Edgar Arceneaux’s Until, Until, Until…
At Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
By Sydney Walters
Through July 1st
In his seventh solo show with Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Edgar Arceneaux’s show Until, Until, Until… recontexualizes black history and pieces together a narrative that gives voice and light to whitewashed media that has viciously misinformed the public.
Arceneaux began his investigative process after seeing the 1981 performance of celebrated actor at the time Ben Vereen during Ronald Reagan’s inaugural celebration. In paying homage to vaudeville legend Bert Williams, who wore blackface due to racist laws where a black actor was only allowed to perform in blackface, Vereen chose to don blackface with his intent to upend tradition and denounce blackface as a crude caricature of African Americans. However, for its television broadcast, ABC News omitted a critical portion of Vereen’s act where he impugns black segregation. In response to this distortion, Arceneaux wrote Until, Until, Until… a live-action play restaging Vereen’s performance in its entirety so that audiences can experience Vereen’s lawful intent.
The play was performed over a three-day period in early June. However, currently in the gallery, a video is projected onto long, sheer curtains. Actor Frank Lawson begins his monologue: “It’s an honor to be here tonight. It’s an honor to be here in your presence. You are so gracious to allow me to be here today. Really…really…really.” Each “really” punctuates the air and his long pauses slide this declaration slowly into sarcasm. Beads of sweat congeal on Lawson’s forehead. After a long, pregnant pause, Lawson runs back behind the curtain and the camera pans to the audience. Mystified faces of Lawson’s contemporary audience alternates with footage of the 1981 inaugural audience. Finally, someone starts clapping and the rest of the room joins in.
In the adjacent room, is a piece called False Equivalencies where Arceneaux grew sugar crystals along the text block and half of the front and back panel, making the book impossible to open while leaving the spine visible. Standing erect on a short platform, this array of books ranges from Ayn Rand texts to a copy of the Black Law Review. Propped up on pedestals and behind museum glass, Arceneaux crystallizes legal texts from the late 19th century. Each book becomes a static timepiece that Arceneaux preserves in order to take a prolonged look into the power of literature.
On the wall, shadowboxes have text from newspaper headlines of the Detroit riots casting shadows onto Technicolor images of the Wild West. Jolting headlines from the Detroit Free Press such as “Dog, Fire Hoses Quell Huge New Race March,” ‘Freedom Hikers’ Hustled to Jail Entering Alabama, and “110 Jailed, 4 Hurt in Ala. Clash,” fragment these picturesque scenes. These pieces not only point to the oversaturation of tragedy which can sometimes lead to apathy, but also uncovers the privileged pursuit of Manifest Destiny as depicted in unmarked landscapes, versus the freedom of basic human rights as exemplified in Detroit.
During an interview for the LA Times, Arceneaux said, “What really interested me in all of this is how an artist was so gravely misunderstood.” Audiences cannot be blamed for receiving misinformation. With this in mind, Arceneaux approaches the audience as a teacher with a goal to reinterpret history and re-imagine an informed future.