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Naomi Beckwith on Adrian Piper’s ‘The Probable Trust Registry’

‘Piper reminds me that I must remain committed to both my language and actions’

Adrian Piper, The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3, 2013–17, performance documentation. Courtesy: © Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation, Berlin

Two days ago, I got an email, written in pure legalese, from the Venice Biennale office assuring their compliance with the new European GDPR privacy standards. The email asked for confirmation that I signed a contract – and was willing to share my name with other signatories of the same contract – as part of Adrian Piper’s The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1-3, ‘an installation and participative group performance’. I quickly accepted the terms of the biennial’s contract on my contract: ‘I, the undersigned, hereby certify that I will always mean what I say.’

Funny – I assumed that I had signed an affidavit affecting the duration of my natural life, not just my relationship with the other participants. I’d already determined, from the moment of signing, that I wouldn’t become an event or a spectacle, but would simply perform the rare banalities of honesty and integrity.

I stopped making promises many years ago: one needs an escape clause for one’s words. But Piper reminds me that I must remain committed to both my language and actions even though she confesses that she, too, once dreamed of escaping the discourse of false niceties that masks underlying racism and misogyny. So, I hold myself to my word, even when I believe that telling somebody off would be preferable to self-care or when I smoulder with ire in the face of perpetual racist and sexist vitriol. But I don’t think Piper was asking me to be on my best behaviour; I think she requested that I make no idle threats. Piper made her own escape in her art, her philosophy and her flight to Berlin. She said she ain’t never coming back, y’all. We have to take her at her word.

Naomi Beckwith is senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA.

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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