Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Lorna Simpson "Easy to Remember" 2001
African-American artist Lorna Simpson created Easy to Remember in 2001, a softly stirring video installation piece created using low-tech video methods. In a review presented in the New York Times journalist Holland Cotter stated, “When the film made its debut in the 2002 Whitney Biennial a few months after Sept. 11, its poignancy was almost unbearable.” Simpson depicts just the lips of 15 people in split-screen fashion, each humming a Rodgers and Hart song the artist well remembers from her childhood past. Weather the tonal quality sounds melancholy or happy is for viewers to decide and contemplate. In an interview Simpson expresses that for her the humming sounds warm and comforting. In spite of the various feelings we experience from them, the sounds play an undeniable role in Simpson’s videos that are centered on race, identity, and gender.
Simpson was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. She studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the University of California in San Diego. During the 1980s and 90s Simpson became well known for photography featuring African-American women with the incorporation of text. For instance, in 1989 she created a piece know as Untitled (2 Necklines), a photograph showing only the neck areas of two women, one on each side with text down the middle including “ring, surround, lasso, noose, eye, areola, halo, cuffs, collar and loop.” Below these words was written in red, “feel the ground sliding from under you.” Words, as well as titles, add an evocative dimension to Simpson’s works. In a similar manner, the authentic sounds of humming add a deep sense of life and soul into Easy to Remember.
To me, the humming invokes feelings of the past and events I have only read about or seen in films portraying slavery and the brutal mistreatment of African-Americans. When I at first read the title of this piece, Easy to Remember, I thought of the ease in remembering a tune of a song without recalling the words. Just as I may not know the exact words of a song, I may not know the exact events of history. Simpson’s works are extremely conceptual. In a minimalistic way, I feel the emotions of the past in the synchronous voices that sweetly blend together—and I have not even physically been there. This is the poignant transcendence I experience with this piece.
Another prominent video installation Simpson created in 2003 is called Corridor. Here she split the screen in half, depicting two different women on each side, the one on the left suggesting a domestic slave and the other on the right appearing as a wealthy home owner, revealing their stark relation to one another. Of this particular work, Simpson has noted, "I do not appear in any of my work. I think maybe there are elements to it and moments to it that I use from my own personal experience, but that, in and of itself, is not so important as what the work is trying to say about either the way we interpret experience or the way we interpret things about identity.” Simpson’s work makes her a very important artist, and her contemporary videos demonstrate how even the simplest of low-tech means can be used effective in conveying and evoking emotional responses to our past.
This is an in-depth artist talk featuring Lorna Simpson. She discusses her art works in chronological order, beginning with most recent projects and focusing on "Easy to Remember" at 24:00 video time. Later during a question-answer session someone asks her whether she worries that technology (shift from analog to digital photography, etc.) might inhibit her future work, to which she replies optimistically, showing no real sign of concern. You can skip to hear her answer at 54:29. Simpson is a strong video artist that holds firmly to her preference in working with low-tech to create simple and powerful works.