Events in Ferguson Touch Pulitzer Arts Foundation Closing Night

Aug 21, 2014

Claudia Rankine and John Lucas' debuted two films at "Poetry of Its Own Making."
Claudia Rankine and John Lucas' debuted two films at "Poetry of Its Own Making."
Credit Carly Ann Hilo/Courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation

While lightning flashed and thunder rolled, more than 50 people sat in the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s Courtyard Wednesday night during the “Poetry of Its Own Making” event. Despite atmospheric pyrotechnics, viewers sat mesmerized by the projection of poet Claudia Rankine’s movie. It was the last performance held by the Pulitzer before closing its doors for seven months. Current events permeated the night even though this event was scheduled months in advance.

“To come here when Michael Brown has been executed, so it seems with two bullets to the head, it’s devastating, and yet familiar,” said poet and Pomona College Professor Claudia Rankine.

The event was not originally scheduled to reflect events in Ferguson. “Poetry of Its Own Making,” closed the Pulitzer’s show "Art of Its own Making," featuring works by Tony Conrad, Agnes Denes, Robert Morris, Nam June Paik and more. The reading featured performances by Rankine and Christian Bok, work by CA Conrad, and a Pulitzer twitter take over by poet Kate Durbin and local poet Paul Legault. The event was organized by Programs Coordinator Philip Matthews and Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts Director Jessica Baran. Both performances touched on recent events in Ferguson.

Rankine debuted two short films made with her husband John Lucas. One film featuring images of young African-American men trying on clothes while looking in the mirror, the sound of police sirens, and Rankine’s voice was displayed because of recent events.

“Each time it begins in the same way, it doesn’t begin the same way, each time it begins it’s the same,” Rankine read in the video, referencing interactions between police and black men that appear racially charged.

Rankin signs advance copies of her new book "Citizen: An American Lyric" which will be released October, 2014
Rankine signs advance copies of her new book, which will be released to stores October 2014.
Credit Carly Ann Hilo | Pulitzer Arts Foundation

“It’s very uncanny that I’m here. For years and years I’ve been writing about police brutality against black men in this country,” said Rankine before continuing. “Someone said jokingly, the only time a black woman is on the news is when she’s saying my son has been shot, my husband has been shot.”

Earlier in the evening Christian Bok performed some of his poems filled with fire, brimstone, and falling comets.

After a poem that included the line “when millions of Molotov Cocktails shattered all at once.” Bok commented, “That sounds like a poem about Ferguson, even though it isn’t.”

Wednesday night was the most peaceful evening of demonstrations since the protest began.

Even Paul Legault and Kate Durbin’s use of Pulitzer’s Twitter account seemed influenced by events in the previous week, although this was never stated outright and some tweets included references to Shakespeare and dog photos. One tweet during their use read “Conflict i$ an opportunity for $ocial change.”

Rankine was the only participant who intended to visit the grieving community the following day. She’s unsure how her visit to St. Louis will impact her work.

Attendees at "Poetry of Its Own Making"
Attendees at "Poetry of Its Own Making"
Credit Carly Ann Hilo/Courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation

“Hopefully, the way in which our culture addresses this tragedy will affect the way in which I am able to talk about it,” she said. Rankine’s next book, “Citizen,” will be released in October.

The Pulitzer is now closed to deinstall the show “Art of Its Own Making” and begin renovations to construct two new galleries, according to Katie Hasler Peissig, manager of communications for Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Doors will open again in May 2015 with new exhibits of the artists Alexander Calder, Fred Sandback and Richard Tuttle.