In the midst of the greatest civil uprising since the late 1960s — one thinks of the powerful Chris Marker political chronicle Le fond de l'air est rouge (1977) / Cat Without a Grin (re-edited 1988, 2001)— it was extremely a propos to receive email correspondence from Mr. Theodore A. Harris regarding an art project in his Thesentür series, inspired by Marker's, Resnais' and Ghislain Cloquet's 1953 film Les Statues meurent aussi. The potent critique of art imperialism and Africa has only become available for viewing recently.
“This 30-minute short film has a chequered history of censorship that at one time elevated it to a somewhat mythical status, and which prevented it from being brought into the wider public eye until some 16 years after it was completed. After its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, and in spite of winning the Prix Jean Vigo in 1954, Les Statues meurent aussi was banned in France by the Centre National de la Cinématographie between 1953 and 1963 owing to its controversial anti-colonialist stance. While a truncated version was made available in 1963, the unabridged film only became available in 1968.” [Senses of Cinema, Issue 52, Sept. 2009]
So without further ado, take it away Theodore A. Harris!
Author: Theodore A. Harris
Artist: Theodore A. Harris
Theodore A. Harris. Statues Also Die (film) I, II and III after Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Ghislain Cloquet, half here / half gone
Thesentür: Conscientious Objector To Formalism series. 2020, Digital Image, Collection Of The Artist.
Theodore A. Harris. Les Statues Meurent Aussi - I, II, et III (film) après Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, et Ghislain Cloquet, moitié-ici / moitié-disparu
Thesentür: Conscientious Objector To Formalism series
2020, Digital Image, Collection Of The Artist.
1.Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism is a series of minimal image- and quotation-based works using poetry to confront mainstream art criticism and art history, to look beneath the surface politics of aesthetics and formalism in a presentation of art that is not self-referential or to put a Black face on the art history of imperialism. Formalism functions as the cosmetics of art criticism like aluminum siding on a slumlord’s property. It is an attempt to disguise what is crumbling beneath the surface politics of its proselytizing church bells, ringing, in the mega church/museums and galleries where there are more Black bodies guarding the white cube than exhibiting in it. What marginalized artists know is that canon formation is a battlefield and critical art is the weapon, in the crossed-out words of Basquiat to repel ghosts.
2.My current work in the Thesentür series is titled “After Statues Also Die,” based on the French essay film directed by Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Ghislain Cloquet. 1 It is the first triptych in the series, based on translations of the screenplay by Marker. This is the first film I ever watched by Marker. As I was viewing it on Youtube, I knew I wanted to create new works based on it as an extension of the Thesentür series. What gripped me was how the English and French text were translating each other against the animated images, of the looted, functional art from a stolen people, robbed blind by the bloodied-braille of an alien language.
image: Theodore A. Harris. The Giant Triplets After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for Ewuare X. Osayande
2008, triptych, mixed media collage on board, Collage and Conflict series, collection of the artist.
I felt I had exhausted the triptych form after I completed the Collage and Conflict series (2007-2013).2 I returned to it here, to use it as I did then, treating each panel as if they were film stills, pages from a book of poetry, embedding Marker’s screenplay text into a smokin’ Dutch Masters font where, in the words of Nora M. Alter, “Language hovers over the image like a disembodied phantom.” 3
Theodore A. Harris, After Nora M. Alter (Ghosts) Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism series.
2020, digital image, collection of the artist
Theodore A. Harris. Greenberg's Forked Tongue (ghosts) Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism series.
2015, digital image,
Collection of the artist
The first half of this manifesto is an excerpt from the Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism series and book. The second half is a draft for the book Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism, Vol 2.
With thanks to Emily Brewton Schilling for her help with images, fonts, and translations. Visit the nonprofit for her father’s artwork at www.jebrewton.org.
HTML, translation input, layout and page design by Daniel L Potter.
Theodore A. Harris
Visual artist / Author
Institute for Advanced Study in Black Aesthetics
- Statues Also Die is a 1953 French essay film directed by Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and Ghislain Cloquet. I viewed it on Youtube: youtu.be/hzFeuiZKHcg.
- See the Theodore A. Harris website: theodoreharris.weebly.com…; Collage and Conflict series exhibition booklet with text by curator Klare Scarborough, La Salle University Art Museum: www.lasalle.edu/museum/…; Collage and Conflict video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0AtcUSdke0; and Our Flesh of Flames: Collages by Theodore A. Harris / Captions by Amiri Baraka (Anvil Arts Press and 2019 by Moonstone Press: squareup.com/store/moonstone-arts-center/item/our-flesh-and-flames.
- I’m thinking here of a poetic line by Nora M. Alter from the essay, “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin/White Mask” (1995) in her book The Essay Film After Fact and Fiction (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). The line inspired me to use it for the work titled After Nora M. Alter (ghosts) Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism series, 2020, digital image, collection of the artist.
- Rembrandt van Rijn. The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild (known as The Syndics). 1662, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, www.rijksmuseum.nl/&hellip.
- “Dutch Slave Coast/Dutch East India Company,” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Slave_Coast.