Dialogue across Decades: BLW and People's Communication Network-Exercises in Remembering and Forgetting

Article excerpt

I am particularly interested in a discursive aesthetic based on the possibility of a dialogical relationship that breaks down the conventional distinction between artist, art work and audience-a relationship that allows the viewer to "speakback" to the artist in certain ways, and in which this reply becomes in effect a part of the "work" itself. (Kester)

BLW's "Re-Speaking" Project and Invitation

The artists collective BLW- Rozalinda Borcila, Sarah Lewison, and Julie Wyman-describes in a provocative 2007 "re-speaking kit," published in the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest (BLW, "I am going"), its contemporary embodied response to 1973 video documentation of a speech delivered by activist and educator "Queen Mother" Audley Moore at Green Haven Federal Prison.1 The speech testified to first-person witnessing of tragic incidents of racism in the South and brave and sustained resistance and offered a radical political analysis invoking the importance of education. Queen Mother Moore spoke at the invitation of a prisoners' group, Think Tank, and was recorded on video by the production collective People's Communication Network for the newly established medium of public access cable television in New York City. The tape by the People's Communication Network was deposited in the Free Video Library at Antioch College in the early 1970s, and two decades later, it was selected for inclusion in Surveying the First Decade, an extensive collection of documentary and artists' video projects from 1968 to 1980, distributed by the Video Data Bank (Hill, "Surveying"). As the curator of Surveying the First Decade, I am responding to the invitation offered through BLW's re-speaking project: "Our interest is in the text and the conditions and implications of the recording, speech and the conditions and implications of utterance. We are looking for resonance-not theater . . . We invite you to respeak Queen Mother Moore . . . with resources from your own . . . histories" (BLW, "I am going").

BLW's 2004 re-speaking performance at a Pilot TV event in Chicago2 set the stage for its sustained project of re-performing transcripts of spoken exchanges (a speech, an interview, a press conference), recorded on video by political activists from the late 1960s and early 70s. "Our re-speaking is a re-making and a playback of the recording, a performative method of interrogating video as a repository for memory and a technology of forgetting" (BLW, "I am going"). In their 2007 "evaluation" of the Queen Mother Moore re-speaking project, they ask, "[W]hat stories can we find that, by being told and retold, will produce collective recall, a gathering memory of what we need to do, and how we might learn to act together?" (BLW, "I am going"). This article seeks to participate in BLW's call for an invigorated inquiry into the conditions of the speech and its recording, as well as its history of preservation and reamplification. The political and cultural acts of remembering and forgetting that have resulted in this remarkable tape's perhaps unlikely survival provide resonance for BLW's re-speaking practice. The tape's revival also repositions Queen Mother Moore's powerful embrace of an audience of mostly African American men, incarcerated in a federal prison, for reconsideration by a contemporary citizenry who might share BLW's desire to address "the transfer and redistribution of power among the heretofore powerless" (BLW, "I am going"), including attention to the contemporary US incarceration crisis, the warehousing of a disproportionate number of people of color and nonviolent offenders in a criminal justice system that has all but abandoned responsibilities for rehabilitation.

BLW's re-speaking projects (2004-09), which also include the re-performances of a 1969 interview by the seminal Videofreex collective with Black Panther Fred Hampton and a press conference challenging the delivery of higher education during the 1968 San Francisco State College (now University) student strike,3 dialogue across three decades with not only the People's Communications Network but also a number of other late 1960s and early 70s video collectives, together with their recorded subjects and audiences. …