Presented in conjunction with the Hammer Museum’s exhibition, Adrian Piper: Concepts and Intuitions, 1965-2016, Adrian Piper’s immersive installation, What It’s Like, What It Is #3 (1991), also makes significant reference to the troupes of art history for the purpose of generating commentary that is both pertinent and meaningful within the scope of our lives as contemporary beings. Aligning with Abney’s address of social inequity, Piper’s conceptually-based work addresses issues of racial stereotyping and delves into psychological explorations of interracial relations, illuminating how we individually and collectively perceive others and how these perceptions are often rooted in particular biases. Using the visual austerity of Minimalism- an artistic period defined by its use of large and industrialized, yet visually simple, forms, Piper’s austere, constructed space becomes an arena in which visitors may sit and contemplate their surroundings. Constituted by rows of stark white bleachers, harsh overhead lighting, and a large constructed tower sitting at the center, viewers are confronted with a repetitive image of an African American male, continuously reiterating various stereotypes about black people.
Playing off of on Minimalism’s characteristic of establishing a physical relationship to the presence of viewers in a gallery space, Piper alternatively offers an isolated arena where visitors are able to reflect on their own perceptions and biases, with the aim of acting as a kind of liaison through which people may discover their own truth. As Piper states in her 1991 writing on behalf of the exhibition, Dislocations, at the Museum of Modern Art, “I find it discouraging when someone says of my work, ‘The message is obvious, she’s against racism.’ I think that expresses an unwillingness to pursue the implications of the issues and strategies I explore in the work—it’s like shutting down at square one. I try for ultimate clarity, with multiple reverberations and multiple implications at the same time. I try for simplicity, not oversimplification. I don’t want to make any prescriptions about what people should do. I just want to penetrate the layers of illusion and self-deception as far as possible and do it cleanly without losing any of the mind-bending complexity of the issues.” This sentiment outlines perfectly what Piper’s installation is set up to do: not to merely dictate what people should think, or how their perspectives should be shaped, but to offer both a physical space and corresponding theoretical dialogue that may allow for individuals to become aware of their own tendencies, with the hope of leading to some kind of clarity within this context.