Dear Friends and Readers,
“You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby, although perhaps imperceptibly to you, changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.” — Johann Gotllieb Fichte
“A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.” — Alesksandr Solzhenitsyn
This issue is dedicated to the acts of heroism in the face of tremendous adversity by the Ukrainian people and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. As the Putin regime’s invasion of Ukraine escalates, while knowing the current circumstances in the region may drastically change hour by hour, day by day, we send our boundless admiration and unyielding solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and the courageous protesters across Russia and the world.
Having watched President Biden’s first State of the Union address last night (Tuesday, March 1), which began with a recognition of the Ukrainian ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, as the honored guest, before moving on to domestic policies in-the-making, including calling for bipartisan support of moving onward from COVID-19 as a political division, funding the police, and acknowledging the retirement of Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, we are inspired to examine ourselves and the role of the US through the metaphor of the lighthouse, sending out light to those seeking safe passage, but also implying the act of looking at the world with a long-term perspective, with a mirror reflecting what’s in front, bouncing back, reframing what it sees as a short-term response at hand. We’re urgently reminded of Edward Lorenz’s “The Butterfly Effect,” which gave birth to Chaos Theory, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” This is particularly true for those of us whose lives are driven by our own creative impulses, totally submitting to our callings, which by nature are unpredictable, hence exciting to all of our sensory receptors. In other words, we believe that what seems to be at first a small, insignificant yet repeating action can lead to significant results over time. As a pretext to elevate works of art, including paintings, sculptures, installations, films and videos, we at the Brooklyn Rail and the Rail Curatorial Project have taken several timely exhibitions in the past to bring together writers, poets, philosophers, musicians, among other academics and general public as one monumental symphony.
Having witnessed two ruptures, the pandemic and the ongoing crisis of our social and political condition, implemented in part by those who deploy technology with speed, which creates chaos and anxiety as self-serving purposes, we at the Brooklyn Rail acted in response, and swiftly launched our daily Zoom platform New Social Environment lunchtime conversation series (NSE). The NSE has now reached over 500 episodes and has surpassed a viewership of more than two million since March 17, 2020. It cultivates the important notion of the slowness of the arts, humanities, and sciences, as well as thoughtful discussions on pertinent topics regarding the amplification of “social intimacy”—in contrast to “social distancing”—through culture, while keeping it free for all.
In following the aspiration to heal our social and political ills through the arts and the humanities as has been achieved throughout the ages, similar to that of the Renaissance (rebirth) preceding the Black Death in mid-14th century in Italy, or Federal Project Number One under the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great Depression in the 1930s in America, we feel great urgency to curate a large exhibition that will bring together many different kinds of practices, styles, and voices. The various aspects of this wide-ranging exhibition will be suggested by its title, Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy. It will take place in numerous locations (both commercial galleries and nonprofit institutions) from May to October 2022.
Having been inspired by the underlying philosophy that runs through American history and which advocates for “the art of joining” as a social and cultural process that mediates the disequilibrium within American politics—which are now so woefully contentious and tense—this exhibition combines works of art made by artists who were trained through art education, alongside works by artists who were self-taught, including works by incarcerated artists and artists who struggle with mental illness. Among the participating artists, many urgent topics of extreme polarity, such as gender, ethnicity, the known and unknown, will be prominently featured in interacting parallels and patterns.
For example, a painting by Julian Schnabel can be shown alongside a painting by Thornton Dial; a Frank Stella next to a Lonnie Holley; Katherine Bradford next to Mary T. Smith; Mark di Suvero next to Joe Minter; Joe Bradley to William Hawkins; Chris Martin to Jessie Marshall; Anna Kunz to Missouri Pettway; Gregory Amenoff to Joseph Yoakum—among endless others. As an integral part of our curatorial vision, which reflects the Rail’s cross-pollination of the arts and humanities, there will also be much public programing, including panel discussions with artists, historians, and curators, along with poetry and fiction readings, film screenings, music and dance performances, and even cooking performances led by Rikrit Tiravanjit, Tomas Vu, and a company of friends, including Sara Sze, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Kiki Smith, which will be organized in each location throughout the duration of the exhibition. Ricco/Maresca, Below Grand, Sean Scully Studio, Art Cake, and Industry City have confirmed their participation.
May us all be given lots of love, strength, courage, and cosmic optimism to heal humanity’s constant thirst for violence.
Onward and upward, as ever,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. We send our condolences to the family members and admirers of the great artists Carmen Herrera (1915–2022) and Dan Graham (1942–2022), and our tributes in remembrance of their lives and work are forthcoming. We would like to send our collective thanks to Jake Thompson, our steadfast Production Assistant, and Anya Bernstein, our exceptional Events Assistant for the extraordinary dedication to the Rail as a living organism. We send off our best wishes for their next journeys. We would like also to send our best wishes to Andrew Kimball (Industry City’s former brilliant CEO) and Cristal Rivera (Industry City’s former incredible Director of Marketing and Community Engagement) in the new and exciting chapters of their lives (Andrew has just been named CEO of New York City Economic Development Corporation and Cristal as a Consultant to Industry City Design Week). Meanwhile, we send Kathleen Cullen, our phenomenal Director of Advertising, a huge and warm birthday wish. Lastly, we’re thrilled to welcome Carolyn Ferrucci as the new Programs Associate of our popular series on Zoom daily New Social Environment lunchtime conversations. A glorious beginning indeed.