“Some people feel like art is more real than life…and that really gives you something to think about…especially at a funeral.”
On September 21st, 2011 at 11:08 PM Troy Anthony Davis was executed after a series of failed appeals. The last occurring four hours before the Supreme Court gave the final verdict to inject $86.08 worth of pancuronium bromide (a muscle relaxant collapsing the diaphragm and lungs) and potassium chloride (stops the heartbeat) into his bloodstream. 42 years of life, twenty winters worth of legal limbo, four hours of spirited waiting fueled by 7 out of 9 recanted testimonies, all punctuated by a process which takes approximately seven minutes. And so ends the narrative of the late Troy Davis, a footnote awash in the tidal ebb and flow of media martyrs.
But something else happened that night.
As the cocktail coursed his veins, a chasm carved open within me. And what filled it
…nothing. A hot vacuous emptiness. Internal entropy. A void. As an artist whose work often highlights themes of social injustice, I saw firsthand just how ineffectual our aesthetic (the making of posters, t shirts, organizing peaceful protests etc.) activism was. Despite support from Amnesty International, former president Jimmy Carter, thousands of onsite protesters, millions worldwide, (then) current Pope Benedict XVI and the most high Judge Mathis…
In that humbling hollow moment I watched the real time coverage of our collective despair as the reciting of Troy’s final words on earth was wedged between a commercial for “new” cold water activated laundry detergent and a CNN Sanjay Gupta special. Our suffering had become a commodity, a spectacle to provide catharsis and be forgotten. And with that realization, that night I entered a void from which I’m still trying to find my way out. Nearly two years later, long after the hash tags have stopped trending on Twitter, I still wonder, in that moment if anyone else too felt that swallowing ocean of hopelessness.
And if they did, does it still haunt them as it does me? There’s a crippling existential loneliness that accompanies this void. Mostly stemming from the thought that: 1. None of the shit I create will ever really matter, and 2. I see no point in carrying on if this is the case.
Many of us have forgotten or become numb to this experience as it’s recycled at least once a year (see. Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant, the Jena Six, Central Park Five, Chavis Carter, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, etc ).
But to forget or ignore this experience…or worse even to blunt or mellow that unmitigated, unmediated, inarticulate rage, essentially erases the prematurely punctuated life & death of a man already relegated to the footnotes of history. And it’s precisely because of those who don’t know, don’t care, or have simply moved on, I cannot. To do so would mean my own personal aesthetic euthanasia. But even now as I try to communicate the depths of this experience to you, words fail me. As such, I’m making a film as a direct response to this void. An orchestra of light and sound recreating my inability to articulate and make sense of this suffering.
My film, Savage vs. The Void, explores the night of Troy Davis’ death through the microcosm of a theater company as it rehearses a play about Troy’s real execution. We follow “Savage”, a young actor cast to play Troy, as he grapples the void and “Reuben”, a maniacally sincere director hoping his play will make Troy into more than a man…an idea…a martyr. This film is a phantasmagoric fever dream highlighting the absurdity yet grave intentions behind artists and their work with aims of social justice.
This film is not a sermon nor do I wish to exploit the emotions generated by a person’s death to create hagiography. I do not claim to speak for the people…or Troy for that matter. I’m only mining the filigree of a feeling. A feeling that I hope to share with you…and hopefully, one you can make it back from… = )
Savage vs. The Void screens April 25th, 2014 -1104 S. Wabash, Chicago – 5:30pm. Admission is free.
“…cause when the void grins at you…all you can do is grin back”