Tomashi Jackson rediscovers Long Island’s besieged past
WATER MILL, NY – Until recently, artists and vacationers lived inexpensively in many areas of the Hamptons and surrounding communities. Now, of course, this situation has changed dramatically. However, thanks to zoning regulations, there is still considerable land devoted to agriculture, which brings in farm workers who often have to travel by bus. But real estate prices have skyrocketed, and many high-end stores and restaurants have moved in. In response to gentrification and, more recently, the urban exodus caused by COVID-19, there are also many pop-up sites hosted by greater New York City. galleries. As always, the art business follows money. It’s a familiar situation; it’s not that different from what happened in Manhattan’s East Village in the 1980s, where art galleries paved the way for posh real estate and other forms of gentrification.
The Parrish Museum, whose current large building opened in 2012, has a particular interest in showcasing the many American artists who have lived and worked in the East End of Long Island. And that of Tomashi Jackson The land claim presents the work of a visitor who has studied and critically responded to the recent history of this region. Beginning in January 2020, Jackson, who was invited by the museum, began an in-depth dialogue with local Indigenous, Black and Latin families in the East End of Long Island. A conversation with a member of the Shinnecock Nation about land appropriation inspired the title.
The exhibition has four distinct parts: an outdoor audio recording of these interviews (“The Interviews”, 2021); a vinyl window installation and painting in the museum lobby; six other large paintings in the first gallery; and, finally, in the following gallery, archival documents such as photographs and books. Audio and archival materials are the basis of his window and his paintings. The window, “Vessels of Light (From Jeremy, Juni, and Steven)” (2021), is made up of enlarged photographs of Jackson’s interview subjects, including images of Shinnecock children and descendants of black farm workers. . Brightly colored glass panes cast purple, blue, and yellow shadows on the lobby floor; through them the large sculpture garden of the parish can be seen. The painting, “Three Sisters” (2021), which hangs next to “Vessels of Light,” has photographs visible under reddish translucent leaves, which partially obscure the faces of the women.
Jackson’s paintings use locally sourced fabrics, sacks of potatoes, ground shells from a wampum sculptor Shinnecock, and soil from the museum site; potatoes were grown at the site, which was once a farm employing black and Latin migrants. She paints historic photographic images in halftone lines and overlays them with images printed on clear vinyl tapes, the paintings framed in wooden constructions by Ruben Palencia that extend from the wall below.
The works are complex constructions. “Among the Protectors (Hawthorne Road and the Pell Case)” (2021), for example, recreates a photograph of a woman standing in front of a bulldozer; she protests against a development of the Hamptons on the sacred land of Shinnecock. The piece also includes an image of another activist, Chenae Bullock, leading a Shinnecock prayer service at a construction site where the remains of what was most likely a member of the Shinnecock Nation were discovered. To these layers, Jackson added local dirt, dust from a wampum sculptor’s workshop, Shinnecock, and burlap sacks of potatoes.
I generally focus on the work on display, without paying much attention to wall labels and other ancillary information that can be found online. And so, I admit, at first I didn’t pay much attention to Jackson’s archival documents. His exhibit had, I believed, two clearly competing goals: to make compelling paintings and to document the political and social history of the Hamptons. The paintings seemed clearly indebted to Robert Rauschenberg’s serigraphs of the 1960s, but where his combinations of early art photographs and contemporary topical images often responded only tangentially to politics, Jackson aspires to make a statement. critique using local photographs. However, installed in the magnificent Herzog & de Meuron galleries, with very high ceilings and white walls, his works risk becoming a luxury, like any art in such settings. And that’s a difficult position for a political artist.
But first impressions can be deceptive. When I looked further and thought more I realized that I had completely misunderstood The land claim because I had misidentified Jackson’s works. Far from being mere paintings, they are artefacts in two parts: paintings and archival supplements. Without its audio and archival presentation, which highlights the presence of communities threatened with marginalization or even disappearance, these paintings would remain incomplete.
The museum’s website advises: “Visitors are encouraged to add images, anecdotes and experiences to the narrative by attaching their own family photos and written accounts to the north wall,” which is in the second gallery dedicated to the exposure. This is an important statement, as many visitors to the museum come from a relatively privileged position and therefore we have to consider the social costs of our lifestyles. The very titles of his paintings “Among the Fruits”, “Between the Heirs” and “Between the Protectors” (all in 2021) underscore the importance of this besieged social history, which must be preserved. And if the claims of his art are heard, it is an important step towards achieving this goal.
Tomashi Jackson: the land claim continues at the Parrish Art Museum (279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, New York) through November 7.
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