American MONUMENT is currently paused at the request of the artist lauren woods.
Language is central to this project. woods asserts that claims of oral aggression by victims are often used to bolster the claims of police officers, citing a “fear for their own lives,” in order to justify the killings as lawful. Citing sociolinguistic research as well as shared vernacular, the artist argued that reports from white officers have victims using language that does not match speaking patterns of African-Americans. To highlight this discrepancy, she hired black actors, poets, and rappers to recite the alleged dialogue and recorded their performances. woods noted that the actors struggled to convincingly perform certain phrases, stilted by unnatural sentence structure and term usage. In order to complete the task without prompt, many performers eventually resorted to imagining themselves as stereotypical “black characters” in a Hollywood movie. Only then were they able to come close to effectively speaking the utterances, which woods contests are inconceivable.
At the heart of American MONUMENT was an interactive sound installation of the session recordings. These recordings, along with other recordings taken by bystanders, have been extracted by the artist to pause the monument. Visitors were intended to pick up a needle and place it on the record, setting the apparatus and sound in motion. Supporting materials, including legal documents associated with each case, were intended to accompany the sound installation. woods performed a close read of each legal file, identified an aspect of the case proceedings and analyzed it as a cultural narrative operating as law. From claimed utterances, to 911 transcripts, to the practice of legal precedent, woods found culture in the law. She reminds patrons:
'The law' is a product of culture and it produces culture. It does not live outside of the realm of culture because it is culture itself. And so, I offer this developing project, this monument, to serve as another tool for people to use to more deeply contemplate and engage language and the production of culture as it pertains to law enforcement, structural violence and oppression.
The etymology of the word "monument" derives from the Greek mnemosynon and the Latin moneo, monere: “to remind,” “to advise,” or “to warn.” The promise of a monument is to stimulate a view of the past that serves to guide toward the future. The temporal aspect is key. Historical time, current time, future time: how do they bleed and blend? Who is talking to whom, why, with what outcomes? The monument is material evidence of a society having a conversation with itself over time.
About artist lauren woods
lauren woods is a conceptual artist based in Dallas, TX whose hybrid media projects—film, video and sound installations, public interventions, and site-specific work—engage history as a lens by which to view the socio-politics of the present. Challenging the tradition of documentary/ethnography as objective, she creates ethno-fictive documents that investigate invisible dynamics in society, remixing memory and imagining other possibilities. She also explores how traditional monument-making can be translated into new contemporary models of commemoration with new media. For more information on lauren woods's monument projects, please view her Facebook project page.
American MONUMENT was made possible in part by the generous support of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the Pasadena Art Alliance, the CSULB Museum Studies Program, the CSULB Instructionally Related Activities Fund, the Associated Students Inc., the Ware Endowment, the Charles and Elizabeth Brooks Endowment, and the Constance W. Glenn Fund for Exhibition and Education Programs. Special thanks to the Grand Central Art Center, Martin Brenner, Sara Daleiden, and Shelleen Greene, and Nizan Shaked. UAM staff members, interns, and Museum Studies students assisted with exhibition research.