The evolution of Pinocchio Is On Fire

Thu, Aug 19, 2010

How did Pinocchio Is On Fire evolve to encompass so many elements? Thoughts from Mark Bradford on the project in an interview with curator Christopher Bedford:

MB: The beginning really comes from living for the last 20 years or so and having my business in South Central and just always watching and seeing how aesthetics will mirror what is going on politically, socially, culturally. And how the formal markers change, or the codes get reset. Over the last couple of years, the physical structure of the black male body has been changing, like going from baggie pants to skinny jeans. (“Skinny Jeans” is the title of one of the Pinocchio Is On Fire audio tracks.) People are so funny, they say “oh that's just popular culture,” as if popular culture doesn't inform a larger breadth of culture. In black culture, popular culture is full of social and political references. Think of Superfly. Think of sex. Think of hair.

And so, I thought “oh that's interesting.” The black male body is beginning to shift. So, I got interested in that, just as a sort of a detail. Then I started to think about the last time I could remember the black male body shifting. And that went back to the transition from soul and R&B to hip-hop. I think that transition moment and this transition moment have a lot in common.

CB: And you have an interest in Teddy Pendergrass, and he informs the character that is Pinocchio. Can you talk a little about that?

MB: Teddy Pendergrass was one of the first black male sex symbols. The women loved him, and he was THE sex symbol of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then, in 1982, he has that accident and wraps his Rolls-Royce around a tree and is paralyzed, and there was a drag queen in the car with him. It was one of the early black sexual scandals—an early transgression. I wasn't fascinated by the fact that there was a drag queen in the car with Teddy Pendergrass. I was fascinated with how he was just erased, sort of. You can fast forward to, say, Tiger Woods and wonder if he had been with drag queens or trannies instead of Hooters waitresses, would he have come back the way he has?

CB: How does the idea of Pinocchio fit in? Sometimes you've described this being another way that you've used found material.

MB: Yeah. Think about it maybe like this. When Teddy couldn't be that same type of sex symbol male body any longer, he was sort of ripped from space. And I thought since Teddy could no longer occupy that black male body, well maybe Pinocchio could. Pinocchio could snatch that body, take that body, and become this figure moving on in time. But as we moved into that transition moment from soul and R&B to hip-hop, it would be pretty bad timing to be an R&B singer. In a way, Pinocchio Is On Fire talks about a different male body moving through South Central at a time when that body that was not in fashion any more. When a different black male body was in fashion.

I look at this as a layered piece. There's a sort of formative layer to it (the performance/ photoshoot), a document kind of historicizing the performance (the album covers and audio tracks), and the environment. They all reference each other, but I guess in order to find Pinocchio in the piece, I would say he exists—maybe as more of an energy—in and on each of the layers. It is this slippery slope of a black male body.

CB: And then you are interested in moving away from the actual physical body into abstraction?

MB: Basically everything is creating a psychological abstraction, which puts parts together that don't sync up theoretically or actually. They push back and forth in time as well. You're not really sure if it is the 1980s or the 1990s or early 2000. And then “Tell the Truth,” the Nancy Wilson song that plays in the room environment, pushes back to an even earlier moment. (It's from 1963). So, the work as a whole presses time, abstracts time, and in some ways it abstracts and presses back and forth the body. I'm not after the fragmentation of the body but the abstracting of the idea of the body.

Keep watching the WexBlog for more on how this project ended up with the name Pinocchio Is On Fire.

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