Locust Projects is proud to present "The Litany," a major site-specific installation with a durational performance intervention during Art Basel Miami Beach 2018 by the Birmingham and Chicago-based artist Bethany Collins.
In the center of Locust Projects’ Main Gallery is “My destiny is in your hands,” a 20 x 15 ft room-within-the-room, the interior of which is covered with white embossed wallpaper on which Collins makes use of the official state flowers of the American South, to memorialize moments of repeated violence throughout American history. Collins uses floriography, or the language of flowers, which enjoyed a resurgence in 19th century Victorian- era England. Flower meanings and tussie mussies, also known as “talking bouquets,” allowed for the sharing of covert messages otherwise difficult to speak aloud. Between 1827 and 1923, there were at least 98 different flower dictionaries in circulation in the U.S. alone. The language of flowers is also found in state symbols—from flags and anthems to poems and official seals— acting as visual representations of a government, a people, their history, and shared values. According to flower dictionaries published in the 19th century, Delaware’s official state flower, the peach blossom conveys the message “I am your captive.” While Louisiana’s iris means “I burn for you.” And Alabama’s camelia translates to “My destiny is in your hands.”
In the center of “My destiny is in your hands” is a copy of “America: A Hymnal,” an artist book by Collins from 2017. The hardcover-bound book consists of 100 versions of the song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Since the original version’s debut by the Rev. Samuel E. Smith on July 4, 1831, the lyrics of My Country ’Tis of Thee have been re-titled and re-written at least one hundred times between the 18th and 20th centuries. Each re-writing—done in support of a passionately held cause, from temperance and suffrage to abolition and even the Confederacy—articulates some version of what it means to be American. Like the meanings of state flowers, these patriotic hymns are sometimes love letters, sometimes indictments, or both.
A day-long performance of America: A Hymnal will debut at Locust Projects on December 6, 2018 as part of Bethany Collins’ solo exhibition, The Litany. All 100 versions will be sung by volunteers and small choirs continuously throughout the day. In its many lyrical variations, America: A Hymnal presents a chronological retelling of American history, politics and culture through one song. Visitors are invited to come and go quietly throughout the day of the performance, which will take place between 10 am to 5 pm on Thursday, December 6.
The exhibition will open with a public reception on Friday, November 16, 2018 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
About the Artist
Bethany Collins is a multidisciplinary artist whose conceptually driven work is fueled by a critical exploration of how race and language interact. In her Contronym series, for instance, Collins transposes definitions from Webster’s New World Dictionary of American Language onto American Masters paper, then aggressively obscures much of the entries with an eraser. What remain are specific snippets of meaning that are poetically charged through their isolation, as well as the crumbled paper bits left behind by her erasing. As Holland Cotter noted writing in The New York Times, “language itself, viewed as intrinsically racialized, is Bethany Collins’ primary material.”
Her works have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions nationwide, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Drawing Center, the Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Birmingham Museum of Art. Collins has been recognized as an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the MacDowell Colony, the Bemis Center and the Hyde Park Art Center among others. In 2015, she was awarded the Hudgens Prize.