Glenn Kaino, 19.83: Studio Museum Harlem | NYC
19.83 is an exercise in the crystallization and dissipation of memory that takes as a point of departure the process through which a historical event is transformed into a powerful iconic image that then circulates in a shared imaginary—leading to the shredding of a past singular moment into multiple stories and narratives that are fabricated and contested in the now. Memory is as much of a process of forgetting as it is one of remembering; it is a process of accumulation through which fragments of time attach themselves to matter, to places, to sounds, and to smells. Pierre Norra has called these environments of embodied time lieux de memoire or loci of memory—real and tangible places where the past and present converge and where the re-inscription of histories and personal narratives becomes possible.
In 1968, a twenty-four year old Tommie Smith won first place in the 200-meter men’s race at the Olympic Games in Mexico City despite sustaining an injury earlier in the day. During the award ceremony, Smith walked to the platform wearing only black socks on his feet—the first sign of a symbolic protest that would become even more powerful in the following minutes. Smith accepted the gold medal and then as the customary playing of the national anthem began, he raised his fist to give a salute and then bowed his head in prayer. The image of Smith engaged in this powerful act has circulated beyond the time and context in which it came into being—becoming instead a symbol for a myriad of beliefs, ideas, and social causes.
Emerging at a particular time of shifting political climates around the world, Smith’s action has been woven into a broader discourse that speaks of the power of collective action, the responsibilities we have to our fellow man, and the idea that the rights we enjoy today were reached because of the path laid for us by those who came before. Creating a sculptural environment that materializes and loosely connects some of the ideas and concepts circulating around the image of this monumental gesture, 19.83 will function as a site wherein the history, memory and the present compete for prominence, as if to earn a position on the winner’s podium as Smith, Jon Carlos and Peter Norman did many years ago.
Success embodied in a golden solitary object, laying dormant in the middle of the room; the act of walking barefoot across a space, feeling the cold ground beneath; a reverberating echo of a shot fired serving as a constant reminder of both a starting point and a dangerous ending—all of these components assembled into an inhabitable mnemonic device that does more than illustrate a past event; instead it gives form to the architecture of complex structures in which narratives are created, transmitted, challenged, and re-made. Like the memory devices used in various cultures to arrange multiple places, times, and peoples, 19.83 lays out an infrastructure of time and events that become raw materials for the making of stories in the now.