Charmaine Bee Invites Us to 1200/2015 Holding Space for a Reality We Are Told Not to See

By Molly Surazhsky

Charmaine Bee’s (Art MFA 18) solo exhibit 1200/2015 Holding Space for a Reality We Are Told Not to See, which was on view in D301 Gallery from Jan. 11-15, centered on a performance piece. We interviewed the artist about her process and collaborative work.

24700: Congratulations on your show and performance. Could you explain the significance of the numbers 1200/2015 in the title?

Charmaine Bee: Thank you, I appreciate it! The numbers 1200/2015 signify the approximate number of people killed by the police in 2015, which is 1200. I am sure that this number is skewed, and that there are many other names that were not taken into account. The title itself explores the notion of acknowledging histories and current practices that are rooted in racism that we are encouraged to look past and move on from.

24700: A large component of your exhibition is centered on your installation, which consists of sewn together teabags. Could you talk about the process in creating this work? I love the materiality of this work and thinking about the artist drinking tea and the conversations that may have taken place over cups of tea.

CB: The piece consists of over 2,000 tea bags that I individually unfolded and sewed together, creating individual blocks, which fed into long panels and the panels then fed into the larger piece. The fragile yet durable nature of the teabags was really important to me, as well as tea’s history in that it’s interwoven with trade, colonialism and slavery.

24700: Your exhibition featured a performance with two other performers on Jan. 14. Could you talk about the choreography?

CB: The movement during the performance was highly collaborative and came out of a series of conversations about our personal routines and rituals, the current state of violence against Black bodies and the impact we feel in our day to day. As we delved deeper into these conversations, a basic structure for the movement was born, and once we had a structure to navigate within, we built movement. It was really important within the movement to recognize that we exist as individuals within a collective, because of that there was a lot of space for individualized movement within the structures that framed the larger collective movement.

24700: You also make use of rice, burnt sugar, smoke and sound in your installation. What do these elements signify?

CB: Many of the elements that I used have a complicated relationship of tension, between pleasure and violence, leisure and colonialism, sustenance and slavery. I am very much interested in that tension and how it speaks to how those complicated histories manifest in our current societal climate.

24700: How did you compose the sound piece, which plays in both your performance and throughout the display of your exhibition?

CB: The sound piece was composed using the arrest video of Sandra Bland as source material. I isolated a moment of escalation during the encounter between Sandra Bland and the police officer, one that spoke to psychological violence and power. I built the energy of the piece around this moment of violence. Repetition was an important factor and speaks to what happens when things are repeated—in some moments the repetition causes us to look closer, in others it becomes mundane. I thought it was important to capture the violence that exists in the space of the mundane.

Molly Surazhsky is an undergraduate student in CalArts’ School of Art.

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