Kevin Jerome Everson: TONSLER PARK
15 December 2017–4 March 2018
Index presents Tonsler Park, a new film by American artist and filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson. Shot on 16mm black-and-white film over the course of the recent American election day, Thursday 8 November 2016, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the film follows the poll workers throughout their day as they carry out the practical tasks that allow citizens to cast a ballot and vote.
The film’s focus is not documentary or narrative in a traditional sense, but relies on the conditions and gestures that make up the rituals of democracy. It opens with the oath of allegiance, “to prevent fraud, deceit and abuse”, and the mainly Black American workers go through actions that repeat, as people come in and out of view. Through Everson’s lens, the audience takes part in that election day and the way in which the characters of the film conscientiously perform the labour of the voting model that shed new light on the current political situation. Since we now all know the outcome of this election, the scenes that Tonsler Park depicts come to emphasise the contradictions and struggles that continue to exist throughout Western democracies, and the deep-set socio-political divides that shape the contemporary commons.
Everson is one of the most prolific filmmakers of his generation. His subject matters are always, as he describes it, “the gestures or tasks caused by certain conditions in the lives of working class African Americans and other people of African descent.” He says further: “I’m considering a process, the way conditions affect people.”
Characteristic of Everson’s films is the way they combine scripted and documentary elements with the traditions of experimental film. His work grew out of an interest in street photography, and his films have a sense of being with the subject, rather than looking from a distance. His film 8903 Empire (2016) observes the inhabitants of a house on Empire Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Park Lanes (2015) was filmed in a factory that produces bowling alley supplies. His portraits of people and places are, in all their intimacy, also experiments with different formalist elements of staging and representation.
When I look through the viewfinder, I’m looking at different histories. During Q&As, I’m still asked, why do I only film black people? First I answer: “Why is it that Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) is only white people?” There’s usually no answer. Then I say when I’m looking through the viewfinder of the camera, either film or digital, that I’m looking at black folks and seeing a history of a relationship to a place – whether it’s St Louis, Missouri or Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. I’m responding to a history of people and a place. (Kevin Jerome Everson, Liquid Blackness Symposium, Georgia State University, 2014)
Kevin Jerome Everson was born in 1965 in Mansfield, Ohio and lives and works in Charlottesville, Virginia. Everson’s work includes nine feature length films and over 100 short-form works to date. Recent screenings and exhibitions of Everson’s work include Tate Modern, London (2017), Whitney Biennial, New York (2017), MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2017) and Viennale, Vienna (2014). In 2011, the Whitney Museum of American Art presented More Than That, an exhibition of his short films. He is Professor of Art at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In February 2018 his work will be the subject of a retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive, Cambridge, MA.
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