Corinne Spencer’s film Clarke 22 meditates on the embodied practice of Allana Clarke. A Trinidadian-American artist, Clarke is known for using materials such as sugar, cocoa butter and hair-bonding glue to confront histories of colonialism and Western standards of beauty. Filming Clarke at work on a large-scale sculpture made from hair-bonding glue, Spencer captures the artist’s deep mental concentration and fluid physical movements as she manipulates the viscous glue with her hands and feet, a process through which she transforms a toxic substance into objects that ripple, curl, twist, shimmer and gleam.
Clarke 22 (2022, HD video, 6:24 mins) was commissioned for Clarke’s first institutional exhibition, A Particular Fantasy, installed concurrently at Usdan Gallery and Art Omi in Fall 2022. As the Usdan half of the exhibit foregrounded Clarke’s process, the gallery invited Spencer to film Clarke making the sculpture inside the 4,000-square-foot space. The film—titled in reference to Hans Namuth’s film Pollock 51— is both artwork and documentation, providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Clarke’s methods. The artist begins by pouring thick quantities of hair-bonding glue onto a flat surface to create a “skin,” which she stretches, pulls, pleats and molds to form a cratered surface. At times, Spencer depicts the expanse of glue as an uncanny field out of time and place, a lava-like planetary landscape of iridescent blues, dense grays and glistening blacks; she then punctures this abstraction with zoomed-in physical actions—the artist’s heel shoving across the glue’s slickness, her fist squeezing the glue’s ooze. Alternating between sweeping overviews and detailed close-ups, Spencer reveals the alchemic ritual of Clarke’s technique and her idiosyncratic engagement with materials taken far from their intended context.
Spencer’s film deepens the meaning of the exhibition title, which Clarke drew from theorist, activist and poet Audre Lorde’s essay “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” (1984). In it, Lourde asserts her resistance to being “some particular fantasy of a Black woman” and describes her anger as a “molten pond at the core of me.” This metaphor comes to life in footage of Clarke immersed in literal “ponds” of a dense liquid product which, for the artist, is heavy with smoldering trauma. The glue’s toxicity is made evident by Spencer’s atmospheric soundscape, blending eerie music and dripping, squishing glue sounds with the artist’s rhythmic, muffled breathing through her respirator mask.
Along with her film’s title, Spencer’s aural and visual strategies point to Namuth’s iconic 1951 documentation of Jackson Pollock painting, a reference that Clarke and Spencer discussed during collaborative planning. Clarke’s consideration of Pollock and other midcentury traditions is especially relevant given the exhibition’s Bennington site: In 1952, the College presented the first Pollock retrospective; in 1958, it was one of three hosts for the first U.S. exhibition of the Japanese group Gutai; and both Pollock and Gutai are touch points for Clarke’s somatic process. Working, like Pollock, on the floor, she operates intentionally to simultaneously embrace and challenge modernist ideas of “action painting” and the expressive primacy of materials. Given this context, the significance of Clarke making a new sculpture in a Bennington space is intensified by Spencer’s film of her doing so. Both of these new art works underscore the power and significance of Black women of claiming and reframing histories rooted in whiteness and patriarchy.
Allana Clarke: A Particular Fantasy is on view September 13–December 10, 2022, at Usdan Gallery; and October 8, 2022–January 10, 2023, at Art Omi.
Corinne Spencer is a Brooklyn-based artist working at the intersection of video, photography, and installation. She received her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2010 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2014. Her work has been performed and exhibited throughout the US, including a 2015 city-commissioned installation of her ongoing video work, HUNGER, at the contemporary arts festival, Arts Emerge Boston; an exhibition with Samson Projects at NADA NY (New York, NY, 2016);, Root Shock, a three-person exhibition at Brandeis University (Waltham, MA, 2019); a two-person show, Shanna Maurizi & Corinne Spencer, at La MaMa, La Galleria (New York, NY, 2019); and a solo exhibition, Splendor, at the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY, 2022). Spencer has been received the Franklin Furnace Fund Award, two Foundation for Contemporary Arts grants, a MacDowell Fellowship, and an ongoing art residency with the Meerkat Media Collective, a renowned filmmaking group based in Brooklyn. Her current body of work, Splendor, explores the relationship among Black women, the natural landscape, and spiritual awakening. Her second solo exhibition of this work will open as part of Cornell University’s Migrations Initiative at Cherry Gallery (Ithaca, NY) in January 2023.
Allana Clarke (b. 1987) received a BFA in photography from New Jersey City University in 2011 and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Practice from MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art in 2014. She is an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Clarke has been an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, the Vermont Studio Center, Lighthouse Works and Yaddo. She recently completed a 2020-21 NXTHVN fellowship, a mentorship program co-founded by artist Titus Kaphar, and one of her large-scale sculptures was included in the 2022 FRONT Cleveland Triennial. She has received grants including the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, Franklin Furnace Fund, and a Puffin Foundation Grant. Her work has been screened and performed at Gibney Dance, New York; Invisible Export, New York; the New School Glassbox Studio, New York; FRAC, Nantes, France; and SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin; and was featured in the Bauhaus Centennial publication Bauhaus Now: Is Modernity an Attitude. Clarke is represented by Galerie Thomas Zander in Cologne and Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago.