WHERE: Annex, Level C, Brooklyn Army Terminal, 80 58th St, Brooklyn, NY 11220
WHEN: Open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 12–6 pm. Also open to classes by appointment.
The Vera List Center for Art and Politics presents Adelita Husni Bey’s These Conditions, an exhibition and pedagogical film set at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. As the culmination of Husni Bey’s research as a 2020–2022 Vera List Center Fellow into the current pandemic and its aftermath from a larger, historical and artistic framework, this project includes the artist’s first site-specific and most ambitious pedagogical environment.
The exhibition takes cues from historical pandemic protocols, such as recent government guidelines that define necessary workers, the sixteenth-century Epidemiologìa Sive Tractatus de Peste for the containment of the plague in Alghero/Sardinia, and mutual aid protocols employed at the height of the AIDS crisis. These Conditions hosts a group of individuals who have had to work in person during the pandemic to reflect on their experience and develop characters, scenes, and performative sketches that express the relationship between pandemics and social change. Through a weekly workshop held over the course of two months, a core group of participants is led sequentially through three distinct spaces in an ad hoc structure: an empty room with the sonic features of a hospital, a waiting room, and a domestic space. A hybrid between a pedagogical space and a film set, the structure is altered and activated through the workshop’s discursive and movement-based activities.
Using techniques borrowed from autodrama, radical theater methodologies, and political education, the workshop explores how historical pandemics are often followed by periods of unrest that catalyze drastic changes, such as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 in England, the gravedigger rebellion in Italy in 1631, and the current wave of strikes across the United States. Within the pedagogical film set, a selection of films and posters from DIVA TV and ACT UP showcases the artistic and activist responses to the ongoing AIDS crisis. The Annex at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which was built during the 1918 Flu Pandemic as a military supply base and is today a major manufacturing hub as well as a COVID testing and vaccination site, serves as the pedagogical set’s entry point into both current and historical pandemics. Drawing poetic resonances between these events and spaces, the exhibition evokes historical insurrections to express their relationship to the ongoing social transformations resulting from our present conditions. Part of the workshop will be recorded and edited into a short experimental film, which will premiere at the Vera List Center at The New School in fall 2022 before entering the collection of the Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Turin, Italy) where it will be presented as a film installation.
Two works developed last year are also on view: On Necessary Work (2021) and Cronaca del Tempo Ripetuto (A chronicle of histories repeating, 2021). Over six weeks in the spring of 2021, Husni Bey led a group of Danish and US unionized nurses through an online film workshop centered around their experience of worsening labor conditions, masked and mythologized as a sacrifice, during the pandemic. The nurses were asked to film their workplaces, their scrubs and work gear, and to arrange and balance objects significant to them, following specific protocols intended to develop conversations. The resulting film, On Necessary Work, was entirely shot on Zoom. Through the healthcare workers’ perspectives, it highlights their role in sustaining life within a system of crushing exploitation and how they find resolve in their organizing efforts and in each other.
Cronaca del Tempo Ripetuto (A chronicle of histories repeating, 2021), is a 5.1 Dolby surround sound piece, developed between May and June 2021 through a workshop with OCRA (Chamber Orchestra of Radicondoli, Tuscany), a self-run collective of young musicians without a conductor. The workshop, grounded in the work of composer Pauline Oliveros and sound art collective Ultra-red, alternated instrument-based improvisational exercises with reflections on the experience of the pandemic and the role of sound. The group recorded live “sound-maps” of their town as well as images drawn from archival research on the plague, such as children playing on rooftops after access to the streets was barred. Rabèl, a local theater company, voiced contemporary lockdown protocols, which the groups were subjected to, and local plague protocols dating from 1631.
The public study group On Necessary Work accompanies the exhibition. It focuses on the concept of “necessary work” as it undergirds and normalizes capitalist production in crisis, following a Marxist feminist understanding of reproductive labor, and is presented in partnership with the Victorian College of the Arts at The University of Melbourne. School of Tomorrow: From the Open Plan to the Tele-classroom, part of the public program held within the pedagogical environment—and seminar ten of the Vera List Center’s As for Protocols series—is convened on March 14 with Video School, a roving pedagogical platform.
Additional public programs will be announced.
The exhibition is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, 12–6 pm, and by appointment to classes. Proof of vaccination is required. To make a class appointment please email firstname.lastname@example.org.