Living Pictures

What belongs to them

Video installation / 2003 / 36 minutes

P.S.1’s first exhibition after reopening in New York. In 2000, he came to my studio to The director of the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, David Rubin, saw my work in commission one of my Living Pictures on the topic of slavery in relation to the Louisiana Purchase – that is, the acquisition of Louisiana from France in 1803 – which would be shown in New Orleans three years later. It was the first time that someone commissioned a video on such a precise subject. I agreed to make a Living Pictures work about slavery ‘in general’: economic and racial slavery as well as psychological slavery. But then the drama of 9/11 took place, while the 20 March 2003, which was the first day of filming, was also the first day of the war in Iraq. Moreover, the budgets had been cut in half at the Contemporary Art Center, and the space reserved for the work had been replaced by a pavilion for the guests of one of the museum’s trustees.
We had run an advertisement in the local newspaper looking for ‘people agreeing to come with an object or some music about slavery in general’. My studio apartment was in one of the richest parts of New Orleans, so after three days the Museum received lots of complaints from the local residents. They couldn’t handle black people coming to stroll around their white-dominated neighbourhood.
Both white and black people sat in front of my camera. At the start of the shoot, I handed each of them a KKK hood… I especially remember the responses of two white participants. One came with a black marionette that he started to move in an ambiguous way in front of the camera. Then there was a man, originally from France, who really wanted to say that his great-grandfather, a Louisiana plantation owner, had beaten a young black slave to death. He didn’t manage to finish his story. This still unpunished history continued to haunt him a century after the event, and was spoiling his life.


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