Issues
Issue #105
Loophole of Retreat
With: Tina M. Campt, Saidiya Hartman, Simone Leigh, Simone White, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Rizvana Bradley, Dionne Brand, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Christina Sharpe, Vanessa Agard-Jones, Grada Kilomba, Françoise Vergès, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Okwui Okpokwasili, Lorraine O’Grady, Annette Lane Harrison Richter, Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, and Asiya Wadud

On April 27, 2019, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was the site of a very special convening. It was the brainchild of Simone Leigh, and shared its title with her 2019 exhibition at the museum. Organized by Leigh, Saidiya Hartman, and myself, “The Loophole of Retreat” was an exhilarating, rejuvenating, and inspirational daylong gathering dedicated to the intellectual life of black women that brought together an international constellation of writers, artists, poets, filmmakers, and activists. This special issue of e-flux journal seeks to lift up the extraordinary voices, thoughts, and conversations that emerged at the convening and share them with a wider audience. In doing so, I and my coeditors, Leigh and Hartman, seek to extend the dialogues of the “Loophole” in the hope of including others and inspiring future gatherings which, like the Guggenheim convening, will honor and celebrate the intellectual and creative labor of black women.

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18 Essays December 2019

How does one convey the beauty of the gathering and how she brings us together? How she does what she does and what unfolds inside the circle? What has she been called to bear for all of us? Refuge is to be found in a skirt of raffia, in a rampart of clay. Simone Leigh’s hands have created a world, have disrupted and evaded the dominant economy of the gaze, not by opposition or protest, not by explaining anything, but by looking otherwise, by retreating within, by a radical withholding that makes visible and palpable all that is held in reserve—all that power, love, brilliance, labor, and care. All that beauty.

Simone Leigh was born in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. She is a recipient of the Hugo Boss Prize (2018), Foundation for Contemporary Art Grant (2018), Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize (2017), John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), and Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2016). Recent projects and exhibitions include “Loophole of Retreat” (2019) at the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the 2019 Whitney Biennial; “The Waiting Room” (2016) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; “Hammer Projects” (2016) at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; inHarlem (2016), a public installation presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park, New York; and The Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014), a project commissioned by Creative Time, New York. Leigh is the first artist to be commissioned for the High Line Plinth, where her monumental sculpture Brick House is on view through October 2020.

The orb begins to break apart, or peel away. I begin to apprehend the thing that I am inside; I see us fall away from each other and the ligature of individuated desire becomes perceptible. The violence of the bind makes possible the path toward breaking. It is the beautiful impossibility of not feeling pleasure in company that degrades and insults us, the degradation’s own fundamental energy, which is matter, thus neither this nor that, which propels it away.

The Music of the Spheres
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

There is said to be a universal hum. An imperceptible vibration producing a sound ten thousand times lower than can be registered by the human ear. It can be measured on the ocean’s floor, but its source is not exactly known: perhaps the hush of oceanic waves, perhaps the turbulence in the atmosphere, or the far bluster of planetary storms.

Art critics fetishize the purity of form. When art critics emphasize pure form, do they realize pure form is the consequence of perfect black death? Perhaps we need a thorough renovation of the aesthetic. Where can we locate black aesthetic praxis in the violent reduction of both pure matter and pure form? After Dionne Brand, what would it mean to call for the death of an aesthetic of imperialism?

Maps
Dionne Brand

These spirits are tenants of nothing jointly, temporary inheritors of pages 276 and 277 of an old paleology. They sometimes hold a life like a meeting in a detention camp, like a settlement without a stone or stick, like dirty shelves, like a gag in the mouth. Their dry goods are all eaten up already and their hunger is tenacious. This spirit doubling and quadrupling, resuming, skipping stairs and breathing elevators is possessed with uncommunicated undone plots; consignments of compasses whose directions tilt, skid off known maps, details skitter off like crabs.

What does the history of the breast, with its attendant racializing cleavages of being, do to traditions of comparison? Thinking across the scale of the cell, the breast, and embattled human sociality, this essay shifts black feminist critical attention from the posterior to the breast and suggests that thinking sociogenically troubles utopic interpretations of trophallaxis in the biological sciences and beyond.
 

Beauty Is a Method
Christina Sharpe

I learned to see in my mother’s house. I learned how not to see in my mother’s house. How to limit my sight to the things that could be controlled. I learned to see in discrete angles, planes, plots. If the ceiling was falling down and you couldn’t do anything about it, what you could do was grow and arrange peonies and tulips and zinnias; cut forsythia and mock orange to bring inside.

Selvage/Obsidian: A Response
Vanessa Agard-Jones

“You make bread out of stone,” Dionne once urged. Out on and out of this obsidian selvage, Dionne, Zakiyyah, and Christina have offered us this sustenance from stone: a sense of what might be imagined if we can make our way to our selves’ edges, and what possibilities might emerge from the loophole. Through the figures of the map, the insect, and the vessel they each engage in this edge-work, underscoring the porous processes out of which our bodies and our lives are made.

Grada Kilomba is a interdisciplinary artist and writer, born in Lisbon and living in Berlin. Her work draws on memory, trauma, race, gender, and the decolonization of knowledge. She is the author of Plantation Memories (2008) a compilation of episodes of everyday racism written in the form of short psychoanalytical stories; and the coeditor of Mythen, Masken und Subjekte (2005), an anthology on Critical Whiteness Studies. Her artworks have been presented internationally at the 10th Berlin Biennale; Documenta 14; the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo; Rauma Biennal Balticum; Art Basel; Frieze London; Cape Town Art Fair; and the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Marrakech, among others.

The maroons’ story I was taught at home was my first lesson in creating spaces of freedom despite an ideology that reduced black bodies to commodities and rendered the logics of murder a rule and extinction politics. I also learned that creating spaces of freedom depended on patience and a kind of true but rare courage that black women have historically demonstrated. Their stories enlighten another temporality than the Western masculine one of progress, defeat, victory, and triumph over matter, all processes understood as enforcing submission, crushing all obstacles, laying to waste.

How
Denise Ferreira da Silva

Without time or space, a when or a where, without references to moment or place, the various versions of the question of how that inspire this conversation alleviate the task; they gather us under the assertion that weand, I mean, black women—do, or rather create. Without asking for a program or a method, it is a statement.

We will have no feet
We will fly
Round and round
Our bodies shape the air like
clay in our hands

Interstice
Lorraine O’Grady

The blinding in Simone’s figures seems to me a self-blinding in order to see the self more clearly. A blinding that forces the one blinded to look inside more deeply. It’s a miracle, a radical act of self preservation, this blinding. It shuts out the exterior to be able to pay more and better attention to the interior. And the question it asks is: How brave and how honest will we be when we begin to look inside?

So I could just imagine how the Sisters would sit around and probably make quilts or mend clothing and plan how the organization was going to operate. Would they have officers? And what nomenclature would be given to the officers and their songs or prayers or rituals? And I’m sure it must have been a deeply moving experience for them, because slaves were torn apart so, and treated so brutally and viciously. To be with women who were nurturing and loving and sensitive just means everything in the world.

Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich is a New York City–based filmmaker and artist.

all prayers supplanted
every pew held our bodies
when we got to the waters
all the oak pews faced the Atlantic
to carry us outbound — silt coffers
to sit with the words held in the pews
the sun burned a hole right through me
I let it

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