Gratitude and Rage by Ralph Lemon
December 22, 2020
This excerpted text is sourced from a letter written on April 20, 2020 from artist, Ralph Lemon to MoMA Curator, Department of Media and Performance, Thomas J. Lax. It is part of a series of three letters from Lemon to Lax, first published on July 8, 2020 as part of the MoMA magazine artist letter project, “Performing at a Distance.” Initiated in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shut-down of public art spaces in New York, Lemon reflects on his latest presented live work, Rant #3, a one-time only collaboration between Danspace Project and The Kitchen as part of Platform 2020: Utterances From The Chorus. This was the only private performance of the Platform.
This writing will be included in the Platform 2020: Utterances From The Chorus, Volume II Catalogue, slated to be released in January as a free digital publication.
The last night of February 2020, right before everything shut down, Kevin Beasley, Okwui Okpokwasili, Samita Sinha, Paul Hamilton, Stanley Gambucci, Mariama Noguera-Devers, Dwayne Brown, Darrell Jones, and I performed Rant #3, a new work, at The Kitchen (The Kitchen theater in its remarkable transitional empty [and economically threatened] black space). An invitation-only event, also free. Another attempt at how something is offered and seen and not, in this case, who was there and not, watching a very loud site-specific sound, movement, voice, Brown/Black body cultural experiment in rage, freedom and or ecstasy…with just enough light to make each person’s group station visible. (An excuse, really, for my not being able to share the actual inexplicable interstice of the thing expressed, a completely private temper imagining some future where a cultural wailing [pain] is not only legitimate but also beautiful. A completely different show.)
I am not particularly happy that we were able to perform the one show a week before the shutdown, just under the wire, that maybe we were lucky, very lucky. It would have been more interesting, I think, if the time and space had said no to this complex artwork’s invitation (like the nos of so many other recent artwork invitations), given that no is not an answer. If we had been shut down, I would certainly have been angrier than I already am. A universal rage, mostly to do with the basic inequities of our human existence, expected ongoing race matters and a few art problems—in that order—that predate my pandemic distress.
I am grateful to The Kitchen and Danspace Project at St. Mark’s, Tim Griffin and Judy Hussie-Taylor, et al., for bravely producing, paying for the free show without a clear return of institutional goods, whatever they got out of the hands-off and devoted care taking. (Not knowing what was coming only a week later.) How both of these institutions benevolently disappeared around and within the work’s performance and audience mandates. And who knows how this kind of generosity will circulate after the tremendous loss of live performance (and live gatherings) as we now (don’t really) know it. It is devastated, certainly. It’s hard for me to imagine Rant #4.