South Bronx Recreation of MLK and Oratory lends itself to critical remix

I am going to mingle visual art with literature, (community art) and (oratory), continuing the tradition of the “visual turn” which seems to be a revolving door.  One side is text and ideas the other, simulacra and visuality.  

MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is the focus of my remix (linked at the end of this message.  First, a different angle on visual rhetoric looking at oratory.  

Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

By Merrily Kerr

Same ethos, new gallery: Tim Rollins and his K.O.S. cohort continue to make resonant art in their signature medium of book pages and paint on canvas. K.O.S., or Kids of Survival, is made up of students and alumni from Rollins’s workshops, and their collaboration’s anomalous dual status as both fine art and community art continues to force questions about what art is and who makes it.

The work makes answers moot: After 26 years, Rollins and K.O.S.’s pieces still have power. A canvas featuring a giant black X painted over pages from Malcolm X’s autobiography shares the bold, minimalist chic of Wade Guyton’s ink-jet series on the same letter. Triangles and vertical lines suggest Goth-inflected diagrams, but turn out to represent Martin Luther King’s metaphorical mountaintop (the pyramids) and his time in prison (the bars).

Race, never mind faith, is rarely on the agenda in Chelsea these days, but here a painting of a cross quotes King’s observation that “the problem of race is America’s greatest moral dilemma.” In a series of smaller-scale works, delicate splatters of paint obfuscate the score of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, written with loss and redemption in mind as World War II drew to a close.

Rollins has said that classic literature helps his students take their own measure, as well as the measure of the current cultural climate. By their lights, it looks like America has some way to go, although these texts, and by extension the pieces they are part of, inspire. And if their straightforward sincerity grates, there’s plenty of lighter fare around the neighborhood.

now for press article #2:

Art Info

Nov. 2008

Tim Rollins and K.O.S. in New York

By Jillian Steinhauer

NEW YORK—The paintings by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) on view at Lehmann Maupin may take visual cues from Minimalism, but in their aim they are the very opposite. Whereas the Minimalists decried art as self-expression, focusing instead on formal concerns, Rollins and K.O.S. use abstract shapes and decontextualized letters to communicate their highly personal interpretations of literature, politics, and history.

This is and always has been the crux of the collaborative team’s artistic practice, which began in 1982, when Rollins, then a special education art teacher in the South Bronx, launched an after-school program called the Art and Knowledge Workshop, whose goal was to use art as a tool for understanding literature. Rollins began collaborating with some of the regular attendees, a group of at-risk kids who called themselves K.O.S., and in less than a year, they were contributing work to shows at galleries in New York and Los Angeles. 

In the 26 years since, the makeup of K.O.S. has changed as members have come and gone, but the style of the art has very much remained the same. The group pastes pages from a classic work of literature, or sheet music from a classical composition, onto a canvas and then paints over them with images that represent themes in the work as well how those themes relate to members’ backgrounds and lives.

The ten paintings at Lehmann Maupin, on view through December 20, take race as their subject, using texts by Malcolm X, Harriet Jacobs, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and employing, fittingly, an all black-and-white palette (with the exception of a small brown square in the work Suffering and Faith). The imagery ranges from oblique associations — a giant black triangle in I see the promised land (after the Rev. Dr. M. L. King, Jr.) — to more blatant ones — the letters IM painted in black in Invisible Man (after Ralph Ellison). While some might argue that the latter appears too obvious, the simple-minded work of “kids,” the big, bold letters render Ellison’s title nearly ironic by proclaiming their presence and prompting a visual leap from IM to I AM.

"With our group being based in the Longwood historic district of the South Bronx since 1982, this excellent museum exhibition is our history made personal. What a testimony of hope, pride, and perseverance that in addition looks really, really good."

What I did is simply remixed, animated, and layered three pieces from Rollins and K.O.S. because to give anything motion is a commendable thing.  And to further their trajectory, even in the smallest nuance as I have done, shows there’s great potential to keep these ideas circulating, interesting, and in dialogue with one another.  

My tiler collage of the painting “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and 2 others form the same series (originally viewable here (visible the URL of animated collage is:

There are countless emergent affordances yet to be designed, implemented, and practiced.  This is merely one instantiation of productive, locomotive, framed and layered experiences being presented together, bringing life back into the reality behind the titles, and static compositions.  Is criticism not supposed to do this?

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