90s
43:29of fashion shoots and then Lynette’s painting. And so the I Am A Man painting is there and
43:37so it gets read in sort of this meditation on masculinity in the space of these various
43:44mediations on sort of you know Lorna Simpson’s Photo Booth piece is mostly I think almost
43:50exclusively images of men. Zoe is… OLOWU: Black models, sort of 70’s…
43:55LIGON: Black models, yeah. And then Lynette, this sort of, I’m obsessed with this painting
44:03(laughs) OLOWU: She knows, Glenn.
44:05LIGON: Yeah. (both laugh)
44:06OLOWU: But it’s an interesting painting because of the fragility of the male pose,
44:11you know, it’s not a typical pose. Even with the old masters, that’s not a typical
44:16pose in that painting so. LIGON: Right right right. So, in terms of
44:20you know, I was willing to let my work read differently because of this kind of juxtaposition
44:25and it was kind of exciting for me to think about, you know, to sort of. Could we have
44:30the next maybe? This is another coal dust painting that’s in a room with … could
44:35we have the next? OLOWU: That’s beautiful.
44:39LIGON: A Boetti in the vitrine, a De Kooning, Valentine, the coal dust painting, a Jasper
44:52Johns painting with two balls, Bob Gober, newspaper stack, Nauman Flesh to White to
45:01Black, I’m probably getting the title wrong, Franz Klein from the Tate’s collection,
45:08and then on the side, two paintings by Beauford Delaney. Now this is a kind of an interesting
45:13room. Franz Klein was a huge influence on me when I was a younger painter, you know,
45:18as all were, as all the abstract expressionists were, so that’s why I wanted Pollock, Klein,
45:23De Kooning, fantastic loans to get. Could we have the next maybe?
45:28But I also wanted to think about that work in relationship to someone like on the right,
45:36Beauford Delaney, who’s working in the mid-50s moved from, he’s an American painter, not
45:43as well-known as he should be, but I think will be better known, black American painter,
45:48moves to Paris in the 50s, very, you know, friends with all the sort of American modernists
45:55but also friends with, when he moves to Paris, Jean Genet, Baldwin, Stein, you know, he’s
46:02kind of the, he’s a seminal figure. So the painting—could we have the next? So the
46:07two paintings I have in the show, on the left a painting from the mid-50s of James Baldwin
46:11and on the right a yellow abstraction from the same period.
46:15And I sort of wanted to put him next to Klein because you would never see him next to Klein,
46:19even though the time periods are similar. But also to say that, you know, Delaney had
46:28to leave America, you know, America was not a nice place, in the 1950s for an African-American
46:34artist, well, yeah, in the 1950s for a, not a happy time for our people right then (laughs)
46:41So, he leaves and goes to Paris to have a sort of autonomy, a sort of freedom, so I’m
46:47really inspired by that story but also inspired by the fact that he for
46:52me he doesn’t really make a separation between figuration and abstraction. They’re kind
46:57of the same thing. Can we go to the next image? So this portrait of Baldwin is a kind of,
47:03you know, you look at his color sensibility you look at the way, he’s not seated anywhere,
47:08you know, he’s in this incredible field and can we go to the next? And juxtapose that
47:13with these paintings that are about kind of all-over-ness and light. And I just wanted
47:18to put him there next to Klein but also put him next to a coal dust painting because the
47:23coal dust paintings use James Baldwin, you know, and the coal dust paintings are also
47:27about light so I’m looking at Delaney and thinking about light, even though they don’t
47:32look, my paintings don’t look like Delaney but Delaney and Baldwin are kind of these,
47:39you know, I don’t know, queer godfathers for me. So, it’s kind of nice to put all
47:45the relatives in the room. OLOWU: What do you hope—nicely put. What
47:50do you hope, what do you think the show allows the viewer to do?
47:56LIGON: Well, I think allows the viewer to see that artists don’t come out of a vacuum,
48:00you know, that artists are deeply influenced by work of, you know, other generations. They’re
48:07deeply influenced by the work of their generation. But also for me it was a way to bring in artists
48:12that I hadn’t really thought through so much and also wanted to be in dialogue with,
48:18so there’s young artists, Jennie Jones who’s done an incredible piece that’s using, what’s
48:23it called, it’s like, the cords that you use for headphones, you know, so it’s those
48:31things, black cords, as sculptural elements. And so and Jennie’s an artist that I’ve
48:37come to fairly recently but I thought, if I want to think more about her work, let me
48:42put it in this show because that allows me to think more about her work.
48:46OLOWU: It triggers something. LIGON: Yeah. It triggers something. Similarly,
48:48the Robert Morris. Not an artist that I’d really studied, thought through in relationship
48:53to my practice, but just thinking about his work and that sort of like sculptural things
48:59on the wall, you know, I thought, this is very in some ways related to my neon work
49:04which was also for me about trying to make sculpture, you know. It felt like neons on
49:09the wall and I kind of like that’s the only way I could approach it, it’s text, it’s
49:13not sculpture but, you know, I let the transformers for the neon always be present, sort of like,
49:22it moves it towards this three-dimensionality. Towards a sculptural thing. And so…
49:26OLOWU: And in Camden you had the color that was very interesting.
49:29LIGON: Right right right. Sort of thinking about Morris was a way to think more about
49:34this notion of things that are attached to this, you know, wall but also come out into
49:41space. OLOWU: So, just to give people an opportunity
49:44to ask questions, what do you, what would you like to get from the kind of things you
49:54take into consideration when you’re working on pieces or things that are around you, textiles
49:59like we’ve learned, work by other artists you respect. What is the, in the end is it
50:05to inform what you’re trying to communicate or is it to inform your technique? What’s
50:12the … LIGON: Well, I guess it’s about trying to
50:14be a better artist. You know, trying to see what has been said and see how I can, you
50:22know, move from there, move in a different direction or incorporate you know those ideas
50:28into the work or think more clearly about it through sort of thinking more clearly about
50:35other people’s work. But also, you know, there as I said in relationship to the Morris,
50:42it’s made me think differently about neon and what its possibilities are, because in
50:48some ways I’ve been very conservative and so when I saw that piece, you know, I thought,
50:53hmm— OLOWU: So the next neon may be …
50:55LIGON: Lying on the floor! OLOWU: Lying on the floor (laughs) In color!
51:00LIGON: I mean, that’s an idea I’ve had for years and I actually did a neon that lies
51:03on the floor for my last show in LA but it took me, you know, ten years to get to that.
51:09OLOWU: That’s okay. LIGON: If I’d seen that Morris and thought
51:11about it more carefully I would have maybe gotten to that faster. But it’s also about,
51:18you know, like, I don’t know, for me, to make an interesting artistic practice you
51:24have to keep kind of finding things that are surprising and keep expanding the range of
51:29your references and that’s you know whenever I come to visit you in London, come into the
51:35shop or you know we talk about art I’m just, you know, I find my references expand out,
51:42you know. I’m kind of like, oh, look at that textile, or you know, look at that pottery
51:46from the 30s or look at you know how that vintage couture fabric meets this other—
51:53OLOWU: But you know this was happened in the 30s, 40s with a lot of artists, you saw studio
51:58images and their walls would be filled with incredible things. And I think that freedom
52:03became a lot more conservative in the last decade, but, really, it’s been a pleasure
52:10for me to ask you these questions and just try to communicate some of the things that
52:14come into your thought process when you’re working.
52:17LIGON: Thank you. Could we have the next, maybe? Just as an ending image…
52:21OLOWU: Just as an ending. LIGON: Talk about encounters and collisions!
52:24OLOWU: Exactly! A great way to end (laughs) Is probably one of Glenn’s best known works,
52:30the Malcolm X uh… LIGON: But maybe since we’ve talked for
52:33almost an hour so maybe we should open questions? If there are questions, I think you have to
52:39wait for the mic because it’s being recorded, so … There’s one in the back, over there.
52:45AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Okay. Is it on? Cool. I was wondering about, because you’re using
52:58texts that aren’t your own, where do you see the role as yourself, are you almost like
53:04a translator in changing the medium or are you own sort of taking a new ownership of
53:10it? LIGON: Well I, sometimes you know I said once
53:14that I think of it as the movie adaptation of a book. It’s based on something, but
53:19it’s something else. You know, the text in a painting is not the text in a book, you
53:24know. But I think text allows that kind of re-reading, you know. I did a piece recently
53:33that had lots of quotes from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and a lot of anxiety because
53:40they were from all over the book, you know. And I was talking to Gregg Bordowitz, who
53:48has a fantastic essay in the catalog for Nottingham, about this sense of you know my responsibility
53:55to this text because I was using quotes from all over the book and they’re not, people
53:59will think they’re one after the other in the book but they’re not. And he’s saying,
54:05Walt Whitman is the poet most amenable to fragmentation, you know, like the mix and
54:12match, the slice, you know and Walt Whitman was a poet that revised his own work from
54:18edition to edition. And so I think it’s you know for me, I think there’s lots of
54:22different approaches to text so I feel like text is material in the world to be played
54:28with and manipulated and changed as long as, I do have a sense of responsibility to the
54:35meaning of the text but in a way a sort of sense of kind of trying to convey the meaning
54:44of the text is what the paintings are about. For instance, the coal dust paintings for
54:48me, the density and the abstraction in those paintings is about the density of the thoughts
54:58that Baldwin is trying to express about his relationship to European culture, about his
55:04relationship to black American culture, colonialism, dense, weighty subjects and it seemed to me
55:12that the paintings try to, the difficulty of those paintings, the parts where they go
55:17illegible versus the parts that they’re legible is about the difficulty of trying
55:22to convey these ideas that in his essays kind of escape talking about. They’re just things
55:29that are too hard to talk about, you know, language kind of fails. That’s one of the
55:34things that I like about Baldwin is that in some of the essays he acknowledges, like,
55:40I’m trying very hard to explain things that are very difficult but language kind of fails
55:45at moments, things can’t be expressed, you know. And so the paintings are, you know,
55:52if you want to read the essay, it’s there, in Baldwin, but my paintings are doing something
55:56different with it. With the text. AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Hello. I wanted to ask
56:11a question about the video piece that you presented at the Camden Arts Centre where
56:16there was a fragmented video of Richard Pryor. How does that inform your practice as you’ve
56:28presented it today? LIGON: Well, that piece came about because
56:35I was thinking about the body in language. You know, Pryor, Richard Pryor is a comedian
56:42who, his routines were so much besides, well, he’s a comedian so there are jokes you know,
56:52there are stories, there are routines. But he’s also very physical, all of his routines
56:57involve the body, he has a tremendous ability to mimic, you know. And one day I think I
57:05was just watching you know sort of on, a Pryor video on my computer screen but somehow the
57:13sound was off and I was just kind of became fascinated by his body language and the gestures
57:20and how gestures can speak in some ways. And so that’s how that video came about. So
57:27I just, for people who haven’t seen the video, it’s 7 screens and each screen isolates
57:33a piece of Pryor’s body from a particular concert he did in Los Angeles. So one screen
57:42has his left hand, one screen has his right hand, one screen has a close up of his head,
57:47one is a close-up of his mouth, one is just his shadow. And as those body parts
57:54appear in the video, they appear in the original video they appear on the screens, so one has
58:02to kind of keep moving around the space in order to “see” the video. And there’s
58:08no sound, too, so it’s all about the kind of gesture. And it’s brutal, in a way, it’s
58:14a difficult piece and I don’t know if I’ve totally kind of figured out exactly what that
58:21piece is about. I think, you know, artists make work to figure things out.
58:25OLOWU: Later. LIGON: Yes (laughs) Hopefully they figure
58:28out a little while they’re making it but often I find, you know, it’s a thought process
58:34and the pieces are thought processes and then you make other things, you know, so it’s
58:39not like I’m, I have this idea, it’s all fully-formed, I make the piece. No, I figure
58:45out kind of what I’m thinking about, what my concerns are, as I’m making the pieces.
58:50So that piece changed radically over the course of its production. Another question? In the
58:58back. AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: I was just wondering how
59:01conscious you were putting together the Nottingham exhibition that it was going to be shown to
59:05a British audience? Would this have been a different exhibition if you’d put it on
59:09in the U.S.? LIGON: Well, it would have been a different
59:15exhibition because, because we were partnered with the Tate and if it was shown in the U.S.
59:22we wouldn’t have been. So the loans that we got from the Tate collection, we got fantastic
59:28things which would have been very hard to get had we not had that partnership, so in
59:33some ways, you know, I wanted a Klein, there’s a fantastic one here, you know. I wanted a
59:39Pollock, there’s a—you know, things happened because of these partnerships. So the show
59:45certainly—the artists may have been pretty much the same, the loans would have been different,
59:51but I think the loans being different would have changed the character of the show.
59:55Well, because, you know, it was really important for me, there are a couple of ways that this
60:02show is organized. One is around the work of artists when I first encountered them.
60:10So Steve McQueen’s Bear is in the is in the exhibition, and Steve and I were in a
60:14show together very early on and that first that piece I think the first showing of that
60:20piece. And that had a profound influence on me, I mean that piece I thought was an amazing
60:26piece but before it even went up, I thought, who is this guy who has them polishing the
60:30floors in that room 15 times? And then the piece came on, it was installed, and I thought,
60:35I get it, brilliant, you know, the video’s reflected in the floor, brilliant, brilliant.
60:40So but I could have chosen a later Steve piece, but it was important for me to for some of
60:46the choices of the show to have work from the moment I first encountered you know a
60:53particular artist’s work. Same with Zoe Leonard, you know, those fashion photographs
60:56that we showed in the exhibition in the images of the exhibition, that’s when I first encountered
61:02her work and it was at a kind of crucial moment for me when I was thinking about sort of the
61:06politics of representation, photographic representation in relationship to a particular piece.
61:13So, but Bear is a hard piece to show because of you know because of the requirements for
61:19the room and the requirements for the projector so I don’t know if this show were in New
61:23York, I’m not sure, you know, we could have shown that, so—
61:28OLOWU: I think also maybe he’s also speaking of in the context of the message. Would your
61:36show have been differently curated for an American audience?
61:41LIGON: Well, um … yes, in some ways, I guess, because, but we made some decisions about
61:49the show in terms of for example, there are lots of images of the Civil Rights protest
61:57in Birmingham in the ’64, I think that is, and then images of the Black Panthers. So
62:06the decision there was, you know, I was I was very literal about that in the beginning,
62:12I thought, we have to have a selection of Civil Rights photographs, a sort of, as if
62:15one could represent the entirety of the Civil Rights movement by a selection of photographs
62:20that I could make and put in this show and I sort of gave that up and just thought well,
62:26you know, audiences here know about the Civil Rights movement, we don’t need to represent
62:30the Civil Rights movement, why don’t we just represent this particular moment? You
62:35know? Birmingham protest, police using water cannons on protestors. And just have one photographer
62:42do that. In terms of the Panthers, again, how do you
62:45represent the Panthers? And I thought, let me just focus on Huey Newton. So images of
62:52Huey Newton, you know, very charismatic leader of the Panthers, images taken of him and images
62:59the Panthers produced that used him, you know. And sort of think about how the Panthers were
63:06portrayed in the media but also how the Panthers portrayed themselves, you know. Focusing on
63:11this very, very handsome man, you know (laughs) And also focusing on, kind of, you know, the
63:18underlying thing of that is, you know, he was a pin-up, you know.
63:23OLOWU: It’s advertising. LIGON: It’s advertising. He’s, you know,
63:25there’s a reason he was on so many posters, smoking the cigarette, sitting in the chair
63:29with the sphere and the gun, you know, like, he was fine. You know, so (laughs) Yeah, next
63:37question! (general laughter)
63:40LIGON: Here. We have to wait for the mic. AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I’m curious to know what
63:47inspired this representation of Malcolm, this particular piece?
63:51LIGON: That was a project, Malcolm X was done for a show at the Walker Arts Center in 2001.
63:57I had a residency there, in Minneapolis, and the mandate around the residency was to work
64:06with communities within a 3-mile radius of the building. And the Walker… Minneapolis
64:14has people from all over the world have come there, some as refugees a lot of sort of it’s
64:21a very welcoming city to people that have sort of fleed[sic] difficult situations around
64:26the world. But I chose to sort of think about communities not in terms of ethnic groups
64:33say you know go work with Cambodian people or you know, I chose to think of community
64:39in terms of age groups. I thought, I want to work with kids, whoever they are.
64:46And I decided to do this project using these coloring books that I found in an archive
64:52in New York, part of the New York public library. And the images are coloring books that were
64:58done in the late 60s, early 70s, created by black educators who recognized that in the
65:08public school the sort of like government schools, black history isn’t being taught
65:15in a systematic way, you know, people aren’t being taught, kids aren’t
65:19being taught about Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas or Malcolm X.
65:25And so they create these coloring books as a way to sort of normalize these images of
65:29black heroes, basically. So the coloring books have these images of, you know, a little boy
65:37swinging on a tire or someone combing their hair, next to an image like Malcolm X.
65:43And so I take these images and I do these workshops with 3- and 4- and 5-year-olds who
65:48sort of like the age that these coloring books were pitched to and I give them to them and
65:52let them color on them. And then I made an exhibition based on how these kids have colored
65:58these images. So this is the most problematic image, you know, so you imagine, you know,
66:04I get back, I’m doing these workshops and I’m gathering up the drawings at the end,
66:07I was like, that’s an amazing image, you know, but I realize it’s also ilke, in some ways,
66:14like, there’s always this kind of an image of the father being feminized. You know, kids
66:19love to do that, you know. And this kid, 4 years old, 5 years old, he doesn’t, you
66:24know, as much as I can tell them about Malcolm X, it’s just an image to color, you know.
66:29So I thought what was interesting about it is that the political, social agenda behind
66:36the images is subverted by the kids that they’re sort of pitched to.
66:43That, but also I think this image is about how, you know, images and icons change over
66:51time, you know, at the moment that these images are being produced, late 60s, early 70s, Malcolm
66:58X is considered one of the most dangerous figures in American history, you know. Now
67:02you can go to the post office and buy a stamp with his image on it, you know. So it just
67:07tells you how icons and iconicity, you know, the meaning of images like this change over
67:13time. And so that project was about sort of like this lots of things. This gulf between
67:19my adult knowledge of what this image means, you know, the importance of Malcolm X as an
67:25icon, kids sort of disconnect with that image but also I think larger sense of how icons
67:34get made and remade over generations. So, that’s kind of how this came about. Maybe
67:45one question here and then we should? OLOWU: You don’t round up your talk!
67:47LIGON: What, what? OLOWU: The audience rounds up the talk.
67:51(laughter) AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: If you had to curate another
67:56show, of things that influence you, but you weren’t allowed to include artworks, what
67:59would be in it? LIGON: Well I think I would take a page from
68:06Duro’s book, there would be more textile work in it…
68:09OLOWU: Like who, for example? LIGON: Well, you know, it would be really
68:15nice to have, you know, some of the African fabrics that we talked about, you know, the
68:19British museum has lots of, you know, there’s many archives that I could have gone to for
68:23that. OLOWU: The Delaunay, or…
68:26LIGON: There’s a beautiful Delaunay textile upstairs, it was made as the covering for
68:32a cradle and incredible. It would be really interesting to think about that in relationship
68:37to Gee’s Bend quilts, you know, in relationship to abstraction. I’ve become really interested,
68:47you know, the funny thing to say these things is, I’m not a scholar, so a lot of this
68:51is about, in a way, giving myself license to be a little bit ignorant of the history
69:01of all these things so that I can do some things with them, you know. And I think, I
69:07sort of give myself a license as an artist to just remain a little ignorant and to go
69:12with instinct about what draws me to the piece than rather than read giant books about the
69:18history of this— OLOWU: Like a child.
69:20LIGON: Yeah, like a child, exactly. (both laugh)
69:23LIGON: No, but I think that, you know— OLOWU: It’s great!
69:25LIGON: That you have to in some ways for me, you have to follow your instincts first and
69:30then you do the research, you know. But it’s the instinctual draw to the thing for me that’s
69:36the most powerful. That’s how all the text in my paintings comes about, this kind of
69:41like, why is this still in my head. You know, Steve Reich, I’ve listened to this for twenty
69:46years, why is this still important, why is this still in my head? Let me do something
69:50with this, you know. And that doing something with it actually led me to do the research
69:57on the Harlem 6, I sort of vaguely knew the story but when I really read it and actually
70:02got a chance to meet Steve Reich recently, and he told me more information about this
70:07case, you know. But to, to go back to your question, you know,
70:12I got very interested in Korean pottery, there would be representations of that in the show.
70:18There’s a fantastic book I read that was called maybe Pictures of Sound and it’s
70:27basically a compendium of early ways that people visualized sound, so you know scrolls
70:35that were blackened with soot and then Neil’s(?) recording sound as it was being played and
70:44you know sort of these long strips where you’re sort of literally recording sound, you know.
70:50And those would be in the show too, so lots, there are lots of other things you know, but
70:55I’m still like kind of interested in this idea of making a show where things touch.
71:00No museum is going to let you do that— OLOWU: The insurance wouldn’t let you do
71:04that. LIGON: The insurance alone. You know, but
71:08anyway. But yeah I would expand the, it would be really interesting to do another kind of
71:12project like this that expanded into more sort of objects that don’t come from the
71:17art world. OLOWU: The institution of artwork.
71:20LIGON: Yeah. … can I, can I stop now? (laughter)
71:23OLOWU: There’s one lady up there, but I think you can. Are you going to give her a
71:32chance, a quick question. LIGON: Yeah, if there’s one more question
71:34it can be the last question. Up there. In the back.
71:38OLOWU: People have paid money, Glenn, this is a real gig. Right in the back.
71:45(laughter) OLOWU: It’s okay now, just one more.
71:48LIGON: Yeah, yeah. It’s drink time, though. Sorry.
71:50AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: In your Nottingham, in your show in Nottingham, I was kind of expecting
71:55as well as piece by Kosuth probably I might be wrong, so I was wondering if like Joseph
72:02Kosuth’s practice or more strictly conceptual art of the 60s in a way are referential or
72:09influential for your or on the other end, not at all?
72:12LIGON: Sorry, who was the artist you were expecting?
72:15AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Joseph Kosuth, or more conceptual like 1960s conceptual.
72:19LIGON: I don’t like his work. (laughter)
72:20OLOWU: Okay! (laughs) LIGON: Sorry.
72:21OLOWU: Sorry! LIGON: Yeah, I mean, he’s an important artist,
72:26I just don’t like his work. OLOWU: No, you don’t not like his work,
72:34it’s part— LIGON: No, I’m not interested in his work,
72:34I’m not interested. OLOWU: Glenn (laughs) It wasn’t part of
72:35your thought process at the time. LIGON: Yes, it wasn’t part of my thought
72:40process at the time. Exactly, Duro. OLOWU: This might be a good way to stop.
72:45LIGON: Yes, this is a good place to end! Thank you!