I’ve been attempting to bring Song of the South to life for about 5 years. The ideas in this show are important to me, but extremely hard to tackle. I decided to start chipping away at it one stroke at a time. It has allowed me to start building a solid foundation for what I eventually hope to accomplish.
The issues addressed in this show are common issues. I don't use the word "common" in a light way. It is like using that word when paired with "cold". The common cold is a horrible, miserable, disgusting experience that one cannot wait to see the end of - just as the verses I will sing are horrible, miserable, and disgusting.
First and foremost, I am a visual artist. That is the language I speak, so that is the language I deliver. Talking about my work is not something I enjoy doing, so I’m delivering this written companion to stand in for me. It most certainly is not lofty and beautiful, but I hope that it will give you a broader grasp of the visual work. This text will be akin to instructions in a role-playing board game. It offers a basic structure, but you pretty much have to jump in and start playing to understand.
When asked what Jazz is, Louis Armstrong replied, "Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know."
Problems addressed in this show are universal. Like all of my work, themes are explored through my personal experience, observation, and the experiences of others. East Tennessee is my birthplace and it is something that I've never really come to terms with. I was all over the place with some of this subject matter in 2010. While living on the West Coast someone (who knew I did not know how to come to terms with it) asked me to embody the South in one word. That word was "Humidity". It was liberating to hear it come out of my mouth. Now I equate that word with another word: "Slavery". Like humidity, slavery is an overbearing, suffocating, and miserable entrapment of daily existence for people bound by something. Slavery is more prevalent now than it has ever been. One would think that this age of enlightenment or world wide access through the internet would be the great deliverer of information that would free the world. It has most likely done the opposite. According to facts completed by International Justice Mission, there are "an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today - more than any other time in human history." (IJM works to combat human trafficking including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, forced labor slavery, illegal detention, police brutality, and illegal land seizure.)
Slavery comes in so many forms. I will explore situations of slavery, from that East Tennessee perspective. Song of the South will be played out in 7 ‘verses’. These verses reference the general progression of the Disney ride, Splash Mountain, that follow the general progression of the Disney film, Song of the South, that follows a general progression from the Tales of Uncle Remus. TWACK delivers 7 character studies and includes Uncle Remus, The Wonderful Tar Baby, Bre’r Rabbit, Bre’r Fox, Bre’r Bear, Bre’r Possum, and Bre’r Buzzard. Each character takes on the form of a specific social issue that I will allude to you (but, they work as a unit and can be interchangeable). So, I step boldly into this song to sing to you. It is not a happy song. It is the blues. Cornel West says, "…blues is not about triumph blues is about resistance, blues is about overcoming its about prevailing, its about persisting- but because it is tragic comic there's no triumph as it were…as a blues inflicted Christian the cross is at the center of the blues resurrection is at the center of the gospel. Now blues brothers and sisters they don't necessarily go into the resurrection, but they go at the cross. Blind Willie Johnson - one of the greatest geniuses in the history of American civilization… when he wrote, "dark was the night - cold was the ground" that's his meditation on the crucifixion of Jesus as a bluesman - so he doesn't sing a word he moans and groans and hums and grits cause there's no language that comes close to that catastrophe and the blues is about catastrophe it ain't about problem." I invite you to explore this catastrophe.
A BRIEF HISTORY - EAST TENNESSEE
1539 Hernando de Soto visits East Tennessee, leaving behind devastating disease for the community of natives
1682 Shawnee Indians are driven out of East Tennessee by the Cherokee Indians
1770 Micajah "Big" Harpe and Wiley "Little" Harpe, America's first true serial killers being raised in what is now Knoxville, Tennessee
1775 Transylvania Purchase - Elizabethton, Tennessee
1784 State of Franklin created and unrecognized
1786 Davy Crockett born in Greenville, Tennessee
1807 Chief Doublehead killed in Calhoun, Tennessee
1831 The Indian Removal Act begins - Red Clay, Tennessee
1865 Greenville, Tennessee native - President Andrew Johnson - gives inauguration speech drunk
1902 Cas Walker born in Sevier County, Tennessee
1906 Ed Johnson Lynched in Chattanooga, Tennessee (tombstone reads, "God Bless you all. I AM A Innocent Man - Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord")
1908 George Went Hensley first experiences snake handling near Cleveland, Tennessee and goes on to be credited with spreading the custom of
Pentecostal Snake Handling in the Southeast
1916 Mary (a five-ton Asian elephant) executed by hanging for the death of her trainer in Kingsport, Tennessee
1922 Al Capone sets up headquarters at the Montrose Court Apartment Complex in Johnson City,Tennessee (also known as "Little Chicago")
1923 Jonesborough, Tennessee native -D.C. Stephenson - appointed as a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan
1932 The Highlander Research and Education Center is born in Monteagle, Tennessee
1933 Average income in East Tennessee was $639 a year with some families surviving on $100 a year. The Tennessee Valley Authority was designed
to modernize this region of Tennessee
1942 The United States Government acquires 59,000 acres in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to begin work on the Manhattan Project
1943 Sergei Rachmaninoff performs his last recital at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
1956 The "Clinton 12" are the first African American students to be integrated into public school - Clinton, Tennessee
1956 The Louvin Brothers record Knoxville Girl
1957 Editor David McDowell posthumously releases James Agee's autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family , providing a portrait
of life in Knoxville, Tennessee
1969 Teenage prostitution is out of control in Newport, Tennessee
1979 Cosby, Tennessee produces #3 on the nations top strains of marijuana in High Times Magazine - "Cosby Crippler"
1980 Filming completed in Morristown, Tennessee for Sam Rami's Evil Dead
1981 Dr. William Bass opens the "Body Farm" for the study of decomposition of human remains in Knoxville, Tennessee
1982 Knoxville, Tennessee hosts the World's Fair making a profit of $57
1985 Jake Butcher pleads guilty to Federal charges of bank fraud
1986 Dolly Parton becomes co-owner of theme park and renames it "Dollywood" in Pigeon Forge,Tennessee
1999 Murder trial begins for "Zoo Man" Thomas Huskey for the murder of several prostitues in Knoxville, Tennessee
2004 Maya Lin designs Langston Huges Library and Riggo-Lynch Interfaith Chapel for Children's Defense Fund at Alex Haley's Farm
in Clinton, Tennessee
2007 Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom are abducted, robbed, brutally tortured, raped, and murdered by George Geovonni "Detroit" Thomas, Letalvis Darnell "Rome" Cobbins,Lemaricus Devall "Slim" Davidson, Vanessa Coleman, and Eric Dewayne "E" Boyd in Knoxville, Tennessee
2008 The nations oldest and largest illegal cockfighting arena, The Del Rio Cockfighting Pit, in Del Rio, Tennessee is razed
2009 Moonshiner, Popcorn Sutton, commits suicide rather than report to Federal prison. He is buried in Parrotsville, Tennessee
2012 Knox County Commissioner, Jeff Ownby, is arrested for public indecency and engaging in oral sex with another man at Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park in Knoxville, TN
2013 Haslam Family/Pilot-Flying J rebate scandal
2013 The parents of murder victim, Trayvon Martin, speak at an anti-violence rally at Overcoming Believers Church in Knoxville, Tennessee
Although I have given some background on ideas in this show, I am not ready to discuss it at great length. I have no answers, only questions. This is a work in progress. Rather than give detailed explanations of the represented characters in this show, I will let words of others help to lend form to each piece.
5’ x 8’
tar . oil paint . primer . photocopies . street marker paint on canvas
"And the fields as white as snow-flakes,
where the drakes brown as pancakes,
gathered for old mammy's sunday dinner,
seems they nicer did get thinner,
from the possum and fried chickens,
then they used to raise the dickens,
when they see old joe a commin'
with his banjo set for strummin'
cake-walk, shuffle, buck and wingin'
tenderly they'd soon start singin'…
-Sam Goold/Sid Caine/Al Sigel, "Song of the South"
“It happened on on of those zip-a-dee-doo-dah days. Now that’s the kind of day when you can’t open your mouth without a song jumping’ right out of it”
-Uncle Remus, “Zip-a-dee-doo-da”
“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin…”
- Malcolm X
2’ x 4’
oil paint . street marker paint on wood panel
"You can forgive a young cunt anything. A young cunt doesn't have to have brains. they're better without brains. But an old cunt, even if she's brilliant, even if she's the most charming woman in the world, nothing makes any difference. A young cunt is an investment; an old cunt is a dead loss. All they can do for you is buy you things. But that doesn't put meat on their arms or juice between their legs."
-Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
"If they substituted the word 'Lust' for 'Love' in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth."
-Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
“Women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness.”
“All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.”
4’ x 4’
tar . acrylic on wood panel
4’ x 8’
primer . tennessee lottery tickets on wood panel
"If you don't hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you."
"All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live."
-Judson W. Van DeVenter
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”
46” x 56”
primer . gold spray paint . pencil on cavas
"I refuse to "look up." Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man's fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery."
-John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
"Make your whole life revolve around sports
Walk tough - don't act too smart
Be a mean machine
Then we'll let you get ahead"
-Dead Kennedys, Jock-O-Rama
“I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.”
The Wonderful Tar-Baby
osb . tar . asphalt . gold spray paint . taxidermy form
"There are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers"
“The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”
-Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine, or idealism.”
pixelated scene from “laughing place” video projection
"Slept, awoke, slept, awoke, miserable life."
"And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history - money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery - the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy."
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
"He had been bored, that's all, bored like most people. Hence he had made himself out of whole cloth a life full of complications and drama. Something must happen - and that explains most human commitments. Something must happen, even loveless slavery, even war or death. Hurray then for funerals!"
-Albert Camus, The Fall
1’ x 1.5’ x 4’
tar . oil paint in luan box
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to press, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
“There is no life to be found in violence. Every act of violence brings us closer to death. Whether it’s the mundane violence we do to our bodies by overeating toxic for or drink or the extreme violence of child abuse, domestic warfare, life-threatening poverty, addiction, or state terrorism.
- Bell Hooks
Thank you for attending TWACK
Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”