Mercy Street Catalogue, Tara June Winch
Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces
Next Wave Festival
The young philosopher Simone Weil once wrote that It is necessary to uproot oneself, to cut down the tree and make of it a cross, and then to carry it everyday’.
I wonder if she had found in her short life that to carry the burden of the humanitarian cross, rather than the virtuous theological one: that she had found a sort of restless peace, like the feeling of being romantically alone, that she had found the true meaning of mercy, or debunked its meaning altogether.
Shifting from asking for mercy, to being merciful is the shift of true compassion, and only in compassion, can we be free to act, for compassion comes at the presence of truth. Though when we are shelled by the nations/worlds obsession with justice and retribution, we lose sight of the human, and grapple with our own power to banish the other. What it feels like to be subjugated, imprisoned, isolated and denied liberty, become paper ideas, and we hold tight to what ‘they deserve’.
Mercy is delivered from the power holder to hurt. Forgiveness is different; it is the faculty for action on equal terms. I fear the word Mercy. I look into the black canvas, the boarding, the red paper, the topographical maps and see the furore, the self-keeper, the fearing God, the retched axe falling, the pride, the glaring powerful who administer and dismiss those from the paths of living together and of mutual recognition. Of forgiving.
Mercy is dark, the lights are out, and palms are open at feet. Mercy holds the same tone as public apologies on political grievances, it reinforces order of rank, the masters and slaves, the honourable and the despised, the winner and the loser. It highlights what has previously been formally denied, through a device to protect self-interest, all noise, mercy is loud, it is ambiguous, and both hateful and loving in the same delivery.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ Mathew 5:7
Who then and by whose approval are we to be merciful? Who judges a person of higher worth, a person to be a person above judgement?
The artists in Mercy Street address the ethical issues of justice and mercy and reconciliation and forgiveness, and what contradictions pervade. What it is to exist, with the grace of innocence and the gravity of guilt, what it means to be uprooted, to see what it is, as Weil also later wrote, to experience a landscape when I am not there.
If we are to find the cross, and carry it, if we are to fly overhead, and be on this same ground, to find where truth lives, then can we be free – to forgive and be forgiven, to love and be loved, to be equals, to speak the words, and hear them spoken, to see us lift the cross, and foot, and take the hand, and hold it, to find we were free, to never deny freedom?
I ask it of these artists and their works, and we are drawn too, to ask it of ourselves, what are we measuring?
Tara June Winch
New York, June 2010