Coded language / Private language: Steffani Jemison & Jonathan Gonzalez

The Center for Book Arts & Black Lunch Table are hosting a four-part series as part of the Book Arts Toward Liberation initiative at CBA.

About this conversation with Steffani Jemison & Jonathan Gonzalez:

Language, spoken, written, enacted is encoded, transmitted, intercepted, interpreted. Its meaning subject to and product of its animation. A secret, a password, an inscrutable scribble = safeguarded content. Vernacular, foreign, endangered languages, encrypted for (un)intended correspondent. Aramerlareyaaa, asdfghjkl, التشفير

A Brief Statement on the Artists Versuz Series:

“This summer, we were watching Jill Scott vs Erykah Badu on Verzuz, dancing, finding a recipe and cooking, each in our respective cities, and we felt a soothing of our souls. We felt broken from staying inside and embattled by the news. But this moment was a salve: these are musicians who have been, and remain seminal for us, they transport us, spark a soundtrack to memory. Seeing them empathize with us and with each other as we sheltered in place, they reached through digital space to create something together, and it felt like a moment we will log in our collective archive. They connected us, through our phones, tablets, laptops, desktops. All over the world, for one evening, they connected us. Folks in all of the places felt this love, mutual respect, and community despite all odds.

Prompted by this series, we considered the outer limits of what is considered a book, or specifically an artist book. Artist + book. Artist = book. And we determined that books contain language in many forms and invite a corporeal experience of media and speech acts. We considered the book as it is constitutive of the archive and as it is representative of the body (body of knowledge, extension of body).

From these considerations, we determined abstract themes for our four part series: Coded Language, Technical Writing, The Corpus (body as archive), Multivocality and Self-authorship. These categories have guided our conversations around and planning for this series. Our work as Black Lunch Table involves intentional convening of voices and care in orchestrating conversations amongst communities’ constituents. We imagine the pairings we’ve proposed for Toward Liberation (a.k.a. our Visual Artist Versuz) series will inspire new connective threads, fibers, tissues, language, volumes, binding connection.”

About the Speakers

Steffani Jemison is an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her recent work approaches privacy and opacity as strategies of abstraction and political resistance. Recent solo exhibitions and commissioned performances include the Stedelijk Museum (2019), the Whitney Biennial (2019), Jeu de Paume (2017), CAPC Bordeaux (2017), MASS MoCA (2017), Nottingham Contemporary (2017), the RISD Museum (2015) and the Museum of Modern Art (2015). Jemison holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2009) and a BA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University (2003).

Jonathan González (b. 1991 – they/them) is an artist working at the intersections of performance, text, sculpture, and other time-based media from Queens, New York. González’s work speculates on the political utility of the “stage” as a method to interface with publics upon systems of liveness, objects, and economies of data that construct the built environment.

Their works include: Not Total (homeschool PDX, Yale Union x Paragon Arts Gallery, 2019), Working on Water in collaboration with Mario Gooden (Columbia School of Architecture, 2019), h/S: Jonathan González (Ciccio Gallery, 2019), Maroonage: Elaborations on the Stage and Staying Alive (Contact Quarterly), Lucifer Landing I & II (MoMA PS1 x Abrons Arts Center, 2019), Collaborative Curiosity (Contemporaryand), and their upcoming publication, Liar Liar (53rd Press). Their curations include Sunday Service @ Knockdown Center and Movement Research Fall Festival: invisible material. Previously an LMCC Workspace Resident (2018-19), NARS Foundation AIR (2018), Jerome Foundation Fellow (2019), Mertz Gilmore Grantee (2018), Art Matters Fellow (2019), Performance Art/Theater Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grantee (2019), and Bessie-nominee for Outstanding Production (ZERO, Danspace Project, 2018) and Breakout Choreographer (2019).

About the Curators

Heather Hart is an interdisciplinary artist exploring the power in thresholds, questioning dominant narratives and creating alternatives to them through architectures and viewer activation. Her work has received recognition and support from Anonymous Was A Woman, the Graham Foundation, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation, among others. Her work has been exhibited at Queens Museum, Storm King Art Center, Kohler Art Center, NCMA, Seattle Art Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum among others. Hart received her MFA from Rutgers University and BFA from Cornish College of the Arts. She is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Rutgers.

Jina Valentine’s interdisciplinary practice is informed by the intuitive strategies of American folk artists and traditional craft techniques, and interweaves histories latent within found texts, objects, narratives, and spaces. Her practice has received recognition and support from the Graham Foundation, NC Arts Council, Art Matters, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. She has exhibited at venues including The Drawing Center, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the CUE Foundation, the Elizabeth Foundation, and MCA Chicago. Jina received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon and her MFA from Stanford. She is currently an Associate Professor at SAIC in Chicago.

Black Lunch Table

Black Lunch Table’s (BLT) primary aim is the production of discursive sites, wherein artists and local community members engage in dialogue on a variety of critical issues. BLT mobilizes a democratic rewriting of contemporary cultural history by animating discourse around and among the people living it. First staged in 2005 at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture artist residency, the project has grown by way of contributions from and collaborations with artists, digital humanities researchers, and Wikipedians. BLT currently includes two roundtable series’, an online oral history archive, and a Wikipedia initiative. Much like its creation of physical spaces that foster community and generate critical dialogue, BLT creates a digital space for art, Black studies and social justice issues.

Center for Book Arts

The Center for Book Arts promotes active explorations of both contemporary and traditional artistic practices related to the book as an art object. The Center seeks to facilitate communication between the book arts community and the larger spheres of contemporary visual and literary arts, while being a model organization locally, nationally, and internationally within the field. We achieve this through exhibitions, classes, public programming, literary presentations, opportunities for artists and writers, publications, and collections.