Adrienne Edwards, Blackness in Abstraction, “Lorraine O’Grady,” pp. 173-176. Pace, New York, 2016.
LORRAINE O’GRADY has taken an archaeological, archival, and historicist approach to mine the past precisely by pursuing its and her own hauntings, transgressions, and becomings. This is especially evident in Landscape (Western Hemisphere), a 2010–11 eighteen-minute, single-channel video in which O’Grady transforms her hair into a moving abstract landscape. As each wavy strand sways, crinkles, and rustles to the wind, a faint collage of sound from the North American hemisphere’s rural and urban landscape is audible.
The term landscape has multiple nuanced and interrelated meanings: as a noun it can imply an art genre (as in landscape painting) or a topography (as in an expansive vista); and as a verb it connotes cultivation, disciplining, and contouring of the ground. In O’Grady’s video, all three definitions are interpolated. A foundational concern in her work is hybridity and the myriad ways in which it is a particularly distinguishing characteristic of the Western hemisphere. O’Grady’s hair testifies to the history of racial mixing and the historical, cultural, and social connotations associated with it. She addresses the implications of this history on social and economic status, the impermanence of racial boundaries, and the infelicity of racial authenticity. For O’Grady, hybridity:
is essential to understanding what is happening here. People’s reluctance to acknowledge it is part of the problem….The argument for embracing the “other” is more realistic than what is usually argued for, which is an idealistic and almost romantic maintenance of difference. But I don’t mean interracial sex literally. I’m really advocating for the kind of miscegenated thinking that’s needed to deal with what we’ve already created here.
Through her hair (indeed in all of her work), O’Grady puts forth a “metaphoric system” that is neither foundational, nor symbolic, nor definitive but rather resonates liminally in the fissure of hybridity and its productive capacity. In the interstices of O’Grady’s hair, we locate the remains of enslavement, the resilience and persistence of the specters—it is a testament of survival. We also find the pathways to transgressive resistance embedded in the heights, depths, and expanse of the waves of her hair. The waves are “the break” in which the hauntings of this past persist and the what-is-to-become mutually reside. This future becomes through transgressions, both a holding of the line and a crossing of it to some other plane by some other means.