Q&A : Jacek Smolicki to Marlo De Lara


Every day new footage arrives depicting another colonial statue being dismantled, broken into pieces or dragged along the streets to be eventually drowned in the water. Highly dramaturgic ways in which these acts of dismantling colonial landmarks happen proves that performativity and radical interventionism do not need to emerge as forms of artistic responsiveness. As an artist who has worked extensively with the issues of representation, identity, racial injustice and postcolonialism, where do you see the place of an artist and how do you perceive the role of arts in this current moment?

In the most traditional sense, I believe the artist holds an incredible capacity and potency for defamiliarization. As discussed by Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, this ‘making strange’ is central, particularly within social art practices and public art. While the artist is not the only empowered or positioned to make ways to intervene or question a status quo, actions often can be momentary and the dissenting protesters make their mark through documentation and witness. Deeply moving works often are indeed seen as such, not by over directing the viewer with its vision, but rather by giving pause to automated and normalized responses. The desensitization to lived realities is often times ruptured merely by reframing sensory cues. What has become acceptable such as institutional racism or supremacist and misogynist public policy is transposed to hopefully something questionable, once something becomes framed as a work of art. Again, this can be complicated by an artist intention but I personally take the position that there is room outside the originating frame, an afterlife, that can be just as powerful.

In your artistic and scholarly practice you’ve often been relying on autobiographical material.

In ‘Spaces of Making’ you revisit your childhood memories and personal journals to give them new meaning. I wonder what functions and impact might artistically and more specifically sonically approached autobiography have today, in the context of the struggle for decolonization of not only our institutions, public spaces, archives but also public life and the way it gets expressed through/in sounds and soundscapes?

In that piece, I capitalized on what is often perceived as a denarrativized sensory field, the aural. Sound is just sound. The stories and judgements we put upon sound are created by those who manipulate or stage it in order to do so. I reviewed my personal story and amplified its presence in order to see if indeed childhood story can both simultaneously be distracted and enhanced by sounding. In this moment of rebellion and revolution, I think we are all acutely aware of enforced silence in our home habitats caused by stay-in-shelter orders as well as the swell in Black voices that previously were disregarded or made to disappear. It is the extremities between the silence of empty motorways and the inescapability of the chants of “Defund the Police” with cars honking horns in solidarity. In these ways, sound-based storytelling has become the going rate, if you look at post-production choices of audiovisual essays and the decentering of diegetic elements within narrative works of previously invisibilised folx. In short, right now everyone is turning up the volume. Because gatekeepers of those controls are being questioned. So, the public sphere and the norms of injustice are well served by the focalizing what is heard in and around living in this moment.

Stuck Tape

Defining yourself as at once an activist, artist, and academic, how do you perceive relations between these roles today and do you believe that each of these activities should have a space on their own, or rather blend and cross-feed with one another?

I think there is an intellectual and creative violence in categorization that binds one only to recognizable social functions. We are all holistic beings and yet when we speak, we often require external qualifiers to hear a message. If I comment on a current event, often it is those signifiers of ‘activist’ and ‘academic’ that give my words traction. But in reality, often I am just articulating as a human moving through space who is feeling and thinking in real time. That alone should be valid enough. But it does not even register unless I say my qualifiers. As Hannah Arrendt once responded in an interview about her own identification: ‘if one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew.’ Identity is assumed in relation to the political activity, ‘not as one’s personal identity, or a generic identification, but as a mode of struggle.’

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