Dark Matter

a mixture of the unknown and the tangible - by Jennifer Newsom

Distorting Glass - Dream The Combine at Patkau Architects

Last night, we had the honor of presenting our work at the office of Patkau Architects in Vancouver. We were so humbled to be able to share our projects and motivations with such an esteemed group - the tour of their projects on the boards was stunning. They asked probing questions that encouraged us to deeply consider ourselves and our practice.

During our talk, I articulated the why and how our artwork engages with race. I had not formally stated this publicly before, but I share my comments here:


Jeff Wall - After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (2000)

Jeff Wall - After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (2000)

Our artworks latently engage with race, and the particularities of my background. The doubling of real, tangible space and an illusory one gets at the crux, I believe, of Black American experience, where there is a doubling of self - the knowledge that combined with your true personhood are a host of projections bound to your black body. This fact is how unarmed black teenagers can be tragically struck down without hesitation. Due to their very presence - of being black and in the “wrong” place, which really could be any place - they are seen as, to quote Darren Wilson who murdered young Michael Brown, “a demon” to be exorcised.

In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the lead protagonist describes his experience thusly: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination -- indeed, everything and anything except me.

This kind of self-doubling, or “double-consciousness” as W.E.B. DuBois coined the sensation, happened most explicitly to me in my first-year visual analysis course at the Yale School of Architecture. Peter Eisenman was describing what he saw as the roots of architecture with a capital A, and during his monologue he exclaimed: “There is no such thing as black architecture. There is no Chinese architecture.” and so on. All of the brown and yellow students looked around the room and at one another, wondering if this was really happening.

I thought to myself, “But I am black, and I aim to make architecture. I’m here, sitting in this room.” I realized then that I was both inside and outside the Western canon at the same time. As Du Bois has noted, “Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.”

Our work mines this doubling, where both tangible surface and reflected image are enmeshed, in a cacophonous dialogue where each voice is speaking simultaneously, urgently, and loudly.

Forging a way through via abstraction, constructions of image, and tangible forms, I aim to make work that metaphorically engages with themes present in my prior research (see Black Boxes, etc). 

Put simply, it is inherently black because I'm doing it.

Jennifer Carruthers