Wednesday, February 23
I went to a really interesting presentation at CAA a few weeks back by the Association for Critical Race Art History, that included a paper presentation by Charles L. Davis on locating the frameworks of race in architectural style and ornament. (You can watch a similar presentation here.) The perspective posed was compelling: that style and ornament derive from a cultural history, yet there is no discussion of said history after it is adopted in architecture. It seems like there are many instances in aesthetic practices where formalism reigns at the expense of identifying or discussing the importance of the cultural or vernacular that created that aesthetic. There is definitely a long history of utopian experiments that sought to universalize and eradicate the problems of difference (specifically in primary forms of communication, such as language.) Yet most of these experiments fail (otherwise I'd be writing this in Esperanto, I guess.) If they are considered experiments in formalism, they remove the impetus that necessitates language development (perspectives on experience and their subsequent descriptions in order to communicate or perpetuate them.) But what about other modes of production that communicate ideals, such as architecture, art, design and music? These reductive forms, by appealing to a commonality of experience, often talk about their source material, yet are removed from a discussion of the meaningfulness of that cultural history. And minimalism has become something adopted by the market as a means to ignore the problem of difference by clearly exposing the logical, formal elements. As with language, there is a tension between speaking to everyone and speaking to a few; with universalizing an experience and addressing its questions or problems.
I found very little in an initial search for discussions of race in minimalist avant-garde music, but the work of Julius Eastman (an openly gay, black pianist and composer who was at the music department at the University at Buffalo) was often cited as point of discussion. Eastman's compositions are mostly lost, due to a tragic spiral downward towards the end of his life, but he dedicated his output to an exploration of an organic principle of reduction, where in subsequent sections "the information is taken out at a gradual and logical rate." His music also attempts to examine issues of race and identity through these forms. It's surprising that most of the reviews of his work refrain from any discussions of race at all, despite his highly controversial titles. An example of his work is above.