Margaret SchedlerSaturday, December 11, 2021
The Birmingham gallery VINEGAR hosted artist Orlando Thompson on Friday night. "Orlando’s" show exhibited a piece called “Memorial for Souls Can’t Go Home.” According to allevents.in, the piece was intended to explore themes of “grief, systematic racism, and the density of the human soul.” During an earlier presentation for students at The Altamont School, Orlando stated simply, after taking a deep breath, “it’s about trauma.”
Orlando's exhibit was so sensory-immersive, I walked in with my own trauma, and I left with his.
Once inside the installation, I felt like I was in a stomach, an organ. Water sounds surrounded me, and the floor was completely dark, so I felt as if I were wading through water. There was tape recorder with distant and disjointed voices, so real I would turn to every voice as if they were behind me. The walls were strung with stuffed animals painted black, black balloons, and small candles strewn between the little bodies. The forms resembled mold. Black mold. In my mind, I was in a rotting stomach. Something that had been forced to be forgotten but never completely forgotten. As someone who used stuffed animals as a coping device as a child, seeing their blackened bodies strung from the walls like corpses brought something back. It brought me back to my own stomach. To my own black mold that lingers.
The disjointed voices represented memories, whether good or bad. A crude wooden cross rested on one of the side walls, titled to the side. Out of sight. I walked to the last alter of black animals and looked down to a hidden mirror. It reflected my face in the abyss of darkness behind me. Am I the trauma? Are WE the trauma? I stood there, alone, in this stomach. The experience was emotionally overwhelming. There was one photo in the exhibit. It was hidden behind a mess of stuffed animals. It was two pictures of a hand holding pebbles and rocks.
What Orlando Thompson created in that room was not what I expected. I expected a room full
of photos and light, like I had seen on his PowerPoint. I was expecting a sense of humor and familiarity because that’s how he presented himself in person. And maybe that’s what it was. Snapshots of shared trauma, displayed in a realistic manner. He reminded me that artists can be all things. They can produce beautiful snapshots of life and beauty, and they can also capture something just as important, grief and remembrance. I can safely say that Orlando changed my opinion on contemporary art. What he created in that small four-walled room, was real, horrible, and beautiful.