Artist: Tony Cokes
Venue: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge
Exhibition Title: If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol. 2
Date: January 30 – April 12, 2020
Curated By: Dan Byers
Full gallery of images, press release and link available after the jump.
Tony Cokes, The Will, installation at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 01:21
Tony Cokes, Morrissey, installation at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 01:08
Tony Cokes, Untitled (m.j.: the symptom)(excerpt), installation at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 00:40
Tony Cokes, Untitled (m.j.: the symptom)(excerpt), installation at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 03:08
Images courtesy of Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge
The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts is pleased to present If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol. 2, an exhibition by Tony Cokes. Since the mid-1980s, Cokes has explored the complexities of race, politics, and American cultural identity with videos that collage found images, color theory, and pop music with textual extracts from a range of sources. If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol. 2 is a cross-section of the artist’s work over three decades, and includes two new commissions. The works in this show explore topics as various as the origins of techno, Aretha Franklin’s cultural legacy,the Los Angeles-based architect Paul Williams, and the use of pop music as a weapon of torture. Together, Cokes’s works create a panoramic and ambivalent impression of contemporary America, while interrogating the media’s role in manufacturing narratives and reinforcing structures of power.
If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol. 2 begins on Level 1 with two works that combine Cokes’s interests in historiography, black identity, and pop music. In The Queen Is Dead…Fragment 1 (2019), Cokes reflects on the cultural and political legacy of the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin. In the aftermath of Franklin’s death, numerous critics weighed in on the singer’s influence as a music icon and a civil rights activist. Cokes sets selections from these texts against a soundtrack of Franklin’s most popular ballads, and in doing so draws our attention to pop music’s dual function as a commodity and a medium of dissent. Also on Level 1 is Mikrohaus, or the black atlantic? (2006 – 2008), which adapts and refashions a text from the critic Paul Gilroy. Gilroy argues that blackness is a transnational identity that circulates through music, and Cokes presents this text against minimal techno music, a genre whose origins can be traced to black-American musical traditions such as soul and funk.
Cokes’s interest in biography and black identity runs through much of the work that follows. Two works that examine the life of Paul Revere Williams, The Will & The Way Fragment 1 (2019) and the Will & The Way Fragment 2 (2019), will be projected on the exterior of the Carpenter Center’s historic Le Corbusier building. Williams was a black architect from Los Angeles who designed a number of celebrity homes in the early-to-mid 20th century. Cokes’s two-part meditation on Williams’s career compiles anecdotes from Karon E. Hudson’s biography of the architect, many of which highlight the racism Williams faced in his career and speak to the larger structures of discrimination that undermine black artists.
The exhibition continues on Level 3 with works that complicate and expand Cokes’s investigations into pop music as a shapeshifting agent of social and political messaging. On this level are two new works commissioned by the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in London. The first, entitled The Morrissey Problem (2019), adapts music writer Joshua Surtrees’s essay on Morrissey’s recent alignment with far-Right politics. The second, Untitled (m.j.: the symptom) (2019), explores the contested legacy of Michael Jackson, and collages texts by Jeremy Gilbert, Charles Holland, and Joshua Clover from a book on the pop star edited by Mark Fisher. Also on Level 3 is Evil.16 (Torture.Musick), which adapts Moustafa Bayoumi’s “Disco Inferno,” an essay that describes the U.S. military’s use of pop music as a weapon of psychological torture. Cokes pairs this text with a playlist of music used to torture detainees during the Bush administration’s so-called “War on Terror.” Playing on monitors along the corridor wall are two of Cokes’s earliest films. The first, The Book of Love (1992), is one of Cokes’s most personal works to date. Here, Cokes interviews his mother, and from this interview attempts to fashion a documentary that “frames its own devices.” Beside this work is FADE TO BLACK (1990), a chronology of stereotyped depictions of blackness in cinema set against audio from Malcolm X, Public Enemy, and others. At the end of the hallway, one finds another video from Cokes’s Evil series, Evil.66.1 (2016), which compiles Donald Trump’s misogynistic commentary leading up to the 2017 inauguration.
Tony Cokes: If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol. 1-3 is co-organized with Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, London, whose iteration recently closed on January 12, 2020, and ARGOS Centre for audiovisual arts in Brussels, whose exhibition If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol. 3 will be on view from September 6 to December 20, 2020.