Burning issue


[Editor’s note: This is another item in the thread about artist David Stephens’ cross burnings, video now showing at Slought Foundation. Other posts here and here.]

Stephens’ crosses, which are a mere 18 inches tall , ended up getting burned in a private yard space said gallerist Aaron Levy, and not in a barbecue grill, which was a rumor I heard before I stopped back in the gallery. The now-charred objects are part of the display at Slought, as is a DVD recording of the event, which also screened Friday night for a discussion that pulled in a racially diverse group, including someone who came loaded for bear but left in a more pacific mode (top, a Stephens cross burning in August 2004).

Stephens’ small crosses are dainty and sweet compared to an 25-foot-high cross burned by Klan members Barry and Byron Black, whose Supreme Court case, Virginia vs. Black, preserved their free speech right to burn the cross, even though it was meant to intimidate. That case is what inspired this work.

The video is beautiful and elegaic, with its minimalist multiples transforming something ordinary into something worth a look. And once the flames died down, the crosses’ embers glowed–a beautiful sight.

Speaking of sight, Levy mentioned that Stephens’ blindness is not congenital but came to him in middle age, which helps explain why he is able to make what he makes. And Colette’s points about blindness seem just right. Stephens, like Tiresias, becomes the blind visionary in his work.


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