Glenn Ligon: The Death of Tom

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Past

September 9 – 28, 2008

TIFF Future Projections 2008

In 1903 Edwin S. Porter directed a 14-minute silent film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for Thomas Edison’s film studio. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 500-page novel was one of the best selling books of the 19th century, selling more than 300,000 copies in its first year of publication alone and spawning dozens of “Tom Shows” – traveling stage adaptations and musicals with white actors in blackface – that were seen by millions. The popularity of the novel and the “Tom Shows” ensured that viewers of the period would have had a broad familiarity with the book and understood even the truncated film version of text produced by Edison’s studio. Scholars such as Henry Louis Gates Jr. have begun to re-examine Uncle Tom’s Cabin, claiming the book is a “central document in American race relations and a significant moral and political exploration of the character of those relations.”

In his video installation The Death of Tom, New York based artist Glenn Ligon has focused on the last scene of the Porter-Edison film, which depicts the death of Tom, the slave whose tragic story drives the narrative. Shooting in black and white 16 mm film, Ligon sought to recreate the look of the Porter-Edison film but after the film was developed he discovered it was a gray blur. Intrigued by this disappearance of the image – the subject of Ligon’s artistic production in other media over the last decade and a half – he decided to use the “ruined” film. The resulting video focuses on the mechanics of the (re)making of the original production and the failure of representation. One sees actors rehearsing in and out of costume and shots of the set and crew within the blurred black and white film.  Tom rehearses his death over and over again, becoming a figure poised between the past and the present, between the representation of fiction and the fiction of representation. In its repetition and moments of disjunction, Ligon’s The Death of Tom suggests a narrative that – like the larger historical narratives it refers to – remains unfinished business.

– Wayne Baerwaldt

The Death of Tom, Glenn Ligon
Cinematographer: Deco Dawson
Music: Jason Moran
Principal Cast: Glenn Ligon, Ian Ward, Sarah Malik, Mikhel Proulx

Black and white video installation
16 mm b&w film, video transfer, video, sound
23:03

Curated by Wayne Baerwaldt, Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD), Calgary

Produced with the assistance of the President’s Scholar-in-Residence Program, Alberta College of Art + Design

Opening Reception

Thursday September 11, 8 – 10 pm

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