Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Cornered is a video installation created in 1988 by American conceptual artist and analytic philosopher, Adrian Piper. The installation (pictured above) consists of six chairs arranged in a triangle, a table seemingly pinning a television set in a corner (hence the name), and two framed birth certificates, both belonging to the artist's father. The television plays a 16 minute video of Piper addressing viewers directly in a casual, quiet tone. She begins her monologue with the statement, "I'm black" and proceeds  to quietly yet aggressively lecture the (presumably white) viewers as to why they might be bothered by that fact. She goes on to argue that because of genetic statistics and entrenched conventions of racial classification that the viewers are actually most likely black. Piper then proceeds in a frighteningly calm voice and with an unyielding stare to list the possible responses to her assertion, like:

"Are you going to research your family ancestry, to find out whether you are among the white 'elite'? Or whether perhaps a mistake has been made, and you and your family are, after all, among the black majority? 
"And what are you going to do if a mistake has been made? Are you going to tell your friends, your colleagues, your employer that you are in fact black, not white, as everyone had supposed? Or will you try to discredit the researchers who made this estimate in the first place."

As her speech draws to a close, she asks, "Which choice will you make?" The camera zooms in on her face as she concludes, "This is not an empty academic exercise."

In Cornered, like most of her artwork, Piper confronts preconceived notions about race. Because of her light skin, she is often presumed to be white but identifies herself as black and - believing in a concept of "Collective American Blackness" - urges others to do the same. While Piper's art is obviously self-concerned, "it is neither solipsistic nor expressionistic". Rather, her art stems from the relationship between artist and viewer, indicative of the degree to which the definition of one's self is a result of their social interaction. In his New York Times article in late 2000, Ken Johnson doubts that Piper's "hectoring, often bitterly sarcastic" performance (in Cornered) does much to "truly and deeply" change people; rather, he argues, that most are "tweaked; certainly." He goes on to say that "as an artist, (Piper)  has the touch of a sledgehammer" stating that she "has not developed a very compelling way with form" and that her works have "an off-putting, morally bullying tone" that makes them seem "heavy-handed and calculated." One can only question if these were Piper's original intentions or if these undesirable qualities are due to a possible inability to communicate her ideas effectively. 


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