New Media Artist R. Luke DuBois to Create Portrait of Civil Rights Activist DeRay Mckesson
The artist's solo exhibition at BCMA will feature a video-based portrait of the activist and Bowdoin College alumnus, alongside a wide selection of DuBois’s works across media exploring the politics of American identity, and a robust series of public programming, including a keynote lecture by the artist and talks exploring new media.
The Bowdoin College Museum Art (BCMA) will present a solo exhibition by New York-based “new media” artist R. Luke DuBois, featuring a new portrait commissioned by BCMA of Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero activist DeRay Mckesson, who is also a current mayoral candidate in Baltimore as well as a Bowdoin College alumnus (class of 2007). DuBois’s simultaneous work as a composer, computer programmer, filmmaker, and installation artist challenges traditional categorization, and his multifaceted approach will be reflected in the forthcoming video-based work that will debut at the BCMA on March 31.
The new commission will be presented as part of the exhibition R. Luke DuBois – Now, alongside dozens of DuBois’s works created over the last 15 years. Films, works on paper, installations, video, and sound works will all be included, testifying to DuBois’s prodigious work since the 1990s, which ranges from musical composition and collaborative performance, to large-scale public installations, film, and generative computer works. In coordination with R. Luke DuBois – Now, on view at BCMA from March 31 until September 4, the Museum has also organized a robust series of public programs. These include a keynote lecture by the artist; a presentation by Matthew McClendon, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ringling, and the organizer of R. Luke Dubois – Now; gallery conversations led by visiting artist Erin Johnson and Crystal Hall, a member of the College’s digital humanities faculty; and a panel discussion of DuBois’s role in the broad context of new media art featuring Jon Ippolito and Richard Rinehart, co-authors of Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory.
“We are proud to bring R. Luke DuBois – Now to Bowdoin College, which is made all the more meaningful by DuBois’s groundbreaking portrait of DeRay Mckesson,” remarked Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Anne Collins Goodyear. “As a Bowdoin alumnus making an international impact on contemporary society through his political activism, the commission is doubly important as both a witness to our present moment as a nation and as a part of Bowdoin’s legacy, and we’re honored that it will remain here at the BCMA as part of our permanent collection.”
“As an institution dedicated to exploring new forms of knowledge and modes of communication, we look forward to presenting DuBois’s distinct artistic perspective, which challenges us all to consider complex issues of politics and personal identity,” added Frank Goodyear, Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director.
Building on the artist’s interest in how information reflects and shapes our world, the newly commissioned work will draw from online networks and social media to create a reflection of both Mckesson himself and the activist’s most influential modes of communication. Footage of Mckesson addressing topics crowd-sourced from the Bowdoin student body will be interspersed with data and language drawn from Mckesson’s own online presence through Twitter and other social media channels. This time-based portrait will be generative, evolving over time, continually incorporating new material generated by Mckesson’s communication about the issues that motivate his own activism.
Originally organized in 2014 by the Ringling Museum of Art, R. Luke DuBois – Now will have a special resonance in the BCMA presentation during the 2016 presidential election season, drawing on DuBois’s inventive use of political and demographic data in his diverse works.
“I’m continuously fascinated by the political underpinnings of American portraiture, which makes DeRay Mckesson an especially rich subject,” said R. Luke DuBois. “As an activist who regularly leverages data and the interconnectivity of online networks to raise awareness about political and social issues, our interests are aligned in a variety of ways which will inform the forthcoming work.”
Three dominant themes permeate DuBois’s work, including the mining and metamorphosing of data into art, the investigation of temporality, and the construction of contemporary portraiture, or how we represent and conceptualize ourselves and others. These themes will be explored through the presentation of notable works such as Hindsight is Always 20/20 (2008, commissioned by the Democratic National Convention), A More Perfect Union (2010-2011), and (Pop) Icon: Britney (2010), among others. Drawing from the annual State of the Union addresses given by presidents to Congress, Hindsight is Always 20/20 consists of a single Snellen-style eye chart for each president to have given a State of the Union address. Instead of the typical characters present in an eye chart, the piece employs words drawn from their speeches, presented in order of most frequent (top line) to least frequent (bottom line). The result is a startlingly clear snapshot of the lexicon of each presidency, containing a mix of historically topical keywords and rhetoric unique to each president and the time period during which they served in office.
In his work A More Perfect Union, DuBois looks at American self-identity through the medium of online dating services. Culling data from over 20 online dating sites, the work is organized according to the same heuristics as the U.S. Census, sorting dating profiles by Congressional District and subjecting the imagery and text to statistical analysis, revealing a “dating lexicon” of each state. DuBois constructed maps using the words provided by 16.7 million people describing themselves and those they desire—resulting in a romantic atlas of the nation, with keywords from dating profiles in lieu of the city and town names. In the same series, DuBois also designed maps of the entire U.S. that are colored in a “red-state/blue-state” pattern, showing how different adjectives, such as “funny” and “lonely,” are distributed across the country. By presenting a range of works from DuBois’s multifaceted career in context with one another, R. Luke DuBois – Now will demonstrate how DuBois operates at the intersections of the visual, performative, and the time-based arts in a manner that mirrors his audiences’ collective 21st-century experience in a world of globalized information.