The piece — consisting of a chalkboard, chalk, eraser, booklet of "exercises" (see the text below), and disposable camera — was designed to instigate conversations about power, privilege, dialogue, and discipline in education. It opened with a quote by educational theorist Paulo Freire — "if the structure does not permit dialogue, the structure must be changed" — copied onto the chalkboard by the gallery director. Following, visitors to the gallery were invited to copy poems from the booklet onto the chalkboard, and take a photograph to document their work. Some people remained faithful to the originals. Others changed the text. Sometimes people erased pre-existing text to give themselves a blank slate. Others chose to layer new text over pre-existing text. And so on.
In addition to the installation, I also completed an "on-site/off-site" residency during the exhibit — in collaboration with the poet Rachel Zolf. Zolf and I engaged in a remote dialogue about the exhibition and notions of "exchange" (personal, intellectual, creative, economic, etc). And the poems we traded were then documented via Zolf's online Tolerance Project.
Folding the memory of a public school over and stepping into compromise: in this dull of winter their small, fraught bodies taunt the reach of an ethic.
No consolation, the flexibility of a classroom: my patience gem: their laughter fits.
When asked for a poster child, all I can say is he’s come far. But advertisements want for product. For a boy to be a revolution.
Subjectivity as effort, a gesture rather than a right. What bravery in abdicating an I versus sticking it out.
Facing my runner down in the stairwell, both of our eyeballs and scruff stilled on a step brokering consequence. Her safety trumps dialogue, and the aftertaste of authority indentures my idealism. To not be untouched by human problem. That sincerity might constitute a critique. Whoever controls the language controls the outcomes.
Speech as projection [...] as a transitional technology. I not as an endpoint, but as a progression of place-markers.
In East Harlem I ain’t no Mexican! Reigning in the revolt of a snow day, a ring of children is re-grouped and given the chance to explain themselves.
That language takes place outside of me, the individual [...] and that this is writing too.
In East Harlem a girl speaks Spanish, proud, and the circuit of her gracias and my de nada quotes some understanding.
How my voice stalls his punch. Eye to eye with this child, I experience power. Acknowledge the stress of pandemic blue, disparate blue, all the resources in absentia blue.
I lov you I lov you I lov you
The suspicion that how we approach children exposes each social despot who backs us on verge of crusade. Flashback to that 80s film in which a power-suit weighs her babe on a grocer's scale (read: melon-like and cheerful).
It’s the girl with the yellow hair that’s so rare in the Bronx that they id as difference.
Each one peculiarizes power, shimmies up into it and acts (it) out.
Meaning the subject is what we do.
To frame listening as intervention, a strong relationship to power. We sift significations daily, meet rights and wrongs, milk and bone.
These days I think often of that semiotics professor who described her toddler, his naive estrangement from the system of sitcoms, as proof no language is natural.
So we tightrope between safe spaces, engender limits. We make over this place: each of us a tone, a syntax. Language now predicated on the use-value of a classroom, we fight hard for a participatory grammar.
Ethics become gravity, the constitution of a question mark.
I trade the propulsion of ideas for this mess, this silence, this waiting as applied pressure. Each day I am invited to act, to reason why and suspect there is nothing that has not been said before.
To embrace this with language.
Out of dusk make an antsy, a container of sense.
Buck compliance, but grow a vessel for it.
Offer decompression, compassion. Draft a policy for this.
Be the casing, spent. A pair of trembling limbs, kitsch and giving.
Wield the curtain like a wall.
I would breed this small community a consistent safety, the sustainability of presence.
Each session as benchmark, cast-off, what future will come.
This is a history moment!
Or an invitation into clout, to account for the opportunity of impact.
My classroom today is conceptual and sunned.
Each kid loosing the abstractions of paint and cardboard, all ears as we notice a foreign calendar, the orange expanse that is Russia. Parcel the emotions like so, to create a gate for care. A procedure for trust.
There are points where habit and change intersect. We kind their release. Budge, and revolve again.