you 'you' Apr 20, 2012

by Matt H


What are the things that make you 'you'?

I think we sometimes labor under the false impression that our identity is composed as part of a long linear narrative:  First I was born, then my parents raised me, I went to school, I went to church, then I went to college, then I didn't get a job, then I did get a job... and now I am me.  

We've been conditioned with language to group letters into words and words into sentences. We read those sentences from left to right and, in the linear flow of symbols, meaning emerges.  And so with our lives: individual moments are placed in an extended sequential order that we read from birth to the present (hoping that meaning emerges).

What I think great art does, is tell us that that process is bullshit.  And Kyle Abraham makes great art.

Three points, then I'll let you go. (Thanks for reading by the way)

1. Art changes the symbol system.  Yes language conveys meaning, but it is not the only system that can do so. Color, shape, effort, melody, touch... These things hold meaning because they remind us.  They recall previous connections.  The creation of meaning is about connection of the past to the present, and Kyle Abraham is deeply interested in connection, to his history, movement, performers, audience.

2. Art leaves the symbols system ambiguous (I would argue that language itself is deeply ambiguous, though most of us do not operate with that assumption).  What the color blue means to me might not be what the color blue means to you.  What a track suit means to me might not be what a track suit means to you.  What a track suit meant to me last night might not be what a track suit means to me tomorrow.  The symbol then is always an iteration, an instantiation.  It's meaning does not exist, decided, once and for all. (This can be difficult for people who, after watching dance, want to know: What does it mean?)  Meaning is always being turned sideways, reinterpreted, unexpected.  What does it mean to be black?  Kyle Abraham will turn that on its side.  What does it mean to be a man?  On its side.  Gay? Side. Hip-hop? Side. Post-modern? Side.  (The word 'side' looks really weird to me now!)  Once you feel like you are settling into an answer on what Kyle Abraham is about... watch out.

3.  Art frees us from the linearity of narrative.  Events happen in my life, but I don't believe that my identity is constructed sequentially.  Certain moments, people, things resonate with greater clarity, salience.  I can recall the cracks in the sidewalk in front of the house I grew up in with greater clarity than I can my grandmother's face.  The thing I remember most about Junior High is being called a fag on a weekly basis.   It is not the order of things that determines who I am, but the importance I ascribe to them.

Art offers the opportunity to let symbols of importance rise to the surface and find elusive connection.  

What are things that make Kyle Abraham 'Kyle Abraham'? 

In Live! The Realest MC, Abraham explores this question with courageous vulnerability and exquisite artistry.  (Please note that 'to explore' means something very different than 'to answer'.)

What are the things that make you 'you'?