Hartman Avec Sade

November 4, 2023 - March 30, 2024

Hartman Avec Sade, Installation at Barabara and Art Culver Center for the Arts

Included in Ballast: Recent Aesthetic Practices In Response to Anti-Blackness

Ballast presents recent work by artists E. Chris Brady, Boz Deseo Garden, Tarik Garrett, Keko Jackson, Acacia Marable, LaRissa Rogers, and Zenobia, collectively from MFA programs at UCR, UCI, and UCLA. The exhibition centers the critical framework known as Afro-Pessimism and presents aesthetic practices that engage the paradigm of anti-Blackness across and beyond historical and contemporary social contexts.

Hartman Avec Sade (2023) features a copper lightning rod recovered from the coastline of Bridgend County Borough (Porthcawl, United Kingdom). In the Summer of 2020, a cargo ship lost many of its containers in the Bristol Channel, the contents of which slowly began to wash ashore in October of that year.

The lightning rod presumably belonged to a parcel of antique goods or a personal collection and was likely shipped by sea due to the contingent embargo placed on shipment by air as the number of commercial flights decreased at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Bristol Channel is well known for once being an active port hub for slave ships in the late 1600's following the disintegration of the Royal African Company's monopoly over the trade. The cargo ship debris is not alone at the bed of the Bristol Channel. In 1994 a shipwreck was discovered by a team of archeologists and divers and identified as a slave ship from the mid-1600's. Some of the wreckage was recovered for the British Museum but much of it remains there, yet to wash ashore.

The objects’ title take from Jacques Lacan’s essay “Kant avec Sade” from his Écrits. Published eight years after Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, Marquis De Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, as  Lacan famously describes, “completes” Kant’s Critique insofar as Lacan suggests Sade’s ethical imperative was more honest than Kant’s. Where Kant famously articulates the imperative to act in the interest of the Good, against one’s self-interest, and toward the “pure absence of the [empricial] object” such that one can truly hear the “voice of reason”, the Sadean rejoinder  locates the ethical imperative in the reduction of an-other to an accumulation of objects always already available for limitless use (qua enjoyment). 

Saidiya Hartman replaces Kant in the title’s source insofar as Garden treats Hartman’s indispensable scholarship as a critique of ethics which also turns upon the presence and fecundity of the object. In her reading of John Rankin’s ‘empathetic literature’ on the ‘evils of slavery’ in Scenes of Subjection, Hartman indicts the very desire to “bring slavery close” through the melodrama of representation and empiricism. In some sense, Rankin’s histrionic attempt to grasp the horrors of slavery is no different than Sade’s (or the institution of art’s) desperation to capture the particulars of his victim’s torment. For Hartman, the dramaturgy of liberal empathy only demonstrates the libidinal injunction to ‘apprehend’ the “brute materiality” of the Slave’s suffering. Although, for her this materiality “regularly eludes (re)cognition by virtue of the [Slave’s] body being replaced by other signs of value”. Garden’s work articulates (the object of) slavery as the virtual and washed-ashore fulcrum of our Enlightenment notions of the Good; it theorizes that Sadean qua antiblack ethics have gone nowhere and in fact remain immanent to subjectivity—which does more than bring the subject “close” to the object of slavery.