Impressionistic painting of a Black man in a pinstripe suit reclines on a floral-patterned sofa to read a book. His legs are crossed.

The Meaning in Everything: Synchronicity at Roberts Projects

Impressionistic painting of a Black man in a pinstripe suit reclines on a floral-patterned sofa to read a book. His legs are crossed.
Wangari Mathenge, The Ascendants III (Assault At Mogadishu), 2020. Oil on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Alan Schaffer.

There are four main characters in Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, all of whom are intertwined by synchronicities. Two are stuck in direct opposition. Tereza places heavy significance on coincidences, which color her life with beauty and meaning. Tomas, conversely, is burdened by the infinite choices and paths he could take. Kundera encapsulates that anxiety and writes, “we can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our years to come.”

The concept of synchronicity—the simultaneous occurrence of phenomena that seem related but aren’t—has its roots in astrology, mondalogy, correspondence, sympathetic magic, Tibetian Buddhism, and theI Ching. Synchronicity’s influence from ancient Chinese medical and scientific texts stem from how they question what likes to accompany what, rather than what causes what. The ten artists in Synchronicity, recently on view at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles, each embody this search for meaning in the infinite unknowability of life. Some explain the inexplicable with destiny, or God, while others embrace uncertainty. Ultimately, they all share their respective means of coping with a universe that is, at first glance, wholly chaotic. 

Painting of a Black woman lying on the ground, a pillow under her head, her limbs folded and settled. A book lies open on the ground, the cover reads "Imperial Reckoning." She is surrounded by patterns, some reminiscent of African dress (e.g. "HUG WENU UFISADI..." is written on her pant leg), others classic American print (e.g. argyle, checkers, floral).
Wangari Mathenge, The Ascendants VI (Imperial Reckoning), 2020. Oil on canvas, 68 x 90 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Alan Schaffer.

Wangari Mathenge‘s work is rife with visual clues that hint at heavy personal significance. In The Ascendants III (Assault at Mogadishu) (2020), the Kenyan artist saturates the scene with 1970s cool. A man in a grey, three piece pin-stripe suit with a dotted tie sits on a creamy couch with orange and gold floral accents reading a copy of the 1977 book Assault at Mogadishu by German journalists Hermann Kai and Peter Koch, an inside account of a German special operation against international terrorism. The Ascendants VI (Imperial Reckoning) (2020) portrays a complementary scene to Ascendants III by introducing an exuberant color palette, a different subject, and different books. A woman lies on the ground with her eyes closed, dressed in beautiful, silky gold and brown pants, bare feet, a black dotted shirt, and a cheetah-print head scarf. The book laying on the black and white spotted rug below her is Caroline Elkins’s Imperial Reckoning, about the atrocities committed by the British against the Kenyan Kikuyu people. Among the books on the table, between the vibrant purple couches wrapped in red and white windowpane check blankets and an assortment of leaf-patterned brightly colored pillows, is The Anarchy, a chronology by William Dalrymple on how the British colonized India. 

Kundera writes that if Tereza had not heard Beethoven playing on the radio, if Tomas had not been seated in her section of the restaurant reading a book, or if he had come even five minutes earlier, they would not have met and their story would not exist. Each work in this exhibition seeks to show the viewer how they create order and composition with otherwise random objects and subjects. What’s more, they remind the viewer that the disorderliness of the universe, the seemingly meaningless events of the mundane and the day-to-day, can become treasure troves of signals and meaning if you pay attention.

Vivid portrait of a Black person with hands held together just below their face, eyes drifted just out of frame, painted with layered brushstrokes of earthy reds, blues, browns, greens.
Amoako Boafo, Nuerki, 2019. Oil on canvas. 40 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California; Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.
Mixed-media piece, including a painting of two black vases against rich, purple and red backgrounds, and what appears to be a photograph of shrubbery. Foregrounded, a sculpted piece of what seems to be a twig protruding from an apple-shaped orb, below which are scattered a pile of multi-colored, Lego- or perhaps candy-like objects, along the bottom of the frame.
Betye Saar, Green Vision at the Villa, 1994. Mixed media collage. 14 x 11 x 1 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

The synchronicities within this exhibition play out like “slice of life” works. Methenge’s duo, like Tereza, combine a series of symbols that are deeply significant to the artist; books, clothing, and furniture that point to a specific moment in time and result in the final outcome of the work. Betye Saar’s assemblage series Visions at the Villa (1994) does this as well, perhaps more abstractly; her assemblages combine a multitude of significant materials that culminate in living memory boxes. They appear as a string of non-causal coincidences that invite the viewer into these highly intimate scenes, as seen too with the expressionistic portraiture of Amoako Boafo in Nuerki (2019). Boafo brings the viewer face-to-face with their subjects. Each artist combines signifiers and symbols that relate heavily to who they are. Though the viewer may not know what influences them, they can still bask in these moments that contain a multitude of meanings. 

Synchronicity
Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA
September 19 – December 5, 2020

A screenshot of the Grammar of Grief Handbook website homepage. The background is black and there are four square, black and white images in a horizontal row in the middle of the screen. EAch one has a different icon on it, indicating Sound, Movement, Writing, and Environment.

Collective Grieving Through an Interactive Website

Indira Allegra, Grammar of Grief Handbook, 2020. Website homepage. http://grammarofgriefhandbook.com/.

Introducing their Grammar of Grief Handbook (all works 2020), Indira Allegra writes that “loss is a normal part of lived experience.” Small scale losses happen daily: our keys, a favorite earring. We may pause for a moment, but quickly move on. But how do we cope with losses of greater magnitude, or with dimensions that are harder to map? Allegra’s online handbook, created during the Adjacent’s Virtual Residency at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco last fall, offers a set of performative actions to process loss. Divided into four different categories—Sound, Movement, Writing and Environment—each action is easily done with everyday materials. Particularly resonant during a time when many of us are grieving changes both manifest and existential due to the coronavirus pandemic, Allegra’s Handbook invites us to inhabit our bodies to process bereavement. Though done alone, in the private spaces of our homes, Allegra’s performative practices offer the possibility of transcendence of the individual to a more connected moment of community mourning.

Indira Allegra, Can’t Cry, 2020. Grammar of Grief website screen recording. http://grammarofgriefhandbook.com/environment/cant-cry/.

Most of the actions Allegra offers in Handbook are simple and underscore a bodily connection to grief. For each, the online project instructs us to perform the action, then reflect on how we feel. In Breath, Allegra’s invitation is to “hold your breath once a day. For as long as you can. Feel your heart thundering. This too, is a memorial.” As I inhale deeply and suspend my exhalation, I feel my heart’s increasing panic, pounding in my chest. The moment of release comes as relief, as my heart returns to its normal rhythm. Here, Allegra gives the user a tangible physical sensation to link to grief: the loss of our breath results in feeling our heart’s desperate thumping. Likewise, in Missing Touch, the artist asks us to open a window and expose to fresh air a part of our body which has not been touched recently. In this instance, the air is a ghostly surrogate, caressing our bare flesh in place of a loved one. As in Breath, Allegra grounds the abstract experience of missing and longing in the physical body.

As of my writing in February 2021, nearly 430,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the US since the first cases landed here in early 2020. In that span, many of us have lost jobs and freedom of movement, in addition to the loss of life from the virus. We’ve lost time: to celebrate birthdays and holidays, to mark milestones and achievements. The pandemic has hit hardest in Black, Indigenous, and other communities, while our country is having a national reckoning with a long and ongoing history of systemic racism and police violence that targets these vulnerable communities. In response to the tension of our moment, Allegra’s Handbook answers with Legacy. Here, the artist gives us 8 minutes and 46 seconds to consider and list our legacy, the same amount of time that George Floyd had in his last moments to reflect upon his life as he was pinned down by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In this performative action, Allegra painfully invokes us to inhabit our bodies and minds, as we make sense of something as intangible as a whole life in just a few minutes.

Indira Allegra, Legacy, 2020. Grammar of Grief Handbook website screenshot. http://grammarofgriefhandbook.com/writing/legacy/.

Allegra is mindful of the common forms of expressing grief, noting in her introduction to Handbook that “memorials are typically thought of as stone structures rising above eye level in a public square.” They are also rituals and ceremonies that in normal times we attend in the company of others. Judith Butler, writing after 9/11 in response to the public grieving that came in the aftermath, explains, “loss and vulnerability seem to follow from our being socially constituted bodies, attached to others, at risk of losing those attachments, exposed to others, at risk of violence by virtue of that exposure.”1 Mostly isolated in our homes for all of 2020, and under a Trump administration that refused to acknowledge these tragedies on any level, the connectedness we seek in collective mourning has been noticeably absent. In moving the grieving process to the virtual world, and in finding individual actions that can be done easily at home, Allegra’s Handbook fills this void. Maybe we don’t need to see rows of lanterns standing vigil in front of the National Monument, but we do need 8 minutes and 46 seconds to reflect on a life lived.


1 Butler, Judith, “Violence, Mourning, and Politics,” Studies in Gender and Sexuality 4 no. 1 (2003): 10.

Graphite drawing on a square piece of white paper. Hand written words at the top of the paper read TRAUMA, LOL. Below the words is a smiley face made out of smaller words. The circular outline is the words TRAUMA UPON TRAUMA repeated over and over again. The eyes of the smiley are the words IMPORTANT (on the left) and COOL (on the right). The smile is made up of the words STAY POSITIVE.

Facing Pervasive Trauma with Humor and Hope: Christine Sun Kim at François Ghebaly

Christine Sun Kim, Trauma, LOL, 2020. Charcoal
on paper, 58.25 x 58.25 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and
François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.

Despite last year’s somber circumstances, Christine Sun Kim found humor and hope within unending crisis. Known for charcoal drawings exploring the heterogeneity and intricacy of Deaf culture, language, and sound, Kim turns a critical and humorous gaze towards her 2020 experience. At François Ghebaly in Los Angeles, CA, Kim’s Trauma, LOL (all works 2020) remains authentic to the title as it elegantly transitions between unearthing racist histories and presents, jovial insights into American Sign Language, and the unrelenting oppression of others. Grounded in her experience as a Deaf woman of color, the exhibition dances between humor and trauma, work and rest, depicting a struggle familiar to anyone who dares to be anything but cisgender, white, heterosexual, able-bodied.

Kim’s year began with signing a duet with singer Demi Lovato for millions at Super Bowl LIV. Amid the signing and singing, the feed cut away to players, abruptly ending deaf viewer’s access to Lovato’s performance. In the enduring fight for inclusive and accessible media, Fox Sports’ decision came across as cold and disrespectful. She responded with a New York Times opinion article and a pair of drawings. A notation for her America the Beautiful performance hangs alongside the third verse to the Star-Spangled Banner. Kim’s notation of the underpublicized third verse directs the attention to its latent racist origin. The placement of “slave” within the marks for “stripe,” inside the fabric of the country, embodies the entrenched racist history we still occupy. The NAACP has called for the song’s removal, citing its anti-Black rhetoric alongside lyric writer Francis Scott Key’s holding of enslaved people.1 Still, Key’s writing stands as this nation’s rallying cry.

Christine Sun Kim, America the Beautiful, 2020.
Charcoal on paper, 58.25 x 58.25 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and
François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.
Christine Sun Kim, Now Your Turn, 2020. Charcoal
on paper, 49.25 x 49.25 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and
François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.

The pairing of When Grammar Mood and Pronouns in American Sign Language pivot the conversation to languages and the emotions within. While a gravitas still underlies their construction, the tonal shift provides a playful respite. Similarly, the I walk I see triptych jests about homophones and double meaning across English and ASL. The “I” panel has several registers of “eye” atop musical notes while “See” is accompanied by a sea of “spot,” a more faithful translation from ASL. Clock Face, a ring of expressions for various ASL literary art forms, once again interweaves levity and analysis of Deaf experience. The structure is replicated in the adjacent room with Deaf Traumas, now addressing intersectional conflict and privilege across the Deaf Community.

Round­ing the corner reveals the large mural Turning Clock in the second room. From the room’s center, you see a series of rotating hands, which signify “turn” in ASL, where the hours would reside. To your back are Now Your Turn and the titular Trauma, LOL, mirroring the mural’s design. The triad of pieces, with their timepiece design and addressing of the audience, communicates the need for shared responsibility in the fight against oppression. The pronoun “your” directs the call to action at the viewer. The artist is tired. Now is Kim’s turn to rest, and those in control and privileged to work. It is exhausting and unsustainable being an unsupported fighter for minuscule gains.

Christine Sun Kim, Trauma, LOL, 2020 (installation view). Courtesy of the Artist and
François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.
Nine graphite drawings on paper hanging on a white wall above a concrete floor. The rectangular frames are arranged like an undulating wave, some higher, some lower.
Christine Sun Kim, Trauma, LOL, 2020 (installation view). Courtesy of the Artist and
François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.

The eastern wall houses Trauma as a Baby, Trauma with Thick Skin, and, bluntly, Trauma. Trauma spans seven frames, each featuring a line undulating rhythmically across a label-less axis, capturing distinct encounters with trauma through variable text and stroke. Trauma as a Baby and Trauma with Thick Skin show different encounters with trauma on a singular graph, labeled as impact over time. Each piece elaborates on the long-term, possibly generational, influence of traumatic moments. Trauma sits with you, regardless of resiliency or coping mechanisms. It becomes not just the incidence of trauma but the labor and healing time that accumulate and weigh on the mind and body, the “trauma upon trauma upon trauma…” as the title work declares. The compounding labor and exhaustion from traumas emphasizes the need for collaborators in the fight for equity prescribed beforehand. Under ideal circumstances, allyship is this respectful symbiotic relationship yet history demonstrates how quickly zealous work fades into passive involvement to apathy.

Decades after the campaign for and signing of The American with Disabilities Act in 1990, fewer than one-quarter of parents sign to their deaf children and globally only 2% receive an education in sign language.2 In this hearing-centric world where live interpretation is classified as “bonus footage,” Deaf culture continues to be suppressed. Kim’s Competing Languages captures this discordant reality. The title’s severing and placement within two upturned notes create tension, mirroring the contending forces of a signed education and a hearing society.

Christine Sun Kim, Trauma, 2020 (detail). Courtesy of the Artist and
François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. Photo: Paul Salveson.

The struggle for inclusion is unsurprising because the system is intentionally designed. Three Tables III (AGB, HPA, DTS) nest musical bars to embody the personal strife for inclusion and access as a consequence of the larger bastions against progress. At the base is “Dinner Table Syndrome”: the common phenomenon of deaf people’s exclusion from dining table conversation by hearing people. “Hearing People Anxiety” is that same dread of exclusion when venturing to any hearing-centric event. HPA also encapsulates the additional effort deaf people undertake before going out in a hearing-centric world. The highest register reads “Alexander Graham Bell.” Bell’s legacy as an oralist and eugenic practices to eradicate signing has scarred the education for generations of deaf children. The layering of phrases crystalizes how macro systems generate an inescapable web, contorting and compressing the public and personal realities for deaf individuals.

Kim captures the moments where deafness, gender, race, and national origin, among other identities, collide with a society ill-equipped to make space. Layering humor, trauma, and lived experience gives multiple threads to connect with, inviting the audience to reflect on personal encounters with oppression and how, despite all odds, we coped and survived. Trauma, LOL reminds us that ally is a verb. Supporting the disenfranchised to create change is a continuous investment and promise from those empowered to help, not just those directly affected.3 While they have fought for the current conditions, it is through intentional collaborations that we advance reform.

Christine Sun Kim: Trauma, LOL
François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
December 12, 2020 – January 23, 2021

This interview is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color cofounded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Read more about Variable West’s Critical Minded Grant here.


1 CBS News, “National anthem lyrics prompt California NAACP to call for replacing song,” November 8, 2017, accessed January 24, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/national-anthem-lyrics-california-naacp-star-spangled-banner/

2 The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, “About the foundation,” accessed January 24, 2020. https://nyledimarcofoundation.com/about/

3 Carolyn Lazard, Accessibility in the Arts: A Promise and a Practice, (Reading, PA: The Standard Group) 2019. https://promiseandpractice.art

A collaged image that resembles the Temperance card: an ancient Egyptian figure hurryingly pours one cup of water into another. Underneath their feet, the advertisement for Miss Cleo’s number creeps up; the description for this card reads: “The US Public Health Service began ‘The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in African American Male.’”

Black Life Exploited for White Lies: Ilana Harris-Babou’s Long Con at Jacob Lawrence Gallery

A collaged image that resembles the Temperance card: an ancient Egyptian figure hurryingly pours one cup of water into another. Underneath their feet, the advertisement for Miss Cleo’s number creeps up; the description for this card reads: “The US Public Health Service began ‘The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in African American Male.’”
Ilana Harris-Babou, installation detail, 2020. Courtesy of Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

How can satire and collage techniques expose capitalist strategies of using Black bodies to exploit spiritual, mental, and physical health, and to force mystifying consumer relationships? How can satire and collage create new imaginative storylines that explore the emphatic performance of Black iconic, hotep-ish figures, like Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi, amid such mystifying consumer relationships? These are the questions ruminating in my head as I experienced Ilana Harris-Babou’s Long Con at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery in Seattle, WA. Painter, sculptor, multimedia, and performance artist Harris-Babou was commissioned by the Black Embodiments Studio at the University of Washington, an art writing incubator that holds theoretical and technical conversations about the ways Black artists express ideas of Black life. In Long Con, Harris-Babou poses the question: can our ways of consumption lead us to buy expensive “truths” falsely advertised?

Through collage, Harris-Babou doesn’t just superimpose different materials, fabrics, and textures, she extends this technique by interweaving and layering varied voices, personalities, scenes, and histories into one video still, gif, video, or tarot card. Upon entering the gallery, I could hear voices playing from three different video streams in different rooms. The chorus set the tone for a show full of sarcasm, cynicism, and dry humor that mocks consumerism, progressive politics, and popular culture. One voice played from Harris-Babou’s Reparation Hardware (2018), where the main “Reparator,” discusses how she and her team will contribute to Black American reparation efforts by using rugged, slippery materials, and ineffective hammering techniques. Despite the narrator’s claims, the project only produces assemblage sculptures named after Black icons like Malcom X, which disregard the life and demands of the person, ossifying them as voiceless figureheads. Faintly, I could hear a voice demonstrating a DIY Cheeto face mask from Decision Fatigue (2019), which was playing in a small offset cubby room. The loudest voices came from the main gallery, where Dr. Sebi and Miss Cleo spoke their flamboyant gospel over lo-fi hip-hop beats. These icons are known for being outrageously emphatic, but the soft, lulling music had a calming effect on Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s message. As I will come to understand, pacifying audiences can be a ploy to dupe people into purchasing spiritual services they think they need to survive.

An installation image of Ilana Harris-Babou's video "Decision Fatigue." In the image, a woman has written DECISION on a mirror in pink lipstick. Her hand is up to the mirror as she starts to write FATIGUE.
Installation view of Decision Fatigue at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. Photographer: Jueqian Fang. Courtesy of Jacob Lawrence Gallery.
Installation view of Long Con at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. Photographer: Jueqian Fang. Courtesy of Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

I was drawn to the deep purple wall surrounding the wall-mounted videos and still images of Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi, but I couldn’t resist the draw to the oversized cards that lined the left wall. The cards play off of the aesthetics of tarot cards, with many featuring a person in ancient Egyptian clothes holding or using ancient tools. Along with figures and images popular in tarot illustrations, Harris-Babou’s cards also have collaged images of Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s popular ads, hand motions, and the “call me now” slogan. Sometimes the bodily figures are cut out of the card and replaced with the sky, earth, or fire backgrounds.

Each tarot card lists a date and a corresponding event connected to Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi, as well as health crises largely affecting Black communities. A card dated 1937 references the US involvement with “Eugenics Medical Sterilization Law 116” of Puerto Rico. Another card dated 1985 references Ronald Regan’s acknowledgment of AIDS crises, an acknowledgment that came far too late for a crisis known for being most brutal on Black and Brown queer communities. Harris-Babou references moments where the US neglected, or outright caused, turmoil for Black peoples’ spiritual, mental, and physical health. She juxtaposes these moments with cards that indicate important events of Miss Cleo’s and Dr. Sebi’s lives and career. Immediately following the 1985 card is another card dated 1987 that references Dr. Sebi’s lawsuit for claiming to cure AIDS. The chronological order of the cards offers an alternative storyline to the lives of these two icons and links the performances of Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi to corporations’ scamming techniques. 

A collaged image that resembles a tarot card. The card describes the birth of Dr. Sebi and resembles the Queen of Cups holding out a cup towards the heavens, but the body of the Queen and the bird is cut out, replaced by the sky, rivers, and earth.
Ilana Harris-Babou, installation detail, 2020. Courtesy of Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

The tarot cards reorient my perception of Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi. The first card in the storyline resembles the Temperance card: an ancient Egyptian figure hurryingly pours one cup of water into another. Underneath their feet, the advertisement for Miss Cleo’s number creeps up; the description for this card reads: “The US Public Health Service began ‘The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in African American Male.’” The next card indicates the birth of Dr. Sebi and resembles the Queen of Cups holding out a cup towards the heavens, but the body of the Queen and the bird is cut out, replaced by the sky, rivers, and earth. This juxtaposition alludes to a narrative that reveals what public health negligence and capitalist consumerism tries to disguise: capitalist systems alchemize and manipulate conditions to create con artists, making Dr. Sebi a figure that takes money by claiming to save people from crises started and perpetuated by the US government. Consumers, at the hands of such capitalist ploys, buy into the narrative believing that the US, corporations, and their use of iconic figures can save their lives when these very entities are destroying lives.  

An installation view of Long Con by Ilana Harris-Babou at Jacob Lawrence Gallery in Seattle, WA. A dark purple wall has one large video screen mounted on it. To the right , there is a long line of small rectangular cards hung on the wall.
Installation view of Long Con at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. Photographer: Jueqian Fang. Courtesy of Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

I turn to the wall where Harris-Babou brings the figures back to life by distilling clips of their past studio interviews, talks, and ads. The alternative storyline told through tarot cards revealed how Miss Cleo’s exuberant rejoicing and Dr. Sebi’s self-righteous medical knowledge are rhetorical tools that dupe people into buying their products and services. Furthermore, especially in the case of Miss Cleo, the manipulative performance of a fabricated accent and inauthentic attire increases the wealth of white corporations on the backs of Black spiritual culture. Both Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s performance becomes a costume created in the service of capitalism via medical health and spirituality.

Ilana Harris-Babou’s Long Con reinforces the ideas that suggest much (if not all) of our material realities are shaped and constructed by white imaginations, and Black people are forced to participate in these realities. The exhibition gave me a chance to reflect on how I’ve mistaken Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s performances as just spiritual mumbo jumbo, not understanding the grander devious tactics of corporations and governments lying underneath. Long Con critiques white imagined and dictated consumerism and its relationship to Black spirituality, wellness, and labor, and emphasizes the absurd ways that we, as consumers, participate in these relationships.   

Ilana Harris-Babou: Long Con
Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Seattle, WA
November 19, 2020 – January 16, 2021

This interview is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color cofounded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Read more about Variable West’s Critical Minded Grant here.

A person in a black sweatshirt, black pants, and a beige bucket hat stands near the top run of a ladder in a cluster of tall, thin, rough-barked coniferous trees. The person holds an IV bag full of a clear liquid.

Know Thyself, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Fordism: Jeamin Cha at Kadist San Francisco

A person in a black sweatshirt, black pants, and a beige bucket hat stands near the top run of a ladder in a cluster of tall, thin, rough-barked coniferous trees. The person holds an IV bag full of a clear liquid.
Jeamin Cha, Sound Garden, 2019 (still). FHD video, color/sound, 30:00 mins. Photo by Jeff Warrin. Courtesy of Kadist San Francisco.

There was no viewing experience of Jeamin Cha’s exhibition at Kadist, San Francisco untouched by COVID-19 for the entirety of its run. It opened late, was extended past the initial June closing date, then prematurely closed on November 30 in response to new California state restrictions. Troubleshooting Mind I, II, III was the culmination of Cha’s residency at the gallery, one spent researching the rise in depression under late capitalism, the diagnostic tools of mental health professionals, and, more recently, the way new technologies affect our conception of treatment, communication, and the limits of our self-understanding. Her work often focuses on the effect the dislocation and isolation felt under neoliberalism has on our health, gauzy sensations now concretized by the pandemic with a kind of cruel, uncanny prescience. All I can think about is the strangeness of feeling uprooted, when everything has come to a standstill.

Cha’s film Sound Garden (2019) follows a few journeys over its thirty-minute run-time. The camera trails a bushy pine tree as it travels from the northern, coastal province of Gangwon-do to Seoul, strapped in the back of a truck, bouncing along through lush mountain landscapes, foggy, barren stretches, tunnels, and light industrial areas. Most of the footage appears shot from the dashboard of a vehicle behind the truck, steady and straight on, the tree’s branches bobbing and swaying to the rhythm of the road.

People in work clothes and hard hats stand in a bizarre landscape. The background is the wall of a concrete building with a striped pattern of dark and light gray bricks. The middleground is a slope of craggy gray rocks, one person stands balanced on the edge of a rock. The foreground is a slope of brown dirt with two large thin, coniferous trees laying horizontally, with their tops angled toward the building in the background.
Jeamin Cha, Sound Garden, 2019 (still). FHD video, color/sound, 30:00 mins. Photo by Jeff Warrin. Courtesy of Kadist San Francisco.

The video’s audio comes from interviews Cha did with four female mental health counselors, subtitled in English. The women speak about their patients—university students, office workers, union members, other counselors—as well as the challenges of working within a society that uses their work as a management strategy with measurable results over its more complicated, therapeutic intentions. “They quantify the sessions, make statistics, and equate them with performance,” one counselor says of the company that hired her to treat their employees. “They talk as if these numbers give meaning to the counseling center.”

Along the way, the tree is dropped off at a kind of nursery, where its branches are heavily cut back, its look taken from full and shaggy to lean and more symmetrical. The brutality of the pruning—the chainsaws, the unnatural bareness, the roaring fire into which the branches are thrown—is countered by the plump IV bags of nutrient sap strapped around each trunk by an attentive arborist. At night, the grove of transplanted trees glows with the faint light of the devices—science experiment meets enchanted forest. The final destination of each tree, revealed at the close of the video, is an under-construction business park in the capital. Grown in Gangwon-do to be harvested and aestheticized for city life, it was never really wild. It’s an investment, just as mental and behavioral health services are an investment, a means to better workers, more efficient work. We are dominated and then consoled—cultivated. As usual, self-awareness does not always bring relief; realizing your status as cog does not necessarily make the grind more comfortable. “Function in society and reflecting oneself, I’m not sure if people can do both at the same time,” one counselor posits. “The system may maintain itself.”

A diptych of two images. On the left is a close-up view of an animal's eye. The animal has pink skin and white fur, and the wide pupil is cloudy. The image on the right has a cream background and text that reads "This one is Barbie's eye" in Korean and English.
Jeamin Cha, Ellie’s Eye, 2020 (still). 2-channel FHD video installation, 11:00 mins, color/sound. Photo by Jeff Warrin. Courtesy of Kadist San Francisco.
A diptych of two images. The image on the left is a tan dog lying on an exam table with its tongue out, looking at the camera. The room has tan walls, and there are two rows of cages on the back wall. There are shelves filled with medical supplies.
Jeamin Cha, Ellie’s Eye, 2020 (still). 2-channel FHD video installation, 11:00 mins, color/sound. Photo by Jeff Warrin. Courtesy of Kadist San Francisco.

Sound Garden’s reflective, almost doleful commentary is a collaged portrait of the counselors’ psyches as much as those of their patients—the desire to see and know, to be seen and known, connects them. The essay video Ellie’s Eye (2020) interrogates the therapeutic potential of that which exists beyond natural human senses, weaving together the history of x-ray technology the development of computer and AI-based mental health counselors, and images representing the visual and aural perception of animals.

The titular Ellie is a virtual avatar developed by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, designed to reveal psychological distress by interpreting human speech and gestures, monitoring micro-expressions, and responding to facial cues. Revealing the intimate depths reachable by technology, Cha juxtaposes our precision with AI, imaging, etc. with the fuzziness of emotional well-being and connection. These therapeutic technologies encourage a redefinition of our relationship to non-human subjects—Ellie’s creator notes we talk to our pets all the time—as well as those parts of ourselves that are little known. Does discussing mental health require that my interlocutor has access to the human condition, or do I just need something to listen to me?

While Cha’s videos carefully examine the intersection of personal, societal, and technological responses to contemporary mental health crises, a small suite of drawings really resonates with the psychological burden of 2020. Crushed or Unfolded (2020) is Cha’s appropriation of the Clock Drawing Test, an exam used by therapists and doctors to detect cognitive impairments and Alzheimer’s dementia, for which patients are asked to draw a circular clock from memory. A clock that is distorted or warped, as Cha’s are, means something is off. The test’s efficacy and ethics are debated, however, as research shows that patients who are less educated, or suffering from depression, also tend to produce similar results. The drawings aren’t subtle: they are a refutation of attempts to pathologize mental distress and an indictment of a capitalist obsession with productivity, an obsession that is currently killing people through the vector of the coronavirus, as the unrelenting logic of capitalism eclipses public and private health.

A row of drawings on white paper hanging on a yellow wall. Each drawing is of a clock, but the numbers and the face of the clock are distorted in each image.
Jeamin Cha, Crushed or Unfolded, 2020. Carbon drawings on white paper, 9 x 12 in each. Photo by Jeff Warrin. Courtesy Kadist San Francisco.

Personally, I crave a time clock. Not just for work, but for chores, for hobbies, for tasks I do and do not want to do. I fear the bleed, which is all days seem to do now. For the all the jokes, time per se so often feels dependent on the mechanism and metrics by which we measure it. This is why the notion of indexical time is usually so enamoring, some measure in which the signifier is actually, downright physically caused by the signified: proof. Trees acquire their rings according to the conditions and cycles of their growth. What an affront, so relative and so specific, to those attempts to quantify and control in the name of productivity, efficiency, management. As San Francisco enters another lockdown, I just want the clock to make sense so badly I’m crying.

Searching for a More Perfect Union: Tannaz Farsi at HOLDING Contemporary

Tannaz Farsi, The Measure I and II, 2020. Screen print and graphite on paper, 41 ½ x 27 ½ in. framed. Courtesy of HOLDING Contemporary. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

The US Constitution makes provisions for processes of citizenship. But between the text and experience, what is lost, overlooked, or erased? Tannaz Farsi’s screen prints The Measure I and II (all works 2020) each feature a wall of stacked words, a lexicon conjuring the experience of “measuring up” to exclusionary migration policies. Marginalia in light gray shift the semantics of bold black letters, giving viewers pause. Among these and other references to language in A More Perfect Union, Farsi’s exhibition at HOLDING Contemporary, “we the people” is conspicuously absent. Instead of coldly asserting static facts or figures, Farsi’s textual and material poetics across the gallery negotiate nativist scripts by exposing their incongruities and discontinuities, rescuing the critical will of the people from oblivion.

Casually perched on a low concrete slab across from the gallery’s entrance are four open bottles of rose water—their caps nowhere to be seen. The bottles, collectively titled Visceral Language, are wrapped in commercial markers of the curative, holy, and familiar Persian smell. Despite their seemingly open welcome, one notices that the rose water comes from Lebanon rather than Iran, gesturing to the trade sanctions between the US and Iran. The subtle yet “visceral” difference denotes the numerous impasses between the artist’s home countries.

Tannaz Farsi, The Measure I and II, 2020. Screen print and graphite on paper, 41 ½ x 27 ½ in. framed. Courtesy of HOLDING Contemporary. Photo: Mario Gallucci.
Tannaz Farsi, A More Perfect Union, 2020. Installation View. Courtesy of HOLDING Contemporary. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Farsi’s other works in A More Perfect Union lament the historical and contemporary barbs that underlie such tensions. American Greetings [state III] leans coolly against the white wall, with the eponymous text imprinted vertically onto a massive aluminum sheet. In their cramped verticality, the words are displaced from an otherwise expansionist horizontality, serving to cancel, in part, the space-taking bravado of the bubble-letter “welcome.” In the gap between the metal and the wall, dried gladiolas rest on the floor—a symbol of infatuation, protection, and remembrance—an ephemeral sculptural element Farsi has invoked in previous works. Here, the flowers offer an ironic elegy to this exceptionalist welcome. Across from American Greetings, Second Skin occupies a corner, also inclined against a wall, this time without the façade of nonchalance. The assemblage of found objects in Second Skin includes a security light glaring downward, spotlighting a bedraggled US flag-patterned collared shirt—the kind coopted by the far right in a seizure of monolithic and uncritical patriotism. Here, it hangs, blasted, sanded, dragged, cut, and under interrogation, with tufts of cotton huddled around the base of the light’s pole. Cotton. The “second skin”—or the comfort of de facto nationalism—is quite literally flayed from its racist origins. This raw sight returns us to a query posed by the artist in the exhibition statement: “The American flag is an object, an image, and an idea signifying a shared history that tethers the bodies of citizens to the edges of this land. Who does this belong to?”

Tannaz Farsi, Second Skin, 2020. Shirt, steel, security light, cotton remainder from blasting, sanding, dragging and cutting, 103 x 13 x 20 in. Courtesy of HOLDING Contemporary. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

An adjacent work, Obligation of Allegiance, a stainless steel sculpture, offers an answer. The work reads “CITIZEN” in Farsi’s idiosyncratic geometric font derived from Arabic script nuqat, or dots, which obscure in their decoration as much as they disclose alternative configurations of state-sanctioned semantics. The typeface both constitutes the term of legal status and simultaneously disassembles that composition through its shifting form. Turning towards the back room, a grid of names written in the artist’s cursive script cascade down a wall in Systems of Displacement (January–November fatalities of African American/Black folks by police). The dark texture of the names matches that of Obligation in the front of the space—revealing the tragic result of uncritical allegiance. Painstakingly etched in stainless steel and grit, each name signifies a Black life lost, unprotected by their supposedly hallowed citizenship George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake… the list goes on. The devastating record motivates the artist’s question: “at what cost is allegiance?”

Tannaz Farsi, a Line; a Figure; a symbol, 2020. Steel, powder coat, 66 x 29 ½ x 21 ½ in. Courtesy of HOLDING Contemporary. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Farsi continues to pose open-ended questions concerning the nature of citizenship and nationality in a Line; a Figure; a symbol. The geometric script returns, here literally welding together negative spaces cut out between names from a 2017 work that commemorated Iranian political prisoners, as Farsi revealed in a conversation with scholar Lucy Cotter hosted by HOLDING Contemporary. The resulting silver composition abstracts the minute and sculpted pauses that collectively jut out from its base. It denies easy legibility, retaining the material haunting of absented prisoners and the ambiguous “CITIZEN” from Obligation.

Turning to the back wall, Farsi leaves viewers with a final evocative suspension: the wall has been cut open, exposing the structural beams. Upon a low piece of wood rest the four caps to the rose water bottles in the entryway. Their small convex shapes fit their containers but remain distanced from them, articulating a longing that permeates the pauses, tensions, and negotiations throughout the exhibition. They deviate from the notion of a “perfect” union referenced by the exhibition title, and instead embody openness and criticality that leans towards the desire for “more.”

On the steps of an institutional-looking edifice, below a columned portico labeled GIRLS, sits Flood, perhaps in her very early 20s. Her face, with eyes closed, gives nothing away, but her leaning-forward posture, with arms tucked tightly between her thighs, reads as self-protective. On the wall behind her is a fallout shelter sign. The photograph is in a thin lavender frame.

Documenting the Changing Self: Melanie Flood at Fourteen30 Contemporary

On the steps of an institutional-looking edifice, below a columned portico labeled GIRLS, sits Flood, perhaps in her very early 20s. Her face, with eyes closed, gives nothing away, but her leaning-forward posture, with arms tucked tightly between her thighs, reads as self-protective. On the wall behind her is a fallout shelter sign. The photograph is in a thin lavender frame.
Melanie Flood, Girls (self-portrait), 1996/2020.

If you were going to survey your life, where would you begin? What evidence would you allow into the record, and who might you share it with? As I made my way around the gallery of Fourteen 30 Contemporary to view Melanie Flood’s Notions, such questions kept pinballing around in my head. What is a self-portrait? What is a self?

For many women, defining self is a complicated proposition at best: Trained by society (in ways both infinitesimally subtle and crushingly obvious) to be “nice” and to put others’ needs ahead of our own, self is largely defined by what people want from us. Since these expectations are normalized from early childhood onward, some of us live for three or four decades before we even realize the extent to which we’ve been the subjects—rather than the agents—of our various trajectories. It’s through this lens that I find myself relating to Flood’s photographs, feeling the vulnerability of the artist and the history that I imagine for her, and associating it with my own stories.

The eleven photographs on view, all sixteen by twenty inches and all 2020, are arranged like a slideshow: hung around the room at regular intervals, they give the whole affair a staccato rhythm. As I stepped in front of each new image, I imagined the voice of the artist narrating the display: “Here I am,” click, “This was me in 1996,” click, and so forth. This strategy feels appropriate: when we take stock of our present selves, we often look backward to certain specific moments that changed the directions of our lives—some wonderful, others miserable.

Installation view of "Notions" by Melanie Flood. Small color photographs in lavender frames hang on the white walls of a room, one overlaps a door frame.
Melanie Flood, Notions, 2020. Installation view.

Here Flood’s images are further linked to a particularly feminized/domestic space by her decision to enclose them in frames of bright, uncomplicated lavender—the color of molded plastic baubles from the “Girls” section of a big-box toy store. These are a woman’s pictures, but they are indelibly stamped by the experiences of girlhood. The first image in the sequence, Notions 1, feels like a cryptographic key by which the exhibition could be deciphered. A re-photographed image, it shows a white woman’s beige-manicured hand reaching around a door to place a lavender tag reading “How to Get More Privacy” on the doorknob. The photo reads less like a gesture of Pictures Generation appropriation and more like evidence documented in situ for forensic analysis. The color of the tag matches that of the frames, implying a connection between the show’s framing and privacy. The gesture is one of vacillation between concealment and disclosure, as if trying to control how—and how much—to expose; a fluctuation that reappears through the exhibition.

Other coded images follow: An Apple for Amy (self portrait) shows another white woman’s hand picking a sun-dappled apple from a tree, a direct reference to the garden of Eden fable, which scapegoats women for exile from paradise. Notions 3 depicts a heart-shaped cushion coming apart at the seams; positioned alongside some sparkly fabric, partly shadowed by black transparent material, it’s the photo of an emo teen symbolizing how bruised they are by the world. Miss Piggy, 1989/2020 features a partial view of a room with a framed poster of the Muppets character on the wall, crowned and caped in a royal pose. Also visible are a heart-shaped switch plate and the head of a doll, symbols that abjectly evoke childhood and a stereotypically gendered space. Is the filter one of nostalgia, or regret?

A re-photographed image, it shows a white woman's beige-manicured hand reaching around a door to place a lavender tag reading "How to Get More Privacy" on the doorknob.
Melanie Flood, Notions 1, 2020.
A white woman's hand picking a sun-dappled red apple from a tree
Melanie Flood, An Apple for Amy (self-portrait), 2020.

The most unguarded works in the exhibition are of Flood herself, in five self-portraits that anchor the show, and which feel naked in the sense of being both bare-skinned and exposed. Notions 4 brings the artist into view, albeit in an enigmatic way: Flood’s nude self-portrait is distorted, a mylar reflection that produces the ludicrous exaggerations of a fun-house mirror as well as a strange rippled effect. In such a reflection, the self is rendered indecipherable.

By comparison, the adjacent Notions 5 is filled with specificity. A rack of cassette tapes places the image firmly in the past; wall-to-wall carpet, a cheap plastic chair, louvered closet doors, and clothes on the floor establish its socioeconomic conditions. Amidst the clutter, Flood’s mid-90s self stands in a silver dress and white patent high-heeled slides, regarding the camera knowingly with one hand on her hip. The documentary-like frankness of this image—its borrowed sophistications and dress-up aspirations—feels more raw than the scrambled self-portrait in Notions 4. On another wall, Fan (self-portrait) coyly places the unclothed artist partly behind a large floral curtain, fan in hand, so that she is both concealed and revealed. In Fishnet (self-portrait) we see Flood from behind, dressed in white tights and black fishnet-band bra. There’s a certain honesty here that’s absent in the other self-portraits: a glimpse of armpit hair; pale flesh; incipient wrinkles. This is a body that is beginning to age, earning its stretched, liberated pose but still confined by the conventional trappings of femininity.

We see photographer Melanie Flood from behind, dressed in white tights and black fishnet-band bra. There's a certain honesty here that's absent in the other self-portraits: a glimpse of armpit hair; pale flesh; incipient wrinkles. This is a body that is beginning to age, earning its stretched, liberated pose but still confined by the conventional trappings of femininity.
Melanie Flood, Fishnet (self-portrait), 2020.

But it was Girls (self-portrait) that magnetized and held my gaze. On the steps of an institutional-looking edifice, below a columned portico labeled GIRLS, sits Flood, perhaps in her very early 20s. Her face, with eyes closed, gives nothing away, but her leaning-forward posture, with arms tucked tightly between her thighs, reads as self-protective. On the wall behind her is a fallout shelter sign. All women have pictures of themselves like this, captured in the process of becoming someone else—a moment both prosaic and profound. Novels could be written about photos like this one, populated with young women (or girls, as the sign would have it) who think themselves adult and thus strong, in reality quite achingly unprotected. I wonder about that building, that person, that shelter, that time—was it as safe a haven as it claimed?

We see ourselves, and the world, from circumscribed perspectives informed by race, class, gender, and a host of other social categories. A permanent, established self isn’t possible, of course, because a self is a fiction that’s continually being revised on the fly. The images Flood has created for Notions suggest a changing self located within a difficult but perhaps all too common history, at once revealed and withheld.

An installation view of two video screens mounted on a wall. The left screen shows a man and a woman kissing in front of a yellow background. The right screen shows two women kissing in front of a yellow background.

All the Strings that Bind: Patty Chang at Friends Indeed and Cushion Works

An installation view of two video screens mounted on a wall. The left screen shows a man and a woman kissing in front of a yellow background. The right screen shows two women kissing in front of a yellow background.
Patty Chang, In Love, 2001 (installation view). Two channel video, 3:28 min. Courtesy the Artist, Friends Indeed, San Francisco, and Cushion Works.

“Between [depression and acceptance],” writes LA-based artist Patty Chang, in a short letter inviting visitors to her multi-media exhibition Que Sera Sera, “I would add in no fixed order: repositioning, integrating, shapeshifting, imagination, enchantment, trance, transmogrification, invocation, mystification, and bewilderment.” Pain is a single rupture, she seems to say, but healing is a thousand little threads quilting repair.

Illness, now, enforces isolation. Many of our loved ones have visited hospitals alone, or even died, in quarantine. It’s heart wrenching to watch Chang stand beside a hospital bed in the video In Gait Remains (2017), holding her baby, singing to herself, the child, and to the resting body—her father on his death bed. You can see the pathos of the body, how it can be consumed, loved, or lost. How parts of it leave us all the time. Chang summons something akin to an image-memory, an impossible present. She reminds us of what life once was in a foreclosed other time, in the past.

The works on display in the two-venue show at San Francisco galleries Cushion Works and Friends Indeed were taken between 2001 and 2017. They wear 2020 well.

An installation view of Patty Chang's exhibition "Que Sera Sera" at Friends Indeed Gallery in San Francisco. The image shows the gallery's interior wall and floor-to-ceiling street-facing window. There is a mail drop box outside, and a Charles Schwab across the street. In the gallery, two screens playing videos hang on the wall.
Patty Chang, Que Sera Sera, 2020. Installation view. Courtesy the Artist, Friends Indeed, San Francisco, and Cushion Works.

Nancy Lim, the shows’ curator, hesitates to say that this October was a good time to show Chang’s work—good being an inadequate word. What Lim means is that Chang’s bravery when looking directly at death, or grief, or fear, almost generates what Lim calls “an anticipatory grief.” The work suggests a way to grapple with loss in a year when so much death—by the police, by Covid-19—has happened so unfairly and avoidably. “Chang’s work prepares me for the deaths I myself will have to face,” Lim reflects.

A photograph from Chang’s 2017 series “Letdown,” which makes up a substantial portion of the shows, hangs perpendicular to In Gait Remains. Chang photographed cups of a thick, yogurt colored substance, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of the disheveled remains of food. Each image shows breast milk, which Chang pumped and was then forced to discard while traveling to the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan without her baby. Breast milk in a sardine can, breast milk colored by a saturated tea bag, breast milk next to a crumpled paper napkin.

A framed and matted photograph of an airplane tray table with a small clear plastic cup full of a thick white substance. There is a crumpled napkin to the left of the cup. The seat is by the airplane window, and cool, diffused light illuminates the scene.
Patty Chang, Letdown, 2017. Archival inkjet print. Courtesy the Artist, Friends Indeed, San Francisco, and Cushion Works.

Between the video feed of Chang singing to her father in the hospital and the photographs of milk, doomed to be discarded, you see a proximity of generations.

Living requires the body to constantly shed waste, Julia Kristeva writes in meditations on the abject. She defines the word not as a lack of cleanliness or health, but as that which “does not respect borders, positions, rules.” It is “the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.”[1] Chang’s work approaches abjection by refusing clear divisions. It’s mindful of the body, its fluids, but refuses to sterilize waste.

A street-facing window, like the one at Friends Indeed, has become essential. How else can we peer at art from the perceived safety of the outdoors? Through a sheet of glass, the demarcation between the spectator’s reflection and the photographs, also sheathed in an additional pane of glass, gets messy. Chang further troubles this layering by returning attention to reflections, the matrixial space of overlapping images she carefully attenuates, that unsettling in-betweenness.

A photograph can be a performance. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay characterized the camera not just as a technology, but the “invention of a new encounter.”[2] For Azoulay, viewing an image with active attention can reanimate the moment it commits to permanent stasis. The photograph begins to move, discontinuities thaw, and the still past creeps into the present. In this way, Chang’s work extends beyond the moments she has collected and suggests continuous processing, inhabiting a cascading grief, and activating a path towards healing.

A video still showing a man and a woman in white button down shirts sitting, facing the camera. Their bodies are semi-transparent and overlap at the shoulder. Both have their mouths open as though caught mid-sentence.
Patty Chang, On Love, 2003 (still). Single channel video, 4:12 min. Courtesy the Artist, Friends Indeed, San Francisco, and Cushion Works.

In On Love, 2013, superimposed videos of a man and a woman, both wearing the same starch white button down, play simultaneously. They speak over each other, but harmoniously. Chang’s mother, the woman, says “he is a good father, he repairs everything for the children.” The video bleeds into the man, Chang’s father, making an equation out of love: “introducing person A, person B, having B act upon A, A react to B.” They are intensely in their bodies, hyper-exposed in the act of being—for themselves, for each other, and for their daughter with the camera. It’s a portrait of companionship, the way it feels to pass time in the company of another person.

Chang’s work displays a longstanding preoccupation with the boundaries and trace appearances of the body. In Que Sera, Sera, she honors the materiality of family, motherhood, existence, and death. All the strings that bind one to others—through sight, taste, song, memory, and loss—are taut with feeling.


[1] Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 4.

[2] Azoulay, Ariella Aïsha. The Civil Contract of Photography. (New York: Zone books, 2008), 89.

Patty Chang Que Sera Sera is on view at Friends Indeed and Cushion Works in San Francisco, CA, until November 6.