The vast majority of the works Tony Cokes (1956, Virginia, USA) produced in the last decade consist of videos in which texts are presented on monochromatic or abstract backgrounds, accompanied by music, usually from the broad universe of pop. In many cases, the texts analyze and contextualize the music itself, or the musical genre it belongs to, intertwining considerations that relate to the history of music, with others of a broader nature, where cultural, political, racial and social spheres converge. In other work, as in those from the series Evil (2001-present), Cokes addresses the concept of evil in contemporary society. The artist juxtaposes statements from a variety of sources (from speeches by political leaders to stand-up comedy sketches, to pop lyrics and even academic texts) in order to stress the way the media levels discourses, confuses the production of meaning and makes certain languages and events either visible, or invisible.
The work Evil 27: Selma (2011), for example, can be read as a reflection on such systems of visibility and silencing. The work is based on an historic event: the Montgomery bus boycott, a milestone in the civil rights movement in the mid-1950s in the United States, which began with the refusal of a young African-American woman, Rosa Parks, to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. In the video, Cokes presents a text called On Non-Visibility by the Our Literal Speed (O.L.S.) collective, which argues that the episode generated enormous commotion and succeeded in mobilizing thousands of people because there were no images of the moment when Parks refused to give up her seat and ended up being arrested. “Most likely, non-visibility will produce the most revolutionary visibilities of all, and we will never see it coming.” These words resonate even more strongly in an historic period like the one we are living – marked by the fight for visibility and for the end of historical structural violence – and in the practice of an artist who consciously and methodically gives up the image to emphasize the power of the message.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).