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Glenn Kaino In the Light of a Shadow

  • Exhibition

  • On view February 2021

I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. How long, how long must we sing this song?

The refrain bears repeating: how long must we sing this song?

On March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, John Lewis and Hosea Williams led 600 protestors in a march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a nonviolent action intended to spotlight civil rights violations, while also demanding voting rights. Known as Bloody Sunday, the peaceful protestors were attacked by troopers with tear gas. Many were beaten, leaving marchers hospitalized.

How long must we sing this song?

On January 30, 1972, 15,000 protestors marched from Bishop’s Field in Derry, Northern Ireland, in protest of violations of civil rights by the British government. British military opened fire, killing and injuring dozens. In Ireland, this date is also referred to as Bloody Sunday and has been memorialized by U2 through their iconic song of the same name.

How long must we sing this song?

On February 23, 2020, the unarmed Ahmaud Arbery was shot in Georgia while out jogging, by two white men. The police initially made no arrests. Less than a month later, on March 13, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in Louisville, Kentucky, by plain-clothed police officers who entered her home with a no-knock search warrant. And then on May 25th George Floyd, a 46-year old unarmed black man was brutally murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. The protests erupted yet again; Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police became rallying cries.

How long must we sing this song?

These instances are but a fraction of the many.

The song Sunday Bloody Sunday, originally written by U2 in 1983, is a plea for civil rights. It is no coincidence that the title for the song comes from the number of violent protests or civil rights throughout history. And once again, today, as we hear the news, this song rises forth again, all too pertinent decades later. Hands Up Don’t Shoot. I Can’t Breathe. Black Lives Matter.

Artist Glenn Kaino brings the idea of this song into the 21st century starting with the events of May 30, 2020. On this date, Deon Jones, a long-time collaborator and team member of Glenn Kaino Studio, was peacefully protesting in Los Angeles after the death of George Floyd when police shot him at close range in the face with a rubber bullet. One inch lower, and he would have lost his hearing. One inch higher, and he would have been dead.

This project started last year with a sculpture of a circular arrangement of metal bars. It was a type of wall that Kaino envisioned “had bent upon itself into a circle. A device that once separated now connected, but problematically so.” Each bar is sectioned into varying lengths to play a specific musical note when hit with a baton. Struck in sequence, the bars play the guitar track from U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday. This sculpture conjures the intimidating structures often used in contexts of political suppression and border divisions, yet, through the creation of this sculpture, Kaino transforms the barrier into an instrument that gives voice through a powerful piece of music. This instrument serves as a backdrop for images of protest through history, but mostly it serves as a platform for Jones, face still swollen, to sing, to plead: How long must we sing this song.

Immediately following Jones’ attack and recovery, Kaino rallied an all-star cast of collaborators to his side – including Butch Vig, Jon Batiste, and Glenn Kotche – to re-imagine and re-contextualize the classic U2 song around Jones, who is also a vocalist. The song starts with the sculpture as an instrument, played by Kotche, expands with Batiste on the piano, and then is fully realized with Jones’ singing. He sings with passion and despair, channeling his responsibility as a public voice in a chorus speaking out against police violence. In the accompanying video, directed by Kaino and shot by Larry Fong, Jones sings for us, “I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.” He sings again and again, “How long must we sing this song?” A refrain seemingly meant for this moment, but tragically nearly 30 years old.

Jones’ rendition of Sunday Bloody Sunday is the first component of Glenn Kaino’s exhibition In the Light of a Shadow, which will open at MASS MoCA in February 2021. It is a hopeful gesture, offering the promise of new possibility — a desperately needed emotional experience in this anxiety-ridden moment. This exhibition allows us to look at the intersectionality between the history of civil rights and the racial and ecological implications of the global pandemic. The video will debut on Kaino’s new digital platform, Ships, which will initiate and extend the dialogue around a wide range of studio activities, in exhibitions, film, and across the digital and experiential worlds.

Jon Batiste, Butch Vig Join Deon Jones for Cover of U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, Rolling Stone, August 2020

About the Artist
Glenn Kaino’s work spans an extraordinary range of media and creative activity. As a visual artist, he was chosen by the U.S. Department of State to represent the country in the 13th Cairo Biennale and was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, the 12th Lyon Biennial, and Prospect.3 in New Orleans. He has had solo exhibitions at the High Museum of Atlanta, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, The Andy Warhol Museum, Performa 09, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. Kaino has created various platforms for the production and dissemination of art and culture; he is co-founder of Deep River Gallery, a founding board member of LAXART and The Mistake Room, and is a current board member of Los Angeles’ the Hammer Museum, Fathomers, and The Music Center.

The team behind the first project also includes Inny Clemons, Landon J. Thomas, IV, Matthew Selby, Brian Vasquez, and Derek DelGaudio.

Image courtesy of the artist

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