A Sense of This Place*   06.14.18

The latest edition of our What's Up SPACES? booklets are hot off the press! This one focuses exclusively on A Color Removed, organized by the FRONT International Triennial and presented at SPACES. Find one in your mailbox (if you're on our mailing list) or at a local cafe, restaurant, bookshop, etc... Below we've posted the intro essay, about the evolution of this project.

A Sense of This Place*

The color orange is associated with everything from citrus fruit to European royalty and major world religions. It is used throughout the United States on safety vests, traffic cones, and the barrels of toy guns, to keep us safe. Here in Cleveland-one of the most racially segregated cities in the country-orange shines on the panorama of a divided populace, illuminating the ten-day suspension of the police officer who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice and the firing of the other responsible officer two and a half years later for an unrelated offense. The absence of the orange safety tip from the toy gun that Rice held while playing at Cudell Commons on November 22, 2014 cast a shadow across Cleveland when it became the justification for yet another shooting of an unarmed African American.

A Color Removed-activated across the city since 2017 through the collection of orange objects, and installed now at SPACES-is one of many platforms that call us to bear witness to the distinctly American catastrophe of disintegrating police/community relations, but it also looks toward a future of repair. The project originated from an invitation for artist Michael Rakowitz to reconstruct the 2015 Beamer-Schneider Lecture in Ethics and Civics, hosted at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), as a participatory artwork. During his preparation for the lecture, Rakowitz listened to the community-driven Ethics Table discussions at CWRU, which covered a range of the consequences of the 2014 police shootings in Cleveland and Ferguson. A member of the Rice family was one of the participants, and his pain became a shared experience for the group. This laid the groundwork for Rakowitz to request the participation of community and cultural leaders in A Color Removed.

SPACES is a site where urgent topics are explored within an aesthetic framework. Because SPACES instrumentalizes art in times of crisis, we immediately took up Rakowitz's call to join the core planning team for A Color Removed, along with our comrades Jeremy Bendik-Keymer at CWRU, RA Washington at Guide to Kulchur, Kelley O'Brien and Anthony Warnick at The Muted Horn, and countless other artists and community members. Our partnership with FRONT is based in the desire to propel forward the artist's original concept of inviting Clevelanders to surrender their orange objects in order to create a monochrome backdrop at SPACES where fearless listening enables fearless speaking.

One of Rakowitz's eight tenets for A Color Removed states that the project is "specific to Cleveland, but now in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter, considers the endemics of gun violence, militarism, and racism across American cities as well as global ones, while maintaining an anchor here." A Color Removed is about the shared right to safety, whether on the street or on the playground, in a locker room, at work or at school. As I write this and reflect on the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I think of A Color Removed as a shift in perception that runs parallel to the one that is currently being led by the high schoolers who are planning sit-ins and walkouts, calling b.s. on Congress, and demanding action.

The first public step to removing the color orange from Cleveland and suspending its future use was a letter-writing campaign initiated in fall 2017. Through four workshops led by the artist, participants grappled with questions about racial equity and safety, considering ways to affect policy through the expression of grief, create solidarity for a more peaceful city, and redress extrajudicial force against people of color. They wrote letters to institutions, to other individuals, and to themselves.

Through the deceptively simple action of forsaking orange, A Color Removed asks us not only to empathize with those who walk through our city without the expectation of safety, but also to enact change. Workshop participants started to see a place where collective will-combined with legislation that revives rather than degrades police/community relations-could heal our city. We asked: What if First Energy Stadium replaced its orange seats with 67,895 of another color? If the Cavs starting using red, white, and blue basketballs, would the world remember the pain we felt here when we first heard about the Rice shooting? How would visitors get in touch with our collective grief if Cleveland Hopkins International Airport renamed one of its parking areas the "Yellow Lot"? What would the city look like if all of us could reasonably expect to feel safe here?

A Color Removed continued its momentum with the installation of collection bins across Cleveland this spring, allowing participants to surrender their totems of safety. At SPACES, you will see toys, clothing, sports equipment, household items, and other quotidian objects serving as a stage for a robust series of events set to take place during FRONT's An American City. But before you enter the supersaturated display, you will walk through a group exhibition in the front gallery, comprised of work by local artists Amber Ford, Amanda King and Shooting Without Bullets youth photographers, M. Carmen Lane, and RA Washington, who have long explored the conceptual underpinnings of A Color Removed in their work. Their installations comment on the vulnerability of black women navigating the intersecting oppressions of race, gender and socioeconomic status; the cumulative impact of racialized violence; and the shared responsibility of improving our community.

We core collaborators provide a site for the conversation to emerge that will shape the city we want, but A Color Removed requires from its participants active engagement and willingness to interfere in resolute political and social structures. If one of us doesn't feel safe, none of us can truly feel safe.

*This essay is a revised version of text that SPACES Executive Director, Christina Vassallo, originally wrote for the FRONT Triennial catalog. It has changed to reflect the fluidity of the project, the ability of the core planning team to respond to the feedback of community members, and the engagement of Tamir Rice's mother--Samaria Rice--in the project.

Author: Christina Vassallo, Executive Director


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