Tonight, in the middle of a public conversation between the artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith and the scholar Christina Sharpe, the college-aged kid who was doing sound for the event was needed to help produce sound for a video. He gently approached the table where the conversation was taking place before us, hunched over as if to not appear, to not be in the way. As he handed Smith a cord to use with her laptop, I could hear him say, “Does it reach?” There was a softness and care in his voice that sounded like the anxious anticipation of needing something to be enough. I pictured someone needing to be held and the person doing the holding putting so much love into the embrace, and whether or not that person’s hands can find each other on the other side of the other’s body, there still being that slight space in which we can’t quite comfort enough, and so words: “Does it reach?”
In front of us and with us, and in dialogue with the work of Jennifer Packer, Smith and Sharpe shared words and found phrases together. What developed was a kind of lexicon, an etymology of care. From Tenderheaded, we thought through and down to tenderness, tending, tender, tend. Sharpe, whose care for and with the word wake evolved into an astonishing and important work on blackness and being, came back to the word tender, reminding us of another meaning: as in the aftermath of a bruise. Later, as the car was warming up on a cold Fall night in Hyde Park, M would remind me that there is no tenderness without some kind of pain. Like being reached, we need such reminding sometimes—how grateful I am to the people in my life who can do so with care.
Other words: slow, survivance, still, because at least laughter would be sound. Other things: crows, ships, parakeets, soil, hire an ice cream truck and follow it and go slow. Other forms: portraiture, still life, performance, undermine the codes of recognizability. What makes one wish to be someplace other than here: disregard packaged as care.
The first time I saw her speak on her own, I was struck by how Sharpe’s presentation enacted tenderness and modeled care. As she described for those assembled tonight, she may put up a photograph though it only remains visible as long as she’s reading it. Before and after the images: a blank gray canvas. Despite the fodder-friendliness of the digital, bodies captured on film or in pixels are not necessarily ours to share. We must take care, and care means, as Tina Campt also notes, listening to images. Sharpe listens. Smith listens. Tonight we listened, too. Does it reach? Yes, sometimes it does.
Note: All italics were spoken by Cauleen Smith and Christina Sharpe from their conversation at the University of Chicago, October 25, 2017. Any errors are the fault of the notetaker (me).