Painted, pigmented and stained constructions reflect a search for a form-language to interpret and critique the complex frameworks societies construct based on race and elaborate calculations of "color".
Comprising only wood and oil pastel, Leslie Berns’ wall-mounted sculpture evokes a rich range of associations, including books, barcodes, charts, and the color value scales taught in art school. Leslie Berns applies oil pastel to wood shims: made of cast-off wood, these thin, rectangular planes are shoved underneath doors, windows, or furniture to stabilize and level surfaces. The auxiliary role of the shim makes it an apt material for an artwork that conjures ghosts of forgotten, maligned histories. Books, Marks, Sticks to Bricks (Mixed-Remixed 1932-2022) is part of a larger body of work and research on the history of anti-miscegenation laws, or legislation that criminalized interracial unions. These were substantiated by complex legal taxonomies that categorized individuals according to racialized scales in order to determine who legally counted as white. Berns describes the black oil pastel as being “applied to wood sticks in fractions--whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc.,” a language that evokes the mathematical parsing of ancestry that was key to the rhetoric of miscegenation. The high contrast, racially inflected colors (black pigment on brown wood), loosely refer to the visual language of scales and graphs, inviting the viewer to ask what sort of data is being quantified, analyzed, or interpreted among these measuring sticks?
- Paula Burleigh
Assistant professor of art history, director of galleries at Allegheny College, with publications in The Brooklyn Rail, Artforum, et. Al.
Related works on paper:
Bookmarks for a Mixed Race Narrative