From the Archives: Interview with Lorna Simpson

By Michelle Puetz



In anticipation of her free public tour of Body Doubles at 6 pm this evening, Michelle Puetz reflects on one of the many treasures held in the MCA Archive—an excerpt from a 1993 interview with artist Lorna Simpson, whose work is featured prominently in the exhibition.

on the excerpt

One of the things that has been such a joy about working both as a curator and on a number of research-based and archival projects during my Mellon Fellowship has been finding materials like this one, an interview with Lorna Simpson in 1993 on the occasion of her exhibition at the MCA, Lorna Simpson: For the Sake of the Viewer (Nov 21, 1992–Mar 14, 1994). While this is just a short excerpt of a much longer video, Simpson sharply articulates some of the major questions posed in her work—in particular the complexities she faces trying to explore black female identity without making sweeping generalizations based on race, gender, class, or sexuality.

Simpson is reflecting on works like 1991’s Flipside, which is a part of the MCA’s permanent collection and currently on view in Body Doubles, that combine fragmented body parts (which she refers to as “dissections”) with text. She explains that these juxtapositions are one of the ways she attempts to avoid objectification and humanize her work.

As I’ll discuss this evening in the public tour, Lorna Simpson is heavily represented in Body Doubles for a variety of reasons. I included Flipside as well as two newer and related works: the photographic series Summer ’57/Summer ’09 (2009) and a large-scale, three-channel video installation, Chess (2012) that emerged from the ’57/’09 series. Simpson was one of the first female artists I felt a strong connection to, in large part because of her complex exploration of the stereotypes embedded in race and gender. Her more recent works, in which she uses her own body as a subject and performative tool, speak to the themes I’m interested in exploring in Body Doubles—specifically the variety of ways that artists have used the body to question the relationship of gender and sexuality to identity.

bell hooks (another extremely inspirational force in my life) put it best, stating that Simpson “wants us all to look again, to see what has never been seen, to bear witness. . . . Against [a] backdrop of fixed colonizing images, Simpson constructs a world of black female bodies that resist and revolt, that intervene and transform, that rescue and recover.”