Edgar Arceneaux’s "Untitled"

Haig Aivazian

Edgar Arceneaux, Cries and Waves: Frozen Time (The Gods of Detroit Sequence), 2011, courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo Robert Wedemeyer

I.

One might be tempted to read this image rhythmically:

(Crashing waves)

Musically: in staccato and with limited attention span.
Engaging intensely and letting go immediately: Jazz.

(Detroit… 1967)

Concretely:

(FINAL
HOPE FREE
News NESS ZES
FREE TIME)

One then might be tempted to think about circulation:

(Newspaper, postering, Situationist sloganeering)

The layering of signifying mechanisms is fractal depending on the combinations the eye seeks to make between composition and color, imagery and word, mark-making and type, type and date, headline and slogan, color and language, color and slogan, color and date, color and Jazz. These combinations exponentially amplified depending on the historical baggage that the individual associates to each of the elements.

II.

July 23, 1967. Detroit. Police raid The Blind Pig, a so-called after-hours drinking club. The squad is taken aback by the number of people present in the club at the time of the raid: far more than the few patrons they were anticipating. The eighty men in the club were celebrating the return of two of their friends from Vietnam. Eighty-two black men were arrested on 12thStreet.

(Twelve more dead)

The extent of police harassment and brutality is too much to bear. Frustrations would culminate that night: as the police await backup to apprehend those in handcuffs, riots break out.

By July 25, Federal troops are deployed: the National Guard occupies the city of Detroit.

(Color and Detroit)

On July 26, Mayor Jerome Cavanagh says: “Today we stand amidst the ashes of our hopes. We hoped against hope that what we had been doing was enough to prevent a riot. It was not enough.”

(Time Freezes but History Echoes)

III.

Since 1999 and until recently, Los Angeles-based artist Edgar Arceneaux had been managing the Watts House Project: a collaboration between the residents of Watts, artists and architects to redevelop the neighborhood, and in particular, the strip adjacent to Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers.

August 11, 1965. Watts. Police attempt to arrest Marquette Frye, accusing him of driving intoxicated. Frye’s brother, and later his mother are witnesses of the incident. They intervene in order to prevent excessive use of force by the officer trying to subdue the twenty-one year-old driver.

The extent of police harassment and brutality is too much to bear. Frustrations would culminate that night: a crowd gathers and begins to throw projectiles at the police. Twenty-nine people are arrested.

By August 13, Federal troops are deployed: the National Guard occupies South Central Los Angeles.

(Color and Watts)

On August 14, Sergeant Ben Dunn likens Watts to “an all-out war zone in some far-off foreign country”.

IV.

One might be tempted to read this image physically, wondering what the aged newspaper feels like between one’s fingers, what it sounded like when the push pins pierced through it to lay another sheet of paper over it. Does the red oil stick used for the writing stain the back of the paper with oily residue? Are the two sheets closely in contact or is there some give; some shadow; a dark crevice between them?

(Color and hands)

Arceneaux is not only interested in non-linear forms of interpretation—since after all, all sense-making (if indeed things are making sense) is inherently non-linear. But he is also interested in the act of making work and the relationship of that act to larger disciplines such as physics and psychology.

One might be tempted to read this image as a freeze frame from a lifelong accumulation of affect; a confusion of time and memorial images; an unsorted fragment from a database of experiences and intensities.

V.

(Hopelessness 
Freezes Time)1

  • 1. Edgar Arceneaux has produced a book of the same title, in collaboration with Detroit-based techno collective Underground Resistance, and scholar Julian Meyers. The book draws from Detroit’s rich history of dissent and explores the thriving nature of the city’s contemporary art landscape.