Tuesday, July 5, 2011

HER NAME IS ADRIAN PIPER. The card speaks for itself.


In a recent post, I talked about the visual artists I've drawn inspiration from all my life. That list is way too long for me to name each artist, past and present. But I do think I should give a little attention to one of our finest and most original contemporary creators, Adrian Piper, an internationally celebrated conceptual artist and analytic philosopher. Her philosophical publications are in the areas of metaethics, Kant, and the history of ethics. Her practice of yoga and study of eastern philosophy led her to become, like Mahatma Gandhi, a brahmacharin. Her achievements and biography are simply too wide and deep for me to fully present in this brief post.

 In "Shaivistic Reverberations: Exchanges Between Adrian Piper and Adelaide Bannerman," which was published in The International Review of African American Art (Fall, 2007, Vol 21, Number 3), Bannerman states that, "Piper's work has consistently examined the relationships between the individual (atman) and the illusions (maya) that constitute realities that structure and shape our experiences of this world. She has done this primarily through her concept of the 'indexical present' (i.e., self-scrutiny of behavior in the moment it occurs) and its function within her installations and performance-related works. Her intent is to mobilize the type of self-examination that can transform consciousness and evoke changes to how one perceives the world and other individuals."

 I was introduced to Dr. Piper's work by my artist daughter Elisheba. In one of the collections of Piper's conceptual art, I was struck by a "business card" she created specifically to give to men who approached her in cafes and other public places when she simply wanted to be left alone. It was so appropriate, so concise, so perfect that I couldn't resist honoring her idea by doing a variation on it. I asked my daughter to take my version to a local print shop and have 500 cards made. I carry these in my wallet and briefcase everywhere I go, just waiting for the opportunity when I can whip one out, hand it to someone, and walk away. I figure it will save me a lot of needless conversation. When playwright August Wilson saw it, he approved of it, but had one objection, which was that he wouldn't have included the final sentence. Here is what the card says:

"Dear Friend:
         "With my deepest regrets, I must point out that during our conversation you made a remark about black Americans, people of color, or those different in race, gender or religion, which some observers would interpret to be insensitive, derogatory, or poorly informed. I don't have the time or energy for addressing that remark, but perhaps in the future you will consider whether you should repeat it, and also consider whom you are speaking with. I regret any discomfort this card may cause.
Charles Johnson
(Inspired by conceptual artist Adrian Piper)"

I've yet to give this card to anyone. But I'm always prepared to do so. And I'm thankful to Adrian Piper for giving me the idea.

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