Index

A Plurality of Voices

By Jessi Rasmussen
Edra Soto poses in her Commons installation, Open 24 Hours during MCA Hearts Chicago, Oct 21, 2017. Photo: Michael Courier, © MCA Chicago.

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In October 2017, Chicago-based artist Edra Soto installed an interactive exhibition in the Commons—our new space for art and civic engagement, which is always free to the public. The exhibition not only includes beautifully designed columns that display an array of hand-adorned liquor bottles (created by visitors during workshops led by Soto), it also features a writing station that encourages visitors to transition from spectator to participant. To elicit responses from visitors, Soto posed a series of questions related to her research on alcohol use in contemporary culture, social justice, and geography. Some questions are site-specific to Chicago, like “Chicago is considered one of the most segregated cities in the US. How can we fight segregation through actions in our daily life?” Another question asks visitors to share personal stories about identity (mis)perceptions. Since the exhibition opened, we have received hundreds of responses, highlighting a plurality of voices, including Chicago residents, mothers, children, artists, queer folx, and immigrants, to name only a few. Their responses serve as an alliance that offers ideas, solutions, personal stories, drawings, and even Instagram links. Here we share a few responses that are indicative of the range of responses we have received.

Responses to Democracy

Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: By accepting that white-European culture is not better than any other. By being amazed by other languages and not scared. By accepting we need others to be better as people. Accepting white privilege and white supremacy is a real thing. Learning race is a social construct that has no biological support. Att: Proud Colombian immigrant.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Democracy is not only opportunity but the will of the entire citizenry to become involved and invested in the political process. But we are bludgeoned by the powers that be into believing that our voices have little to no effect—the status quo reigns supreme uber alles. Fuck it, take your meds, download another app, buy a bunch of shit and try to enjoy yourself (and maybe some others on occasion in fleeting moderation) but yourself most importantly before you shuffle off … I digress—What am I doing? Starting a new poligical party: A People’s Party! I’m saying fuck it too, but not fuck it. I acquiesce, fuck it as in the whole racist capitalist monolith of a system that blockade the path to true progress! How to save democracy? Blow up the duopoly! Power to the people through a party for the people! —Chris Muntel–Raleigh, NC.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Democracy to me is a rhetorical, discursive activity. We need to be able to engage with one another in an equal exchange of perspective. In order to practice democracy, we need to have open conversation between members of a community, no matter how diversified the community. I practice democracy in my everyday life by suspending my very American tendency to assume that my individual perception is correct. This is a very conscious choice that I have to continually remind myself to put into practice. By removing that instant stance of judgment or superiority, I can exercise listening skills and give myself the chance to consider the perspectives of others. This is essential for the democratic, rhetorical discussion that must take place to establish a community’s set of shared values. We will always live in community. To be an equitable community, we need to exemplify democratic principles. Each member of a community must be given equal opportunity to express themselves and their positions. This is a very anti-American sentiment where we look to authoritative figures to dictate and inform the shared values of American culture. I think that democratic, civil participation is essential to defining a greater, more ethical future, in which we can all exist without the fear of marginalization.

Responses to Identity

Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Puerto Rico is United States territory. Not a state though. We have our own Corrupt government, we have our own sexual offenders that double as politicans. I have an “American” passport, and citizenship to go with it. I currently live and study in Barcelona. “Are you American” “So, you’re from the US then.” “You’re a state, no?” “Oh, I thought you were located in South America!” “Is Puerto Rico the same as Costa Rica?” I’m American because I’m part of the Americas. Caribbean. Not the American you imagine me to be. We only refer to people from the US as American. There’s so much more to America than the United States. Misperceptions: Colonized (true, but in resistance); American (‘Merica); Gringa (never); Mexican (not an insult, just ignorance); Latina fetish (fuck you); just like J-Lo (read a book or listen to actual Puerto Rican music). No, our flag is not the same as Cuba’s. Yes we speak English. No, we are not Indians (Christopher Columbus took care of that) I come from a colonized island where we’re considered “American” when it’s convenient. I’m always American—but not the one you want me to be. Caribeña. Puertoriqueña.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Growing up as a mixed-race person, I would say my entire cultural identity is simply “complexity,” though to say that is an over-simplification in and of itself. I am Asian, but I am also not fully Asian. I am white, but my “ethnicness” excludes me from some, though not all of the associated privileges that come with that. This often leads to confusion as to how I am to be categorized. Asian people see me as “not a real Asian,” and white people will generally see me as “that Asian boy.” So I belong in both groups, but also belong to neither. And this means most people are confused on how to see me. But in actuality, as with all mixed-race people, we are what we are.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: I’m currently bald (as a female) as I recover from the effects of radiation on a brain tumor. I’ve been mistaken for a man, which is not all that bothersome. What I find truly irritating is people, who I’m sure have good intentions, feeling the need to validate my “beauty,” whether I know them or not. I have good days and I have shitty days just like anyone else. Whether I identify as a cancer patient or not, or whether others mistake me for a male, makes no difference to me.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: There’s an important effect that comes from being a nonwhite American-born child of immigrants. Being a second-gen Indian is a push-and-pull; my parents don’t value sex, don’t understand cynicism. In many ways, it’s hard to communicate with them. Conversely, they don’t understand me, and inversely, I don’t relate wholly to American culture. To me, uptightness and decorum and romance characterize America, and while none of those are wrong, they conflict with values of openness, ancestry, and respect bestowed by my parents. It limits my scope of connection; in having each foot in two worlds, having a singular identity becomes quite a balancing act; a cognitive exercise. Also, racism sucks. Fuck Apu from The Simpsons.

Response cards to litter prompt

Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: College kids ♥︎ red cups.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Much of what we know about ancient peoples and societies is gleaned from what we discover in their trash heaps. It tells us what they ate, what they wore, what they needed, and what they no longer did. Not much is different when we think about the litter we see in our own neighborhoods. What we get rid of says more about us than what we keep.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Litter only seems to matter when it’s impacting the wealthy. Maybe that’s why certain neighborhoods are neglected in the way that they are.

Responses to Segregation

Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: I think fighting segregation requires openness, courage, and the default belief that other people mean well. Historically, unjust systems and people with closed minds sorted us and pressured us into separated places. To overcome that in Chicago today, we need to be open to the idea that the whole city is worth seeing and learning from, we need to be courageous enough to go, even when we know we will be “other” or not feel comfortable. And when others do that, we need to welcome them and forgive unintentional insensitivities, empathizing with the feelings and background of the person leaving the “safe,” designated place they likely are coming from. And we need to be united against gentrification, seeking to preserve cultural history without preserving separation and disunity.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: To know that although we may be different in a lot of ways, we definitely have more commonalities than our differences, and by understanding each other more, we would be able to connect more closely with each other, and embrace the beauty of diversity in our community. —2018.1.6 Random visitor from Hong Kong.
Edra Soto Response Card. Text reads: Leave my comfort zone. Meet people, communicate with people who are different than me. Write poetry, make it a song, sing it, play it, perform it for people who are different than me. Music, and the emotions of art, are magic—builds bridges across great divides … where people of differences find commonality and communion. Teach: Differences create (opportunity for) strength and unique creativity. “Desegregation”: Can never be productive by “pushy"—can only be productive by "pully,” by being creatures of curiosity and creativity.

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Add your voice to the conversation. Edra Soto's installation will be up through February 25.

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