Phat Free (1995/1999)
Video, 5’ 5’’, color, sound
Loaned by Collection S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium.
Exhibition coordination: Yazın Öztürk
“I walked and walked till I wore out my shoes
I can’t walk no further, yonder come the blues”
— Ma Rainey
Ariel is delighted to present the only video work by Afro-American artist, David Hammons, titled Phat Free. Based on his performance in the streets of New York in 1995, the footage was later edited to be exhibited at the 1997 Whitney Biennial.
Since the mid 1960’s, the artist has been producing his works through his experiences in the streets while mainly addressing racial issues, poverty and cultural stereotypes. Phat Free starts off with a series of discontinuous loud metallic sound on a black screen. Hammons, later on reveals himself wearing a long coat and a hat, kicking a metal bucket late at night, in a blur of low-light with a grainy texture. While Hammons’ kicks take on a pattern, the discontinuous sound evolves into an almost musical soundscape. Conjuring the improvisational nature of jazz, the dialect of the 80’s Afro-American community with the word ‘phat’, and the streetwise lyricism of rap, Phat Free works as a symphonic metaphor for the contemporary black urban experience.
Phat Free is the first exhibited work of David Hammons in Turkey.
DAVID HAMMONS: I like doing stuff better on the street, because the art becomes just one of the objects that’s in the path of your everyday existence. It’s what you move through, and it doesn’t have any seniority over anything else. Doing things in the street is more powerful than art I think. Because art has gotten so....I don’t know what the fuck art is about now. It doesn’t do anything. Like Malcolm X said, it’s like novocaine. It used to wake you up but now it puts you to sleep. I think that art now is putting people to sleep. There’s so much of it around in this town that it doesn’t mean anything. That’s why the artist has to be very careful what he shows and when he shows now. Because the people aren’t really looking at art, they’re looking at each other and each other’s clothes and each other’s haircuts. The art audience is the worst audience in the world. It’s overly educated, it’s conservative, it’s out to criticize not to understand, and it never has any fun. Why should I spend my time; playing to that audience?
Kellie Jones, EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art (2011), Interview with David Hammons, London: Duke University Press, p. 251.
Why do a performance that has no audience and is not seen?
DH: Those who know don’t tell.
Unpublished artist statement, 1983.
Exit Art Archives, Series III, Box 153, Folder 15.
Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.
DH: I like being from nowhere; it’s a beautiful place. That means I can look at anyone who’s from somewhere and see how really caught they are.
Glenn Ligon, ‘Black Light: David Hammons and the Poetics of Emptiness’, Artforum, vol. 43, no 1, September 2004, p. 249.
DH: I’m trying to make abstract art out of my experience, just like Thelonious Monk.