I reimagine how to embody an archetype known as the flaneur, a mythic elitist who idly observed and recorded urban life in nineteenth century Paris. I present my art as a contemporary Black flaneur who documents shared spaces and challenges the right to observe and be idle in public. Baltimore, New York, Washington DC, and Honolulu are the areas documented.
The immersive video entitled “Wide Open Skies” is a performance video that plays within the tower viewer, allowing participants to look into the lens of my experience with mostly law enforcement and security officials. The performance happened over the course of fifteen minutes at the Oculus Hub in New York City. Five different security officials approached me.
I craft an interpretation of the artist’s role in an ethnographic manner, and unassumingly interrogate the many dimensions of the environments in which I work— probing, but treading lightly—using various forms of interviewing, drawing, filmmaking and photography. Social interactions define my practice. I point to the absurdity of what it means to see and be seen and show how others react to my body based upon my gender, race, and profession as an artist. My renegade methods (sketching in a notebook and/or recording with wearable technology) give me a baseline to investigate shared space, and my intention is to find places where I can stand in contrast to our fast-paced lifestyle and interrupt the movements of people within shared spaces by unobtrusively inserting my body. In light of implicit racial biases and the ‘see something, say something’ campaign’s outline of suspicious activity, I argue that we’ve given up our right to be passionate and willing observers.
What does this say about the relationship between artists and the societies in which we work and about how it has changed and why? Where once we might have been shocked and thoroughly offended at being tracked by large organizations and institutions, and we might have romanticized the artist out sketching, photographing, filming or painting his environment, the tables seem now be somehow turned. I am calling attention to the act of observation at a time when so many things truly need to be seen, and when people need to be listened to.