Monday, November 23, 2009

Adrian Piper - Everything Will Be Taken Away

The “Everything” series, began in 2003, this piece may cause people to question what it is that drives them. Materials included ink made of henna, which would be applied to the participants’ foreheads in a manner so that you could easily read it when looking in a mirror. She had the participants keep this on their forehead until it wore off which would be approximately two weeks. She had the participants keep journals of people’s reactions, and then re-read them one year after this social experiment. This phrase was also applied to mirrors, and photographs of people, and also of some natural disasters.

Addressing some of the social issues in our society, this phrase is a reminder that everything will eventually taken away, either naturally or by force. This may not apply to just material possessions, this could also apply to friends, family members, or loved ones. In the modern times of greed, corruption, and the seemingly constantly decreasing regard for people or their feelings this work, like her earlier Calling Card piece, is small in physical form, but could have an exponentially larger impact on people as they may begin to question what drives them everyday, and for some, to perhaps do some soul searching and get determine what their priorities really are.

I’m reminded of Elbert Hubbard who was quoted as saying “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.” This work is a great personification of this train of thought. Piper’s extensive background in philosophy is an apparent influence for this. This work also refers to the darker side human tendencies just like psychologist Stanley Milgram’s Shock Experiment, where participants were administering what they thought to be increasingly higher voltage shocks to subjects who would give incorrect responses. While people would scream in pain, they would continue to give the shock. Piper was passive-aggressive in causing people to come to terms with their own bad habits.

Adrian Piper - Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features

Adrian Piper’s piece entitled Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid features is a drawing which was done in 1981. This piece was perhaps a self portrait of the way she saw herself, as opposed to the way she appeared physically as alluded to by the title. In this drawing the image presented is that of an African American woman, perhaps one that would not be mistaken for a white woman as Piper had experienced.

According the article found at, “Her direct gaze in this drawing seems emblematic of how her art confronts you.” This seems to be the case in the work of Piper which almost forces individuals to come to terms with the rules and norms of the society in which we live, as opposed to their own, perhaps, distorted views. This is evident in the work of Ellis Cose entitled "Color Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World." One may wonder if this concept of racial, or color, blindness is even a reality, or if it is a term coined by sociologists to glamorize the idea of equality as opposed to dealing with the notion that using terms like this in itself is a way of ignoring what is, and trying to paint a picture of what ought to be. One could say that to ignore race would create a whole other problem, while the best approach is to realize there are different races, yet, they should still have equal treatment. Adrian Piper’s work personifies this in the fact that she views herself as an African American woman, while others view her as a white woman and, at times, treat her differently when they think she’s white as opposed to how they would if she were black.

Interestingly enough, Piper did a follow up of this work in 1995 entitled Self Portrait as a Nice White Lady in which she presented herself with a red background behind the image using colored crayons, as opposed to the pencil sketch of her 1981 work. She displayed both pieces at an exhibit. Ironically, in her 1995 work she also included a thought balloon using African American lingo which read “Whut choo lookin at, mofo.” This cross referencing of cultures is a perfect example of her philosophical influence. Although these pieces contrast each other, they are also very complimentary.

Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper, a New York native, studied art at the School of Visual arts, and at City College of New York. Interestingly enough, she also studied Philosophy at Harvard, and is currently a Philosophy professor at Wellesley College of Massachusetts. Her work entitled Calling Card was done in 1985 and 1986. This piece is a silent way of Piper letting her unknowing audience know that she is indeed a black woman. Her issues with race were due to the fact that she was a light-skinned African American. The card itself was a 2" x 3 1/2" piece of paper; however the message spoke volumes.
This piece did more than announce that she was an African-American woman, it immediately put the reader on the defensive. The card was a way of her making her point, without providing an opportunity for the reader to verbally react to her. Instead, it caused the reader to have somewhat of an inner-debate with themselves as, when one reads the card it would appear in some form, that the card was insinuating they were a racist. This work came along at a great time. Although the Civil Rights movement had previously occurred, there was still the long standing issue of racism in this country. However, the early and mid 1980's was a period of increased social awareness.
When I view this piece it appears to me that Piper, perhaps drawing from her philosophical studies, was causing people to re-examine themselves, and the society in which they lived. This was done by such artists as Marina Abramovic, who would subject her body in exhibitions resulting in displays of the good, and bad traits of people. This could bring about astounding, yet alarming results. While some may simply have discarded the calling card, others may have re-examined themselves resulting in perhaps even a slight increase in the evolving of social awareness.