I’ve been trying to find a way to write about Arthur Jaffa’s White Album, but every time I think of racism as a topic I literally feel like I’m staring at an impossible mountain. I don’t have any answers or thoughts on how the situation can improve, and just like everyone on the planet I know that we’re an extremely divided culture; at home, but also, definitely all around the world. There have been so many examples of deep racism, some life threatening or even life destroying, leaving nothing in their wake but anger, sadness, questions, and outrage, all absolutely valid responses. I think for my part, I just feel helpless, as I view from a relatively safe and egalitarian (on the surface only) community in the East Bay. But how egalitarian is it? I think it is obvious that there are institutions that foster racism, and we need to look at power structures in a critical way, since so many things in our culture shape the views of otherness.
It was with that questioning that I watched Jaffa’s The White Album. The White Album is a long form collection of videos, mostly from what I could tell from YouTube, that was in a particular corner of the Biennale. It was a large room, with a long bench for sitting, and it was usually filled, but not overcrowded with people. I say “usually” because during our trip I went back to try to see the entire piece three times. I still didn’t get through all of it, but what I saw was vital to my continued learning and the responsibility we all have to look at the concept of otherness.
In a perfect example of views of the artist that I have been taught in contemporary art schools, this is a work that foregrounds the role of research, and also of the archive, in contemporary art. The research presented and curated by Jaffa from internet searches combines films of whiteness, or the concept of whiteness, as a method of inquiry and contemplation that sublimates its original sources. In this careful combination of video across genres, ranging from personal vlogs, music video, documentary and youTube clips, something transcendent occurs. It’s a kind of questioning that asks us about our experiences, and otherness, in the deepest way I could have imagined. Much of it is shocking, and I absolutely feel that it is deserving of its award during the Biennale.
I can’t offer a complete criticism of the piece, since on multiple attempts at watching it in its entirety, I still missed a lot, and on one occasion, on a time limit, saw almost exactly what I had seen the day before. I also don’t think I want to actually say what the piece contained, since my response to it was so direct, and it said more than I can say just through it’s being. That’s the best thing about art. It can transcend the written word, and sometimes can only be described by seeing it. And if I could name the most impactful piece I saw at the Biennale this is it.