A Meaningful Exchange at Grand Central Art Center
By Evan Sen
In the sordid history of the United States, there is a law that has aided the longstanding history of racism in this country but is not often discussed. The “one-drop rule” — also known as hypodescent — dates to a 1662 Virginia law on the treatment of mixed-race individuals. The legal notion of hypodescent has been upheld as recently as 1985 when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify as “white” on her passport. The “one-drop rule” made interracial cohabitation or sex a felony, and it also aimed to define a black individual as anyone “who has . . . any negro blood whatsoever.” This law relegated second-class citizenship to anyone accused of having any African ancestry, even if by one drop of African blood in their body. The “one-drop rule” was an absurd technique to enslave more black people in the United States. Interracial sex and relationships were illegal for the majority of United States’ early history and only made fully legal in all of the United States in 1967(although some states made interracial marriage legal earlier, like California, which legalized interracial marriage in 1948).
Artists Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry are two artists who work collaboratively to create pieces of art that relate to social justice in communities, family and history. Their latest piece, Exchange, on view at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, is a poignant and intimate look at interracial human life.
The visuals in this video work are striking and poetic, as the two beings, one white and one black, dressed alike–with matching short hair, pants and shirt, sit in identical seats and exchange their blood with one another.
This single act is symbolic and poetic enough, however, the video work spends a great deal of time prepping the act and showing us the intimate details, thoughtfulness and connection that lead up to the moment where their blood is shared. With honest gazes and soft touches, slow details, and tightly cropped shots, the sensuality is built up in the video, all leading to the final action of blood flowing from one person to anther, through IVs and tubing, as they sit on simple metal stools in a dark, curtain-drawn room.
Over the compelling visuals, McCallum and Tarry have placed historical sound clips throughout the video. Combining the sounds of slave testimonies, police footsteps advancing on marchers during the “Freedom Summer,” and politicians denying the murder of civil rights workers. The combination of these sounds and visuals creates a layered and heavy ritual that revokes the “one-drop rule” and replaces it with pure and honest love. The sounds evoke an anxious and melancholy energy that feels a bit like a dramatic movie, leading to an epic climax. However, there is no resolution that follows this climax; the ending is left open. It stops once the blood begins to flow. Viewers are left with anxiety, an unfinished moment, perhaps as a parallel with the current racist climate in the United States today. There are efforts being made to march forward and embrace our diversity, but the racist history of the U.S. isn’t gone, it is not resolved. Or perhaps the flowing of their blood, the shared existence that took so long to build to, with so much thought and energy to get to–perhaps that is the climax and the conclusion, the perfect ending of peace and acceptance.
Almost as if a choreographed dance or purposeful foreplay leading up to intimacy, the sensitivity and sensuality present in this piece are palpable and hypnotic. McCallum and Tarry utilize relational intimacy, dynamic lighting, dramatic cinematography and compelling space as techniques to dive into their conceptual interests in their video work. Touching on the historical racism in the U.S., they use blood as a metaphor for the injustice upheld for centuries, the original thought of blood as a stain on purity; but, they also use blood as a metaphor for a healing agent, as well as memory and promise. In this video, the two figures are joined as one through sharing their blood, their lives, their love and their presentation. This piece reminds viewers that we are all the same, we are all human; and, in many ways we are all in a constant exchange with one another.