Child as Material with Mary Walling Blackburn

Child as Material with Mary Walling Blackburn

Child as Material with Mary Walling Blackburn
November 12, 2014

“Every country gives and every country receives—innumerable are the exchanges—and so it comes about that in our first impressionable years the universal republic of childhood is born.”
—Paul Hazard, Books, Children, and Men (1944)

What forms, cultural and critical, are possible when the child is the material for the future? After all, children are stuck living our future as their present. And the messages we deliver to children through children’s books can only embody our hope that the forward movement of time will bring something better. But as adults, we have seen some difficult things. And sometimes it’s not so easy to get over ourselves. This is how, as an operative political device, children’s books become repositories for the traumatic experiences and cultural dead ends that adults cannot manage to overcome in the present time.

Following the end of World War II, children’s literature became a primary site for installing a sense of international cultural awareness in a younger generation of minds. By the 1970s, the term “global education” gained currency in the United States. UNESCO designated 1972 as International Book Year to raise appreciation for internationalism and children’s literature, and the many photo books published around this time remain potent artifacts of a time when children were expected to be the carriers of a cultural and political imaginary that would supersede the limits of race, class, and nation.

Join us this Saturday, November 15 at e-flux for a child-friendly event including readings from six children’s books by artists, accompanied by live music.Expanding outward from Mary Walling Blackburn’s Sister Apple, Sister Pig, a children’s e-book published with accompanying speculative annotations in e-flux journal no. 53 (March 2014), each reader/panelist will perform a reading of an artist-made children’s book in tension with their own scholarship and/or practice.

The readings will be followed by a panel discussion between Beatriz Balanta, Christopher Myers, Benj Gerdes, and Jennifer Hayashida on the child as material; the kid’s book as problematized radical device; the adult artist as ally/obstacle to the infant-provocateur; and finally the child-ghost as absconder, stranger, and clandestine leader in hostile realms. In the US, whence became of the politicized children’s photo books of the 1970s? What of the unborn antagonist—does she spook the form? Finally, we will search for the moment when the fictive child crosses the threshold into the real as secessionist, as underground revolutionary leader. The panel will be moderated by Mary Walling Blackburn and Brian Kuan Wood, and will run concurrently with a children’s activity in the adjacent room. The family band Maadi Saaadi will open the afternoon with a musical performance.

This event draws on a small library of photo-illustrated children’s books, including: Tom Seidmann-Freud’s Masa’ ha-dag (Die Fischreise), trans. Chaim Bialik (1923), Claude Cahun’s Le Coeur de Pic (1937); Cornell Capa’s unpublished Mario (c. 1950s); Mary Walling Blackburn’s Sister Apple, Sister Pig (2014); Jacques Prévert and Albert Lamorisse’s Bim the Donkey (1952); Li Hsin-Tien and Wang Wei-Shin’s Bright Red Star (1974).

Beatriz Balanta was born in Colombia, South America, and as a teenager she crossed the border with her sister and a stranger (coyote) while her mother anxiously waited at the beach. She received a BA in Sociology from Boston College and a PhD in Romance Studies from Duke University. Balanta’s scholarly work analyzes the photographic and literary dimensions of racial formation in Latin America. Her interests encompass nineteenth-century debates regarding freedom, the body, and nation building in Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. She also thinks about the intersection of affect and politics and the relationship between colonialism and consumerist desire. Professor Balanta is currently Assistant Professor of Diaspora Art and Architecture in the Art History Department at SMU.

Benj Gerdes is an artist, writer, and organizer working in film, video, and other public formats, individually as well as collaboratively. He is interested in intersections of radical politics, knowledge production, and popular imagination. His individual and collaborative work focuses on the affective and social consequences of economic and state regimes through historical research, dialogue, and participatory or aleatory formalizations. His work has been exhibited and screened at venues including the Centre Pompidou, National Gallery of Art, New Museum, REDCAT Gallery, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and the Tate Modern. Writings have been published in October, The Journal of Aesthetics + Protest, Incite!, and Rethinking Marxism. Based in Brooklyn, NY, he is Assistant Professor of Media Arts at Long Island University.

Jennifer Hayashida is a poet, translator, and visual artist and director of Asian American Studies at Hunter College. She is the recipient of awards from, among others, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the New York Foundation for the Arts, PEN, the Witter Bynner Poetry Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. She is the translator of Fredrik Nyberg’s A Different Practice (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007), and Eva Sjödin’s Inner China (Litmus Press, 2005) with translations of Karl Larsson and Athena Farrokhzad in 2014. Her poetry and translations have been published in journals such as Salt Hill, Chicago Review, and Circumference, while her collaborations in film/video have been exhibited in the U.S. and abroad, including the Centre Pompidou, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the New Museum, and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Fields of interest include representations of the welfare state and immigrant experience; cross-genre literature and film; translation; Asian American community activism.

Christopher Myers is an American writer, artist, and illustrator of children’s books. In 1998, Myers won a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations in Harlem. The following year, he wrote and illustrated Black Cat, a book that received a Coretta Scott King Award (2000). In addition to writing and illustrating his own stories, Myers often illustrates books written by his father Walter Dean Myers. Recent exhibitions include this year’s Prospect.3: Notes for Now biennale in New Orleans, and recent illustrations include the collection Lies and Other Tall Tales by Zora Neale Hurston.

Mary Walling Blackburn is an artist. In 2015, a male anti-fertility garden, featuring sub-tropical trees that cure the ailment of fertility, will be planted at Sala Diaz in San Antonio. This January, ESVMID, a new work that coalesces sister rivalry, ivory trade, and genital additions will show at The Sculpture Center (NYC). Walling Blackburn is the founder and director of Anhoek School, and a DJ for WMYN 87.9. Her works can be found online within Afterall, BOMB, Cabinet, and e-flux journal.

Storytelling, Futures

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+).

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