Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 7:30pm
Two Videos by Adrian Piper

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Funk Lessons, 1983, video, 15 mins
My Calling (Card) #1 Double Meta-Performance, 1987-88, video, 58 mins

Light Industry presents two rarely-screened videos by artist and philosopher Adrian Piper.

“From 1982 to 1984, I staged collaborative performances with large or small groups of people, entitled Funk Lessons,” Piper writes in her essay “Notes on Funk I." Though funk constituted one of the major forms of American popular music at the time, Piper then observed that “this medium of expression has been largely inaccessible to white culture, in particular because of the different roles of social dance in white as opposed to black culture.” To overcome this knowledge gap, Piper created an event that was equal parts musicological lecture and practical instruction. “I began by introducing some of the basic dance moves to the audience, and discussing their cultural and historical background, meanings, and the roles they play in black culture,” Piper relates. “By breaking down the basic movements into their essentials, these apparently difficult or complex patterns became easily accessible to everyone.” Piper’s videotape Funk Lessons documents what she calls “one of the more successful performances,” staged at UC Berkeley in 1983, and extends its playful, acutely self-aware pedagogy. In the tape, Piper performs as an affable instructor, guiding a large, mixed but mostly-white crowd through the basics of isolated moves like the two-step, the shoulder shrug, and the head nod while imparting theoretical notes on funk’s modular, improvisational, and polyrhythmic structures. Funk, Piper explains in the video, “is participatory and non-exhibitionistic, in the sense that the whole aesthetic behind this kind of dance is not about achievement. Nobody cares how good or bad anybody else looks because everyone is too busy enjoying themselves.”

About half a decade later, Piper staged another collaborative experiment with related goals, but highly different means, based around the effects of one of Piper’s most well-known pieces, My Calling (Card) #1 (1986-1990). In this “reactive guerrilla performance,” as Piper outlines in her essay “My Calling (Cards) #1 and #2," “the situation is one in which I find myself in otherwise exclusively white company at a dinner or cocktail party, in which those present do not realize I am black” and “thinking themselves in sympathetic company, they (or any one of them) proceed to make racist remarks.” Her response to such a situation was to unceremoniously hand out a simple calling card containing a pre-written text, alerting her fellow guest to the fact that, despite what they may have presumed because of her light skin, she is in fact black. "I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you,” the card concludes, “just as I am sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me."

Rather than documenting My Calling (Card) #1 directly—indeed, it would be essentially impossible to do so—Piper’s video My Calling (Card) #1 Double Meta-Performance presents footage of what Piper terms “meta-performances,” consisting of reactions to the concept of Piper’s piece. The earlier of two meta-performances on the tape took place at the Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago in 1987, in which My Calling (Card) #1 served as the subject of discussion. The second meta-performance, meanwhile, at the Studio Museum in Harlem, focused its conversations around the Randolph Street Gallery meta-performance, and in the final video footage of the Chicago meta-performance is edited into that of the Harlem meta-performance, functioning as a kind of extended flashback. The Chicago participants are all white, whereas the New York crowd is more diverse, but predominantly black; the differences between each group’s reactions become instructive.

My Calling (Card) #1 Double Meta-Performance recalls the cybernetic ideals of video as a social feedback mechanism among artists of the 1970s, the reflexive use of video in psychotherapy, and the contemporaneous late-80s phenomenon of topical talk shows. But unlike in talk shows, the audience’s responses here are repurposed for their catalytic potential rather than reduced to mere spectacle. Thus the effects of an intimate one-on-one performance—the private handing of the card to a white subject—become amplified, expanding outward through the nested structure of the meta-performances to an increasingly wide public. The largest set would be the viewers of the final videotape itself since, as Piper notes, “whoever watches the tape edited from these two meta-performances will be participating in a third level of self-conscious meta-performance, taking the combined tape itself as the object of critique.”

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.

Above image: Adrian Piper, My Calling (Card) #1 (for Dinners and Cocktail Parties), 1986-1990. Performance prop: business card with printed text on cardboard. 3.5" x 2" (9,0 cm x 5,1 cm). Collection Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin. © APRA Foundation Berlin.