Strange Fruit

Labor Camp Orchestra album: Songs From The Labor Camp. via NPR

Labor Camp Orchestra album: Songs From The Labor Camp. via NPR

It’s “old news” at this point, but still worth pointing out – and listening to.

Piotr Szyhalski’s Labor Camp Orchestra is an ongoing work that has been the site for much of his public artwork over the past several years, including two installations in at LABoral in Gijon, Spain for the exhibition FEEDFORWARD – Angel of History, which I co-curated with Christiane Paul.

As the website states, Labor Camp Orchestra is

“the Aural Branch of the Labor Camp. Since it’s gradual inception between 1998-1999 Labor Camp Orchestra remains committed to construction of auditory experiences, which follow no singular philosophy, process or idea.”

Back in June, the Labor Camp Orchestra was featured in an NPR story by Lara Pellegrinelli, “Evolution of a Song: Strange Fruit.” The words of the song were originally penned in 1936 under the name Lewis Allan by Bronx schoolteacher Abel Meeropol in reaction to a photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana.

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, August 7, 1930. via Wikipedia

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, August 7, 1930. via Wikipedia

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to Billie Holiday’s memorable rendition of Strange Fruit the same again after viewing this photograph, which is part of the point of Szyhalski’s “cover” of it via Labor Camp Orchestra – to make visceral the Iraq war. To take us beyond the blaring headlines, patriotic jingoism, and national security fervor to a place that is literally unforgettable. According to Pellegrinelli,

“The group’s version of “Strange Fruit” passes for perky, tidy electronica on first listen. In reality, it emerged from a conceptual thread on events in Iraq and specifically addresses the execution of Saddam Hussein. Based solely on Meeropol’s poem, it juxtaposes his words with a woman reciting the names of fruits in Arabic. An archival recording from the Hussein execution and Koranic recitation plays in the background.”

Listen here.



FEEDFORWARD – Angel of History

Title page, FEEDFORWARD catalog

Title page, FEEDFORWARD catalog

FEEDFORWARD – The Angel of History, the exhibition Christiane Paul and I have been working on for  a couple of years opens Thursday!

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.
Walter Benjamin, from On the Concept of History, 1940

FEEDFORWARD – The Angel of History

Cleaning up after the 20th century. What is progress now?

FEEDFORWARD – The Angel of History addresses the current moment in history where the wreckage of political conflict and economic inequality is piling up, while globalized forces—largely enabled by the “progress” of digital information technologies—inexorably feed us forward. The exhibition title references Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus,” which Walter Benjamin famously interpreted as an “angel of history” transfixed by the wreckage of the past that is piling up in front of him while being propelled backwards into the uncertain future by a storm from paradise (progress).

The exhibition, curated by Steve Dietz (Artistic Director of the 01SJ Biennial and Northern and Christiane Paul (Director of Media Studies Graduate Prgram, New School, and Adjunct Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art), features 31 artworks by 29 artists and artist teams. The projects are presented, as if in the rear view mirror of progress, in sections relating to five themes:

  • the “wreckage” of the 20th century created by wars and conflict
  • the countermeasures of surveillance and repression that the state as well as global capital set up in an to attempt to maintain control
  • the aesthetics and symbolic language of the media of our times
  • the forces of economic globalization such as outsourcing and migration
  • the possibilities of reconstruction and agency.

Together, the projects featured in FEEDFORWARD create a complex picture of the global political and social forces that drive us forward. The exhibition features both the problematic aspects of the present and future, and the potential for collectivity and responsible action. At the nadir of the current global economic crisis, FEEDFORWARD is in effect about cleaning up after the 20th century and asks the question, what is progress now?


AES+F, Last Riot, 2007

Daniel Garcia Andújar, Postcapital Archive (1989-2001), 2009

Christopher Baker, Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise, 2008

Stella Brennan, South Pacific, 2007

Paul Chan, Baghdad In No Particular Order, 2003

Nancy Davenport,

Workers (leaving the factory), 2008
, 2008
Liverpool animation,

Nonny de la Pena and Peggy Weil, GONE GITMO, 2007

Hasan Elahi

Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2006, 2009
Tracking Transience: A Month of Sundays
, 2009

Cao Fei, Whose Utopia, 2006

Barbara Fluxa, Car project, excavating XX century´s end, 2009

Fernando Garcia-Dory, Museum’s Pastoral – A Meeting of the Federation of Shepherds, 2009

Goldin+Senneby, “In Search of a Story,” 8-part journal by K.D., 2008-2009

Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji, Tantalum Memorial – Residue, 2008

Knowbotic Research (Yvonne Wilhelm, Christian Huebler, Alexander Tuchacek) + Peter Sandbichler, be prepared! tiger!, 2006

Langlands + Bell, The House of Osama bin Laden, 2003

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Big Box, 2007

Margot Lovejoy, Storm from Paradise, 1999

Naeem Mohaiemen, Live True Life or Die Trying, 2009

Ali Momeni + Robin Mandel, Smoke and Hot Air, 2008

Carlos Motta. The Good Life, 2005-2008

Trevor Paglen

From The Other Night Sky series:

LACROSSE/ONYX II Passing Through Draco (USA 69), 2007
DMSP 5B/F4 from Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation (Military Meteorological Satellite; 1973-054A), 2009

From the Limit Telephotography series:

Morning Commute (Gold Coast Terminal) / Las Vegas, NV/ Distance ~ 1 mile/ 6:26 a.m., 2006
Large Hangars and Fuel Storage / Tonopah Test Range, NV/ Distance ~ 18 miles/ 10:44 am, 2005

Rachael Rakena, Fez Fa’anana, and Brian Fuata, Pacific Washup, 2003

Stephanie Rothenberg + Jeff Crouse, Invisible Threads, 2008

System77 Consortium, ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR!, 2009

Piotr Szyhalski

Labor Camp Study Room: D, 2008-2009
White Star Cluster, 2008-2009

T+T (Tamiko Thiel & Teresa Reuter), Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall, 2009

Carey Young, Product Recall, 2007