A Mother’s Voice: Fictional Narratives and the Legacy of Racial Violence in Mary Kelly's Vox Manet (2006-2008)
In this talk, Nicole Woods examines the visual and psychic economies of racially motivated violence in American conceptual artist, Mary Kelly’s project Vox Manet (2006-2008). Here, Kelly created fictional postcards written by family members of three Civil Rights activists – James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman – whose abduction and murder by Ku Klux Klan members in the summer of 1964 helped gain passage of the Voting Rights Act the following year. In this poignant, invented correspondence, Kelly “vectorized” her own handwriting using a compressed lint process to cast individual panels of text “to reveal the filtering of narrative through another voice.” Gathered over time from hundreds of loads of washing, Woods argues that Kelly’s domestic process refused the traditional procedures that generally translate aesthetic form into political content. Addressing the direct and residual effects that invigorated notions of sovereignty and terrorized lawlessness, Woods maintains that Vox Manet ultimately speaks to the ephemeral nature of the piece, to the construction of history, and to the legacy of lynching photographs in twentieth-century American culture.
Professor Nicole Woods is assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at Notre Dame. Her research focuses on the Euro-American avant-gardes, performance art and theory, gender studies, and the history of photography. Her current book project is the first in-depth study of the diverse artworks, performances, installations, and visual poems of the American Fluxus artist, Alison Knowles. A second project examines the historical convergence of feminism, political radicalism, and expanded art/media practices in the 1970s-present. The talk she will give derives from that second book, which she is preparing to publish as an article next year.