lauren woods: American MONUMENT

lauren woods: American MONUMENT

Banner for content for Fall Semester 2018 at California State University, Long Beach

room view of 3 tables and shelves of aluminum boxes
lauren woods, American MONUMENT, paused, detail of tables and document boxes without documents, University Art Museum, Long Beach State University


The Current Situation

  1. lauren woods, American MONUMENT
  2. former UAM Director, Kimberli Meyer
  3. lauren woods: pause

Your Essay

There are many options you can choose to explore in your essay. Here are a few ideas:

  1. American MONUMENT
  2. University secrecy/transparency
  3. lauren woods’ pause choice
  4. Letter or petition to lauren woods
  5. Letter or petition to The University (President Jane Close Conoley, College of the Arts Dean Cyrus Parker-Jeannette)
  6. Letter to Trayvon Martin
  7. Gun Violence in America (vs Korea, Norway)
  8. or…?
  9. EC Option: submit your essay to Daily 49er and/or 22 West Magazine. If they publish it, bring me a copy for +100 points EC.
  10. Alternative Activity

Additional Materials

  1. Artist’s Rights: Vivian Maier
  2. Institutional Critique: Hennessy Youngman
  3. Institutional Critique: Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum
  4. Secrecy, Transparency, Lawyers: Siobhan O’Connor
rows of turntables on pedestals in the main gallery of Long Beach State University's University Art Museum
lauren woods, American MONUMENT, paused, detail view of turntables without records, University Art Museum, Long Beach State University

The Current Situation

1. lauren woods, American MONUMENT

lauren woods’ intention for American MONUMENT at the LBSU UAM was to have interactive audio and documents about 25 American cases of black citizens killed by white police officers.

2. former UAM Director, Kimberli Meyer

Six days before the opening of American MONUMENT, Long Beach State University abruptly fired University Art Museum (UAM) Director Kimberli Meyer. The University refuses to say why she was terminated. Kimberli Meyer says that the University did not even tell her why she was terminated. Some believe that Meyer was terminated because of the controversial nature of American MONUMENT. Others believe that the 2 things were unrelated. Also, some believe that even if the firing and the opening were unrelated, that the University was tone-deaf with its timing.

While many do believe that the firing and the opening were unrelated, artist lauren woods is convinced that they were entirely related. Further, woods does not consider American MONUMENT to be an object that can be simply dropped in a space. Woods sees American MONUMENT as a 2-year collaborative work between her and Kimberli Meyer. Therefore Woods chose neither to let American MONUMENT proceed as planned nor to pull it completely. Instead, she offered a “pause.” In this “pause” the turntables, audio system, aluminum cases, and other display cases are installed in the space and may be viewed. But the recordings, documents, and other exhibition materials have all been pulled from the space. So, a ghost of the exhibition is present, but the exhibition itself is not.

photo of lauren woods speaking at the opening of American MONUMENT
lauren woods at the UAM. image: American

3. lauren woods: pause

Cal State Long Beach removed my primary and most committed collaborator and institutional steward, someone integral to the existence of American MONUMENT. The institution’s utter disregard for not only the “artwork” but for the work that is greater than ART is hard to understate.

To remove a key partner for this project from the directorship of the museum at this critical point and actually expect this project to continue indicates a profound lack of understanding about what this “work” actually is. It shows utter disregard for what the labor that manifests it actually is. There is a mythology around art production, that authorship of a work is by a singular, lone artist and that that artist is at the center of art production. i am sure this idea was partially part of this ill informed decision.

i need to make clear that American MONUMENT is not that type of artwork. I need to make visible what the work actually is. This is not an exhibition of objects. This is not a show of conceptual play. American Monument is a transformative process that wants to tackle the culture of police brutality through cultural production. It can only exist through collective authorship.

American Monument is emergent. It is conceptualized to shift over time through a co-creative process that addresses state and institutional violence. Since its inception, it has shifted week-to-week, responding to the variables at play: the denials of open records requests, the newest police murder, the needs of identified stakeholders and co-creators, –my own capacity to deeply submerge myself in the details of over 200 cases of police brutality. Again– the WORK is process-based and responsive. The WORK wants to end anti-blackness.

And so today, there is a new response that must be articulated. A response to the violent act of Kimberli Meyer’s termination 6 days before this project launches. I have come to this place after being here for a week putting forth a good faith effort to launch this work and coming to understand the implicit statement of this sort of institutional violence– in which the stewards of Cal State Long Beach attempt to suffocate THE WORK. I have been putting forth this effort despite knowing ultimately what the university’s position is to this project because i am not only committed to the work of American Monument, but i am compelled to address and participate in the collective effort to end police brutality–and this particular way of working is an extension of that need.

But it has become clear to me that I cannot just pivot and continue working with injury, but i must respond to the conditions created by the current institution that extended the invitation to host this iteration of American Monument:

The University Art Museum, College of the Arts, and Cal State Long Beach, have kneecapped a project that is focusing on black lives and police brutality. They have killed a leadership initiative whose focus was to not only address white supremacy but to disrupt it. They have rejected the invitation for collective authorship.

As it stands, the UAM is not capable of hosting this iteration of American Monument. American monument can only resume its co-creative process when restored, which can only happen with Kimberli Meyer retained as director of UAM.

And so with great disappointment AND profound sadness, I hereby declare the process to continue building American MONUMENT paused.

lauren woods

Your Essay

There are many options you can choose to explore in your essay. You can pick one of these and focus on it. Or you can pick several and weave the ideas together. Or you might think of something not listed here. Here are a few ideas:

1. American MONUMENT

We were unable to experience the actual artwork. But we did see the turntables without records of the sounds of the end of someone’s life. We did see empty aluminum boxes where case materials for each death would have been. And we saw empty cases and other raw elements of American MONUMENT. I think we can, at least conceptually, understand a fair amount of what American MONUMENT would have been. Your essay can focus on the work itself, even though it is paused.

2. University secrecy/transparency

As we discussed in class, The University, The Catholic Church, and probably any corporation of almost any size, largely have their actions dictated by lawyers. For The University to be more transparent about its termination of Kimberli Meyer would be to give her more material for a potential lawsuit. Just as in the case with Bishop Malone and the Catholic Church, secrecy and silence were the most financially effective approaches to the scandal.

You can talk about the need for secrecy. Or about the need for transparency. About the financial liability of not being secretive. About the moral liability of not being transparent.

3. lauren woods’ pause choice

As you’ve read in lauren woods statement above, she sees the University’s firing of Kimberli Meyer as continuing the violence that her work seeks to address. Given that, she felt that pausing the work was her only option. You might consider this a choice of the highest ethical nature.

But as one of you commented in our brief discussion after viewing the paused American MONUMENT, in pursuit of this ethical position, lauren woods has also deprived the entire University community of the discussion about these 25 Americans who lost their lives. lauren woods might argue that firing Kimberli Meyer is part of that same violence. You might agree, or you might feel that the pause is too much about woods and not enough about the 25 human beings who lost their lives.

4a. Petition to lauren woods

After we broke up on Wednesday, one of you expressed a desire to be able to see the complete American MONUMENT. You asked if I thought a petition to unpause the exhibition might be effective. I, of course, don’t really know. Other than a few rumors, like most members of the LBSU community, I actually know nothing about what has transpired, or what is going on now. My guess nonetheless, is that it might be tough for a petition to be successful.

If I understand it correctly, lauren woods position is that she will not unpause American MONUMENT unless Kimberli Meyer is reinstated. I know nothing about The University’s position, but my guess is that Kimberli Meyer will never be reinstated, not even in some provisional, or temporary, or auxiliary way.

It’s important to say here that I could be wrong. Also, to struggle, in and of itself, is worthwhile. One day, probably before even your parents were born, President Kennedy gave a speech committing the United States to land a person on the moon before the decade of the 1960’s was over. In his famous speech President Kennedy asked,

why does Rice play Texas?

Rice is a small school. Texas is a big school. Texas usually wins. Through the 2017 season, Rice has played Texas 94 times. Texas has won 72 of those games. Rice 21. And one was a tie. President Kennedy answered his own question with:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept

When we watched Dave Evans’ design thinking / designing your life video he encouraged us not to take on giant hurdles, but to set small challenges, clear them, and then set the bar a little bit higher. I think that’s great advice. But President Kennedy was also right, sometimes taking on hard or even hopeless challenges is the best, or perhaps only, way to find hope. So whether or not I think a petition would be successful in unpausing American MONUMENT doesn’t really matter. If you are compelled to try, then you should.

4b. Letter to lauren woods

Instead of gathering signatures on a petition, another option would be to write a letter to lauren woods. You could express your feelings about the work and about the pause.

5. Letter or petition to The University (President Jane Close Conoley and/or College of the Arts Dean Cyrus Parker-Jeannette)

As I understand it, there are 2 ways to unpause American MONUMENT, the first, above, is for lauren woods to allow it to be unpaused. The 2nd is for LBSU to reinstate Kimberli Meyer. Instead of petitioning lauren woods, you could petition President Conoley or Dean Parker-Jeannette.

Similarly, instead of a petition, you could write a letter to the President or the Dean. I like the idea of a letter, be it to The Artist, The President, or The Dean, because instead of trying to gather signatures in an effort that might not bear fruit, you have, with a letter, the opportunity to organize your thoughts, pro, con, or otherwise, and present them to someone specific.

If you do choose to write a letter, you can post it to your WP Blog as always. You can optionally send it to lauren woods, President Conoley, or Dean Parker-Jeannette, if you want to. But actually sending it is optional. You can do whatever you are most comfortable with.

6. Letter to Trayvon Martin

I like the letter writing idea a lot. I think it could be an elegant way to think through and present your ideas on this exhibition. Instead of a letter to the Artist, President, or Dean, you could let your letter be to one of the victims, Trayvon Martin, for example. In your letter you could talk to Trayvon Martin about American MONUMENT, about the situation at the UAM, about the pause, or about whatever issues you’d like to discuss with him or you think he might like to hear about. This could be a great letter. I encourage you to consider it.

7. Gun Violence in America (vs Korea, Norway)

American MONUMENT isn’t exactly about gun violence. It’s about racism and police brutality in America. Still, police shootings exist in the context of a nation’s gun culture. The United States is unique among the nations of the world both for our zealousness for gun possession and for gun violence and mass shootings. As I’m sure you know, just a few hours after we viewed American MONUMENT there was a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA.

In a class as large as ours, there will be many views on guns in America. All perspectives are relevant and legitimate. But if you do choose to write about this, be sure to try to keep it an Art essay. You can weave in ideas about America, freedom, violence, guns, gun culture, and so on, but be sure to tie this back to lauren woods work and to American MONUMENT.

Most of us in Art 110 were born in America. But a few of us are from other countries, like Korea or Norway, for example. You might like to compare guns and violence in America to how things are in your home country.

8. or…?

I hope the ideas above give you a path to write about American MONUMENT and the pause. But they’re only a few ideas I could think of. I’m sure you can think of other approaches to writing about this work. If you do, run with it!

9. EC Option: submit your essay to Daily 49er and/or 22 West Magazine

Whether you write a traditional essay or a letter, I encourage you to submit your piece to the Daily 49er, and/or to 22 West Magazine. If they publish it, bring me a copy for +100 points EC.

10. Alternative Activity

As I’ve said before, and as is stated in the course syllabus, if a class activity is problematic, troubling, or disturbing for you, you don’t have to do it. You can always ask for an alternative activity. Although American MONUMENT is a heavy work, I encourage you to try to think it through and write about it. I wouldn’t give up simply because it is challenging. However, if the space of these ideas is too disturbing for you, simply message me and we can come up with an alternate activity for you.

Additioal Materials

As you know, in class this past week, we looked at a few examples that are not related to lauren woods and American MONUMENT, but that do engage some related issues. The material below and other material you might find online or in the LBSU Library might help you think about some of the many aspects of this exhibition that are most of interest to you.

1. Artist’s Rights: Vivian Maier

This American Life
Ira Glass tells the story of a photographer named Vivian Maier, who shot rolls of film every day for dozens of years—brilliant shots of street life—but never showed the photos to anyone. A guy named John Maloof discovered the negatives and put out a book of Maier’s photos.

2. Institutional Critique: Hennessy Youngman – Art Thoughtz

3. Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum

I’m kind of stretching it to call Hennesy Youngman Institutional Critique, although I think you enjoyed his videos. A more on point example would be Fred Wilson’s 1992 exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society, Mining the Museum. Interestingly enough, Fred Wilson’s installation got the director of that museum fired. However, both the exhibition and the firing led to changes at the museum, its board, and its practices.

photo of Fred Wilson's exhibition Mining the Museum featuring various metal works from the Maryland Historical Society's archives
Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum, Maryland Historical Society, 1992 image:

Fred Wilson’s strategy was to go through all the archives of the Maryland Historical Society. Both the elegant silver goblets that were often shown, and things like slave shackles that were never shown, but did exist deep in the museum’s archives. Wilson paired these objects together under a heading like “Metalwork 1793-1880.”

4. Secrecy, Transparency, Lawyers: Siobhan O’Connor

As we discussed in class, the recent scandal in the Catholic Church, and our present situation with the Long Beach State University, University Art Museum are very different – don’t let me confuse you on this point! I only bring up whistleblower Siobhan O’Connor in the context of higher values. O’Connor believes that lawyers and financial gain are not the most important things for her church. She believes that moral bankruptcy is worse than financial bankruptcy. Which might cause us to ask, what is the price of the University’s secrecy with regard to the sudden termination of Kimberli Meyer and the disruption of American MONUMENT? Greater transparency could give Kimberli Meyer more material for a potential lawsuit. Is money the university’s highest and only value? Are lawyers the ultimate and only arbiters of a university’s values? Is there a corrosive effect of secrecy?

60 MinutesInside the Secret Archivefull story

At the end of my life, I’m not going to answer to Bishop Malone. I’m going to answer to God.

better that our diocese be… financially bankrupt… than that it be morally bankrupt

— Siobhan O’Connor

Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?

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