by Art + Dialogue intern Maddie Fritz
M: How has your style developed through the years and how did you, as an artist, arrive at the works that are featured in the show?
T: Well, I’d say my style, or my interest in visual arts started at an early age. One of the influential artists was always Goya, especially his Disasters of War series of etchings, which I see as poetic reportage. I was influenced by his work, eventually went to art school and started to create zines– these little self-published magazines that were reports on the odd jobs I was working. I worked in factories and included snippets of dialogue and sketches of the interiors. The little magazine format allowed me to disseminate information in a way that I thought was similar to old etchings that had been available to a wider audience than a typical oil painting.
From there, I became interested in Gonzo journalism, like Hunter S. Thompson, where their own voice played a role in deconstructing the somewhat deadpan quality to conventional reportage that claims to be neutral reporting. The persona of the writer, of the reporter, was allowed to play a more important role. That lead me to look at the work of William Carlos Williams, who as a poet, in works like “Patterson,” would incorporate snippets of conversation that he would hear in a bar alongside a written correspondence he’d have with a friend, such as Allen Ginsberg. And then he’d also incorporate archival information also, from old newspaper publications of the 18th century.
And all these things would be collaged next to each other. That really influenced the way I started to create my own artwork with a collage-like sensibility, appropriating from all these different areas of my own experience versus some historical archived information versus things that I find through contemporary media outlets.
So that pretty much resulted in the work that is being shown in the Art + Dialogue exhibit, where I went into the archives of the FBI using documents that were developed around the case of the Greensboro Massacre, which occurred on November 3, 1979. It was a way to try to figure out the context, something beyond what you find on say, Wikipedia. As I was sifting through these FBI documents, I could see that the names of the individuals who were involved in the incident were typically blacked out, but specifics about the vehicles that were involved were very detailed and it evolved that the vehicles came to embody the participants in odd ways. And then, I decided to use the vehicles to visualize this incident in a somewhat oblique way from a new angle. The incident is still an open wound in many ways, and no one was actually convicted for the murder of the five protesters.
The result is this panoramic representation of the two motorcades; one is of the anti-Klan parade that was organized by the Communist Workers’ Party (CWP) members and then in opposition to that is the motorcade of the KKK and Neo-Nazis organized to confront the CWP. It’s fairly large-scale and it features the specific vehicles that were detailed in the FBI documents. I went onto online auto classified sites where they were selling very specific models, like a 1962 Ford Ford Fairlane, for example. And I’d find the exact color that was described in the FBI documents. So the reference to the auto classifieds (especially the free auto classified digests you can find at gas stations and truck stops) started to play an increasingly important role in the format of this project, so I also created a accordion artist’s booklet that I distribute freely, like pamphlets that facilitate the spread of news or free digestible information at historical sites. I used the booklet to give additional context by providing text that was cut-and-pasted from the FBI documents.
So that’s how this project developed: diving into archives and then looking at auto classifieds, interest in the shape of these vehicles from the late 60’s, 1970s, and then that curiosity turned into a sociological exploration, too, of what kinds of vehicles were purchased and used by these individuals. Obviously, the KKK did stick to the American-made versus some of the more international choices of vehicles that were used by the Communist Workers’ Party. I thought this detailed investigation of the factual information brought surprising insights into the incident.
M: Have you ever had the opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” and observe the viewers of your art?
T: Yeah, I’ve been in that situation and I’m always surprised. I feel like I have no ability to predict what the responses will be. Often times I find that people will refer to something that I hadn’t considered all that in-depth. There is sometimes an aspect of a project that I spent a lot of time on, but rather something that occurred rather quickly and spontaneously becomes the subject of conversation. One thing I’ve learned from being a fly on the wall is that there’s a digestive process that occurs when looking at art.
This has influenced my methods of presentation and my artist’s booklets that are quite different from the 2-dimensional presentations of images on walls. These booklets have text in addition to the image, to try to add more to the context. I include points of entry that encourage the viewer to approach the subject in their own way. There’s only one second where the viewer responds to the thing on the wall. Realistically, people don’t spend a whole lot of time in front of each image. So there’s this idea that maybe if they have the image in their pocket and they drop it on the coffee table and look at it again at some point, there’d be a longer, more serious consideration of some of the topics that I’ve wrestled with in my work.
M: The theme being racial tension in America, and the Art + Dialogue goal of uniting the arts and community in an exchange of ideas, do you have anything to say about connecting with the other featured artists?
T: Absolutely, I’m really excited about the way this exhibition is being approached where dialogue amongst a range of communities is being prioritized. And, really, I just look forward to learning from the experience and conversations that will develop around the exhibit. And, I have to say, I’m relatively new to North Carolina. I’ve been living here for three years, and I’m in Davidson, North Carolina, which is just North of Charlotte, but I do feel that one of the challenges of living here is that there’s not such a large close-knit community of artists, compared to the Northeast, where I’m from. Here, it takes longer to drive to other cities and this occasion to meet a number of practicing artists and individuals interested in such subjects, is a fantastic opportunity.
M: Regarding the upcoming artist panel and, in general, is there anything you want to tell young people who are growing up with and facing this level of racial tension in their country?
T: It’s fascinating, and I’ve been trying to learn about all this as well. One of the things that I’m experiencing, especially when I consider the historical context of it all, like reading about the KKK and the incident in Greensboro in 1979, I would say that there’s still some presence of the KKK as well as much of the racist infrastructures which don’t necessarily wear a white hood and walk around downtown.
You get a different story when you look at a headline and then take the time to look at and consider some of the history surrounding the instances, take, for example, Charleston, where this horrible incident just happened and you have to consider a sequence of horrible things, from the slave trade to the civil rights movement to see how interconnected and complex and bewildering it all is.
In 2004 there was a Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission that conducted interviews with individuals connected to the Greensboro Massacre, including at least one of the KKK members. And when the Commission issued their final report, their number one recommendation for moving forward from the incident was “acknowledgement.” To acknowledge the tragedy and acknowledge that it happened. A lot of frustration was apparently generated by politicians and others that claimed the incident was simply the past and it was important to forget it and look forward. Those that suffered from that incident apparently didn’t have any reconciliation and their trauma wasn’t addressed, rather it was avoided or buried. I hope that in a small way my work can participate in this acknowledgement.
M: Are there consistent themes your pursue throughout the creative process?
T: Over the last ten years, my work has tended to become increasingly political, to a degree. I am looking at political dilemmas especially from the point of view of radical attempts to redress perceived wrongs in the world. I am constantly inspired by human fortitude and the creative and desperate solutions people come up with when confronted with dire problems.
Tyler Starr was a Fulbright scholar and has work featured in the Art + Dialogue.
For more information on Tyler and his works, please visit www.tylerstarr.com.