a solo-exhibition by David Dixon
July 16 - September 6, 2015
with installation annex and screening of
D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation", Sept 2.
From left: 'Dixie (Church)', (2015) oil, canvas, blood, wax, metal
'Reparations!', (2010) inkjet on canvas, paint, thread, charcoal
'Dixie (Bierstadt)', (2015) oil, canvas, blood, wax, thread, metal
'The Clansman', (2015) plaster, blood, metal, wood
'The Dao de Dixie', (2013) canvas, blood, wax, thread, tin foil
'Passover III', (2013) canvas, thread, blood, wood
'Batiked with Blood', (2013) canvas, thread, blood, wood
'Dixie', (2012) canvas, blood, wax, thread, tin foil
'Dixie (Richards)' (2015) oil, canvas, blood, wax, thread, metal
'Sensus Communis' (2010) ink on paper
'Passover III', (2013) canvas, blood, thread, wood
'Batiked with Blood' (2013) canvas, blood, thread, wood
'Batiked with Blood' (2012) canvas, blood, thread, wax
'Master/Slave' (2013) canvas, blood, wax, thread, graphite, wood
'Dixie (Church)' (2015) oil, canvas, blood, wax, thread, metal
Original press release:
“Dixie” is artist David Dixon’s sometimes nickname. He was raised in North Carolina and is now founding director of Cathouse FUNeral, wherein each summer he mounts a solo-exhibition of his recent work. Last year’s was titled Heroic Social Worker, which, like DIXIE, was self-reflexive. Cathouse FUNeral’s current gallery walls, which were built to cover and preserve last year’s aesthetic efforts, will be cut through, allowing for aspects of Heroic Social Worker to be present in DIXIE.
DIXIE confronts the South’s history of slavery, exploited labor and fraught racial relations, specifically the struggle for emancipation in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Drawing from both African Kongo and European Enlightenment systems of thought, the show’s centerpiece, Master/Slave, is a tight grid of twelve stretched canvases representing Confederate flags that are “batiked with blood” and have been roughly sawed in half, the “X” of the “Southern Cross” (a negation) flipped around and reformed into an open lozenge shape. Installed adjacent to Master/Slave is The Clansman, a large free-standing fresco that is awash with swirling stains of blood and affixed with a rusted metal halo.
Acknowledging multi-authorship as a fact of artistic production, Dixon in DIXIE expands notions of identity to include others, both fictional and real. The large triptych, The Dao de Dixie, is signed by a character, “George”, from an upcoming film by Dixon, and is dated “1986”; several pieces in DIXIE were conceived from George’s point of view. Other works have Dixon commissioning 19th century American Romantic landscape paintings from an on-line Fine Art distributor that uses cheap Chinese labor to execute skilled, kitsch copies of, for this exhibition, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church and William Trost Richards. One of these canvases is signed with the number: LA2988RCH-40.
In light of multiple national news stories that demonstrate America’s racist past is not past, we do not presume that Cathouse FUNeral or Dixon’s work in particular is the place to resolve these issues, but we are doing what we can. On September 2nd, we will screen and thoroughly discuss D.W. Griffith’s infamous film about the Reconstruction era, Birth of a Nation, which is 100 years old this year. More information to follow.
DIXIE is Cathouse FUNeral’s thirteenth show.
David Dixon's work was most recently featured in 'Self: Portraits of Artists in Their Absence' at the National Academy Museum (NYC, 2015) and 'Harvestings from Cathouse FUNeral' at Ryan Lee Gallery (NYC, 2014). Dixon has worked primarily as an artist, filmmaker and curator, his visual work having been shown at Show Room (NYC, 2013), Biennale de Belleville (Paris, 2012), Sculpture Center (NYC, 2009), Antenna (New Orleans, 2009), film screenings have been at Anthology Film Archive (NYC, 2011), MoMA (NYC, 2005), The Kitchen (NYC, 1998) and curatorial projects with Nuyorican Poets Cafe (NYC, 2012), Winkleman Gallery (NYC, 2011), and now at Cathouse FUNeral. He holds a BFA from Parsons School of Design (1992) and an MFA from Cornell University (2010).
Re-opening August 29 with altered space and annex
'Reparations' (2010) moved to the right
'Batiked with Blood' (2012) canvas, blood, wax, thread, graphite
Re-opening August 29 with annex space:
'Prayer Meeting' (2015) blood and bleach on canvas
series of nine paintings
two of nine paintings
three of nine paintings
On September 2, 2015 a screening of D.W. Griffith's 'The Birth of a Nation'
original press release below with images of
'Prayer Meeting, After-Birth of a Nation'
Installation, September 5-6
D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
Wednesday, September 2, 7:30pm, free admission
260 Richardson St. Brooklyn 11222
Shown in conjunction with David Dixon’s solo-exhibition, DIXIE
Open through September 6, 2015
As Americans, how responsible are we for our first feature film, our first masterpiece of the filmed arts? We didn’t collectively make it, of course, D.W. Griffith made it along with Thomas Dixon, Jr., who wrote the book The Clansman on which the film is based, but we loved it; we made it the highest grossing film of the early 20th century, millions upon millions of us in the North and South have thrilled to it and absorbed its view of America in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. That view was put forward as historical fact by Griffith and Dixon; they believed filmed history would soon replace the written word, and that by viewing films one could re-live history as it was. Publicity for the film in 1915, when it was released, stressed it was told from the Southern point of view as Southerners had lived it. Its goal, as stated by Dixon, “was to revolutionize Northern audiences that would transform every man into a Southern Partisan for life.” His book, the full title: The Clansman: an Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, begins by stating his intention to address “the Race Conflict” and tell of the political chaos in the South brought about by the assassination of Lincoln, whom Dixon calls “The Great Heart”. This “Reconstruction chaos” and its “Africanization of ten great states” is brought back into proper order by the birth of, and the terror executed by, the Ku Klux Klan, the heroes of the film, who re-disenfranchise blacks after “emancipation” to maintain white dominance across the South. In real life, President Grant recognized the Klan as the terrorist organization that it was and disbanded it in 1871, but thanks to the efforts of Dixon and Griffith, and the immense popular success of their work, the “Invisible Empire” became very visible again early in the 20th century, exponentially growing in numbers and virulence. Today, the film is still used for Klan recruitment purposes, America’s first film masterpiece, one hundred years old in 2015.
The Birth of a Nation was famously previewed by President Woodrow Wilson, a friend of Dixon’s, the first film ever to have been screened in the White House. “It’s like writing history with lightning,” Wilson critiqued, “And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Wilson was the first Southerner to have been elected President after the Civil War and is extensively quoted from his tome, A History of the American People, in this silent film’s inter-titles, lending official sanction and validity to the production. Anticipating legal issues, the film was also screened for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Edward White, whom Dixon reports in his memoirs as having privately confessed to him afterwards of being a former Klansman himself. The book had already been made into a live theatrical play, which was immensely divisive, controversial and popular, making Dixon rich as it toured the country leaving riots, demonstrations and violence in its wake. Getting the Supreme Court behind the film was a smart move as the nascent NAACP tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to censor it.
With all this in mind, can this really be our first filmed masterpiece, and why watch it now? In 1940 Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein said of The Birth, “The disgraceful propaganda of racial hatred toward the colored people which permeates this film cannot be redeemed by the purely cinematographic effects of its production.” Which is basically how it is discussed today, mostly in film schools. But one cannot so easily separate its form from its content. It is a masterpiece, no doubt, just not the positivist, “historical facsimile” (as the inter-titles repeatedly assert) that it believes itself to be. Rather, it is a finely wrought, darkly expressionistic nightmare as told from the morally compromised position of the demoralized South. Amazon tells me that “others who bought this item” also purchased Gone with the Wind, which implies that it is not being watched very critically. It should be viewed along with Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi Triumph of the Will or Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. Coincidentally, the Marxist Pontecorvo is quoted as having said, “the birth of a nation happens with pain on both sides, although one side has cause and the other not." The notion of “terrorism” can certainly be considered in this light, as both Algiers and The Birth show homegrown “resistance groups” from a privileged interior view.
If one looks deeply into the real, black faces in this film (the lead black roles are played, not surprisingly, considering this history, by whites in blackface, but there are many real “extras” awkwardly intermixed), one begins to see the film from behind. bell hooks advocates for a cultural “oppositional gaze” which can be applied here, and the editors of Cahiers du Cinéma wrote in 1969 that “even in films that seem to articulate the most hegemonic collection of myths and ideas at times contain contradictions that undermine the myths they ostensibly express.” In one glorious moment, Dr. Cameron, the film’s noble father and former slave owner, is captured in chains and aggressively spit upon by real, black female extras, openly contradicting the film’s pervasive “Lost Cause” gloss that all had been chummy down in Dixie; that slavery was a benign, happy institution; and that, in this scene in particular, it was the black men that were doing the raping. Moments like this undermine the pervasive sense of victimized whites as the story unfolds amidst unchecked bigotry and blind racism. Lessons can certainly be learned as this film twists and inverts all understanding; one begins to wonder who really won the Civil War? The North? The South? The U.S.? us? Who is “us”? We certainly learn who lost the war in the South: blacks, despite “emancipation”.
Indeed, the original tile of the film was meant to be The Clansman, like the book, but it is reported that Dixon, after watching a screened preview, was so thrilled by the grandeur and scope of its production, that he insisted it should be called “The Birth of a Nation”, which perfectly summed up his belief, and the point of his propaganda, that the U.S. was not fully unified until after the Civil War, and it was to be unified only as a great Aryan nation. An inter-title near the end of the film bluntly states, “The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defense of their Aryan birthright”. Again, this is our first film masterpiece, and in it there is no place for blacks as equals in America, in fact, there was no place for blacks at all: Dixon, in his historical romance novel, has Lincoln argue that implicit in the 13th Amendment was that freed slaves needed to be colonized someplace else; this is why President Lincoln is considered “The Great Heart” by Dixon and his Southern Rebels, despite the seeming contradictions. Lincoln was assassinated only five days after General Lee’s surrender, it is not known how he would have “reconstructed” the South, but forty years after, in 1905, when Dixon is writing his ideological-tract-disguised-as-a-novel (even Dixon describes his book as such), anyone could claim “America’s Greatest President” as his own. Something else to consider: the film is referred to as “masterpiece”, although the book never is.
By now you may have begun to wonder, “Is this David Dixon who is currently showing Dixie at Cathouse FUNeral related to this Thomas Dixon, Jr. fellow who wrote The Clansman?” The answer is “No”, not as far as I can tell, but to speak only of blood relations is to speak in Dixon’s clansman-like terms. He and I are certainly bound by ethnicity: white, Scotch-Irish, from North Carolina, Baptist; he went to the same university that I did, Wake Forest in Winston-Salem; his manuscripts are at Duke University where my father worked; he was a “Jr.”, so his father’s name was Thomas, but his grandfather was named David, who I read was a drinker; I hope because of internal moral conflict. But the real clincher is that my father’s name is Thomas, that’s what leveled me when I first found this book, that my loving father could somehow be associated with this travesty. But he can be, and so can I, and so can we all. This film is ours, come see.
September 2, 2015, 7:30pm
Watch "The Birth of a Nation" on YouTube here:
-David Dixon, 2015
D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation:
A History of “The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time”
Melvyn Stokes, Oxford University Press, 2007
Fire From the Flint: The Amazing Careers of Thomas Dixon
Raymond Allen Cook, John F. Blair Publishing, 1968
The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan
Thomas Dixon, Jr. A. Wessels Company, 1905
For more of David's work click here: daviddixon.net