In 2017, grappling with the fallout from the Trump election, Susan Silton filmed a brief sequence unfolding in the metal scrapyard across the street from her studio. An American flag, waving indifferently in the background, was Silton’s mute companion in witnessing this one-act play. In Bursting in air, the artist pairs this footage with a plaintive interpretation of The Star-Spangled Banner, sung by contralto Gwendolyn Brown.
On January 6th 2022, Bursting in air will be shown in an expansive empty storefront at 1035 S. Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. Once the site of nickelodeon and vaudeville theatres, Broadway has been scrubbed to be the downtown of every city, of any city. As Silton’s film loops on a screen, The Star-Spangled Banner reverberates through this un-hallowed ground. Standing in this anonymous space, we are suspended in the momentum of our times. The anthem echoes our own reckoning, our mutual mourning. The value of our literal bodies, our physical presence in similar storefronts and empty buildings across the country, is being fought over and negotiated by industry through a global pandemic and a near economic-crisis. Whose bodies are essential? Whose are worth protecting?
Watching Silton’s footage, we are reminded of our own resigned inertia in the face of the ever-necessary, ever-hungry momentum toward “progress.” Over the last few years, our elected leaders have defined us in terms of the value that we create. The public narrative has shifted from sheltering in place to getting back to normal. The news cycle churns once more, but we remember. We still feel the fear, the loss, the lack of explanation for the seeming breakdown of state, country, and basic infrastructure. Our bodies remember in the cells.
Our subjective memory is necessary for struggle, necessary for our ability to subvert any public narrative that excludes us but our cells also propagate trauma, heartbreak, and rage: our bodies take a toll. History is written in contemporaneity: public record will be comprised of how we collectively interpret this moment. If we do not remember what has happened, we will be condemned to repeat our blunders. Despite the physical calamity, we must be witnesses. History is comprised of parallel subjectivities. Facts, when woven together, may build any number of narratives, but memory requires witnesses.
The Star-Spangled Banner originated through a historical retelling of the 1814 bombardment of FortMcHenry: a waving flag, soaring rockets, a battle triumph for a young nation. The poem, eventually adopted in 1931 as the national anthem, was written over a hundred years prior by a slave owner and one-time district attorney who protected slavery as an institution. For over a century the song’s racist undertones were being negotiated and scrubbed; the narrator’s biography too, eventually ignored. This chronicle serves as a warning about subjective truths. The Star-Spangled Banner, sung for Bursting in air, as a dirge is a sorrowful rebuke, a fitting monument to the spun narratives of our present moment.
Text by Irina Gusin
Bursting in air, 2022
Site specific video installation
Video projection, 5.1 audio, wood tables, printed matter
Contralto: Gwendolyn Brown
Audio mix: Ben Huff
Video mastering: Peter Kirby, Media Arts Services
Technical Production: Jeff Kleeman, Studio Sereno
Audio installation: Andrew McClymont, Lux Aeterna, LLC
Table fabrication: Jinseok Choi
LAND’s 2021 exhibitions are made possible with lead support from the Offield Family Foundation and the Jerry and Terry Kohl Foundation. Additional support is provided by the the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, the California Community Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust Foundation, Fran and Ray Stark Foundation, the Chauncey and Marion D. McCormick Family Foundation, the Poncher Family Foundation, Brenda Potter, and LAND’s Nomadic Council.