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Season 8 Preview: Edgar Arceneaux

Production stills from Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 8. © ART21, Inc. 2016.

Edgar Arceneaux was born in Los Angeles in 1972. He investigates historical patterns through drawings, installations, and multimedia events, such as the reenactment of Ben Vereen’s tragically misunderstood blackface performance at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Gala. In the artist’s work, linear logic is abandoned in favor of wordplay and visual associations, revealing how language, technology, and systems of ordering produce reality as much as describe them.

Seemingly disparate elements—such as science fiction, civil rights era speeches, techno music, and the crumbling architecture of Detroit—find a new synchronicity in the artist’s hands, ultimately pointing to larger historical forces such as the rise of the surveillance state. Arceneaux’s installations have taken the form of labyrinths, libraries, multi-channel videos, and drawn landscapes that change over the course of an exhibition, only ever offering a partial view of the whole at any given moment. This fragmentation extends to the artist’s use of historical research in his work, such as FBI documents concerning civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., where redacted passages are presented on mirrors that reflect the viewer’s curious gaze.

In the following preview from the Los Angeles episode of Season 8 of Art in the Twenty-First Century, artist Edgar Arceneaux discusses the “suicide letter” sent by the FBI to Martin Luther King, Jr., which the artist incorporated into his 2014 project, A Book and a Medal. “What I was trying to do,” says the artist of the installation, “was to explore the vulnerabilities of a person who’s in a position of leadership.”

Season 8 of Art in the Twenty-First Century premieres Friday, September 16, 2016 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Los Angeles airs Friday, September 23 at 9 p.m.

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