The other side of the race equation

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Two videos installations at the Gershman Y gnaw away at our intractable cultural problem of race. The show, “Reverse Negatives,” which runs until Feb. 10, includes a pair of videos by Sanford Biggers and Jennifer Zackin and a pair of videos by Doron Solomon.

Biggers and Zackin, who are black and Jewish, respectively, went to art school together, where they discovered that their families’ film archives were nearly identical, with piano lessons, birthday parties and trips to Disney World (or was it Disney Land?). So they created “a small world…” an installation incorporating those Super 8 movies screened in a ’70s era rec room.

My favorite moment was the pair of birthday parties with matching sheet cakes and with tables filled with disoriented young children looking for their mothers as they spoon down the cake and ignore one another. It seemed like a metaphor for all of us, living side by side, self-absorbed, but not quite paying attention to one another.

I don’t know that I think this was profound or unusually insightful, but it serves as a nice reminder that race is a social construct and that we Americans have confused “race” and class. The middle class, whether Jewish American or African American or Asian American or American American is overwhelmingly processed American cheese.

In Israeli video artist Doron Solomons’ split screen video, “I Clean Richard’s Home and He Cleans Mine,” the artist cleans the home of his housekeeper named Richard, an illegal refugee from Ghana, while Richard simultaneously cleans the artist’s home. Turning the video into a negative seemed not so interesting to me, but it did highlight how weird negative water and suds look. They’re black and seem to have magical properties.

The chores themselves went on and on, like they do in real life–worth doing but not interesting. I didn’t find the exchange of tasks and spaces all that suprising or thought-provoking.

For all that, I still liked the way both video installations belied otherness and race, which blind us from seeing ourselves in others.

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