Silent Witness: Recent Work of Ken Gonzales-Day
31 March > 20 May 2011
From the Press Release:
LA JOLLA, CA--The UCSD University Art Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibition by the internationally recognized photographer and installation artist Ken Gonzales-Day, running from April 1 – May 20, with an opening reception with the artist on March 31 from 5:30pm- 8:30pm. The show, Silent Witness: Recent Work by Ken Gonzales-Day, has been curated by Grant Kester, Elize Mazadiego and Jenn Moreno specifically for the University Art Gallery. It will feature selections from two recent projects by Gonzales-Day: California Hang Trees and Erased Lynchings. In the Erased Lynching series Gonzales-Day uses enlargements of postcards and photographs created to commemorate and publicize lynchings (these images became so pervasive that the U.S. Postal Service had to ban their circulation in 1908). Lynchings were often seen as festive occasions and a form of entertainment, especially in smaller rural communities, so these images frequently included enthusiastic crowds of on-lookers. Gonzales-Day began working with this material following the controversy that surrounded the Without Sanctuary exhibition at the New York Historical Society in 2000, which featured a series of over two hundred lynching photographs and postcards. The re-presentation of this material raised a number of compelling questions for Gonzales-Day. How do you overcome historical amnesia surrounding America's racist and violent past, without at the same time reigniting the voyeuristic fascination that accompanied the original circulation of these images? What is the pedagogy of suffering, and what lessons do these images carry with them today?
Gonzales-Day approached these questions through a process of reversal in the Erased Lynching series, maintaining the surrounding scenes of leering, indifferent, or amused, crowds but subtracting the victim's body. This spatial displacement was then carried forward through a process of temporal displacement in the California Hang Trees series. Here Gonzales-Day located a series of surviving lynch trees in the California countryside (or tress in close proximity to confirmed lynching sites) and produced large-format color landscape photographs of them. They are portraits, in a manner of speaking, that suggest the very real, physical, traces of California's repressed past. Their location, from rural back-country to suburban office parks, can produce a jarring recognition of the violent history that lies just beneath the surface of an alternately banal or bucolic present. We have had our own moments of jarring recognition here at UCSD in the past year, as students have happened upon Klan hoods and nooses in the Geisel Library, and the stairwell near the University Art Gallery. These incidents raise significant questions about the relationship between action and symbolic speech that have only become more pertinent with the passage of time. The noose, like the burning cross, is a promise, an incitement, and a reminder of both a deplorable past and the possibility of violence yet to come. Gonzales-Day reminds us that the act of witnessing is never innocent.
Gonzales-Day's work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions at venues including the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Generali Foundation in Vienna, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, El Museo del Barrio in New York City, and the Tamayo Art Center in Mexico City, among many others. Gonzales-Day has also conducted original research on the history of lynching in America. His groundbreaking book Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke University Press, 2006), has done much to complicate our historical understanding of lynching, exposing it's widespread use as a form of domestic terrorism well beyond the southeastern United States (there were 354 recorded lynchings in California alone between 1850 and 1935), along with the high proportion of Latino lynching victims in the western U.S.