Dave McKenzie and Mary Walling Blackburn, “Hostile Witness”  / A screening, reading, and conversation

Dave McKenzie and Mary Walling Blackburn, “Hostile Witness” 
A screening, reading, and conversation

Dave McKenzie and Mary Walling Blackburn, “Hostile Witness” 
A screening, reading, and conversation
June 21, 2018, 7pm
311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002


In 2012, while attending a reception in Berlin, American artist Dave McKenzie created a work, Camera, where he attempts to make no physical  contact with a fellow attendee, the former US secretary of state and national security advisor Henry Kissinger.

In April 2017, American artist Mary Walling Blackburn posted an epistolary text, titled Gina and the Stars, addressed to former CIA Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service Gina Cheri Haspel, in hopes that the online “open letter” would work against Haspel assuming the position of Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The US legitimization of illegal and extra-legal interrogation techniques has been crystallized by the recent appointment of Gina Cheri Haspel to the position of Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency. Let’s attend to the ontological crises experienced by writers and artists when our attempts to record and criticize illegal and extra-legal punishments fail to confuse/delay or stop state-organized violence. It feels like… we might not exist. Our singular protest does not register because we are not real (a real threat) to those who orchestrate a series of global terrors. We poltergeists notice a dematerialization on a demonic scale: the documentation of interrogations, the location of so-called black sites (secret prisons), and the identity of torturers (not unlike that of medieval executioners) routinely erased. The damage to actual captives is not a fantasy. The ideologies that depend on destroying bodies to confirm internal loyalties, also not a dream.

Let’s discuss the manner in which Haspel has been presented as a white American female “lean-in” torturer; how the nineteenth-century fear of the female voice has been supplanted by a twenty-first-century fear of the torturer’s voice; the global circulation of the war criminal (Kissinger socializing abroad) vs. local confrontations on “that female island” (as LBJ referred to Martha’s Vineyard); the difference between the artist initiating a state-sanctioned gesture vs. an unsanctioned one; and the political sense in deforming an epistolary genre (the exchange of letters between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American women was a way to solidify female friendship) or drafting a horoscope for Haspel with an online generator.

Dave McKenzie is a visual artist who uses video, performance, and text to explore how and why subjects engage-with and become-with one another. Through simple gestures and an exploration of popular culture, language, and politics, McKenzie’s work reveals complex layers of meaning.

McKenzie is the recipient of a United States Artist Fellowship Award (2009) and was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome (2014-2015). He received a BFA from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and has taught and lectured at several colleges and universities throughout the United States. McKenzie teaches at Bard College in the Studio Arts department, and also serves as a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts.

Mary Walling Blackburn works on the Eastern US seaboard. In 2018, the work handles and is handled by rogue optics (her lazy eye and another’s glass eye), diagrams (contaminated logics), and Miscreant Class (politics).

Walling Blackburn is the founder of the Anhoek School, a pedagogical experiment (2009-2014), and WMYN (2014), a pirate feminist radio station. Writing has been featured in publications including AfterallBOMBCabinete-flux journalGrey Room, Grafter’s Quarterly, Pastelegram, tamawuj.org-the online platform of the Sharjah Biennial 13, and Women and Performance. Quaestiones Perversas, a rupture of the record examination co-written by Walling Blackburn and Beatriz Balanta, was released in March of 2017 (Pioneer Works). Recent group exhibitions and events include Beta-Local, San Juan, Puerto Rico; New Museum, NY; The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church Reading Series, NY; and an Art in General (NY) commission at Swimming Pool, Sofia, Bulgaria. 

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

State & Government

Mary Walling Blackburn was born in Orange, California. Artist and writer Walling Blackburn’s work engages a wide spectrum of materials that probe and intensify the historic, ecological, and class-born brutalities of North American life. Publications include Quaestiones Perversas (Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, 2017) co-written with Beatriz E. Balanta, and MAGIC FECES or cream psychosis, a forthcoming book of collected writings (e-flux, 202+).

Tam Donner is an American artist and writer.

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