Academic journal article Southern Cultures

"The Necessity of a Show like This": Southern Accent in Conversation

Academic journal article Southern Cultures

"The Necessity of a Show like This": Southern Accent in Conversation

Article excerpt


Stacy Lynn Waddell: I am very interested in the necessity of a show like this and what brought all this to bear for you and Miranda [Lash],

Trevor Schoonmaker: Miranda and I started talking about it about five years ago, and I started thinking about it, in earnest, when I moved from New York back to North Carolina. So, ten years ago, but not in any serious way, just moving from the center of the U.S. art world--contemporary art world--to Durham, North Carolina, and [asking] what does that mean, how can you be an active participant in Durham? But also thinking, "What does it mean to be southern?"

I think at the show's heart there's an attempt to complicate the notion of what it means to be "southern." As you guys know, as well or better than I do, [it's] generally perpetuated as this monolithic, sort of, singular voice as if there's only one southern culture when it's this very multi-faceted place. That's the crux of why we wanted to first tackle it. But why do it in a contemporary art exhibition when it's been done so well [in] documentary studies, literature, music, film, so on? [W]e're three southerners sitting here who participate in the larger national/international discussion, but how hard has it been for us to get a foothold, how hard is it to get recognition in Durham, North Carolina, in the national dialogue? How hard is it for the South to be accepted, mentioned, or recognized? I think trying to unpack the canon a little bit to allow some more room, to create a little bit more room and open it up--I think those are the two major reasons.

Jeff Whetstone: I think as artists, too--and Stacy can attest to that because we've talked about this a lot--there's been very little press about art in our region. As professional artists we read the journals, we want to read about somebody's show--what did this critic say about this show? [But] it's very hard to find a consistent voice about art happenings in the South. We kind of had it in [the Indy Week] in Durham--there was always a visual arts column--but compared to New York, you know, there's forty different press outlets about art that come out monthly, so I think that ... those press outlets help the conversation along, and I think that ... seems to be missing historically in a way, right?

SLW: I think so. I'm interested in that and also this idea of having to be a journeyman as an artist, especially if you are from here. There are vestiges of that journey sort of narrative in the exhibition. I'm wondering if you thought about that relative to the artist "situation" that chooses to be here--the southern artist that is southern, but also is located and creates a practice here?

TS: [I]f you look at film and literature and music, there [are] all these stories about the southern traveler--people leaving and coming home. It's part of my story. It's not everyone's narrative, but I think it's a big part--that sense of going out, exploring the world, [and] bringing something back. I think it's in many ways true everywhere, but it's part of the lore of the South in some way--part of the mystique --and so we do try to tease that out in the exhibition. You know, there are a lot of themes that we try to get out, and narratives that we try to pull into this show, but I think that [foremost] is thinking about, "What does it mean to be southern?" And the conclusion for us is, of course, we have no idea what it truly means to be southern because we can't define it, and this [exhibit] is no attempt to say, definitively, "This is what it is." Actually, rather, the whole point is to complicate that notion.

JW: It seems like the South is--it's a contested site, it's a contested place. I think that if we had to define what it means to be southern, it's having to deal with the contested nature of the South. I left the South for the first time in my life, more or less, last year, and I find myself in Princeton, New Jersey, as, like, the Every Southern White Male, so people ask me, "So, down in the South . …

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