“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” — Albert Einstein
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
“A political society does not live to conduct foreign policy; it would be more correct to say that it conducts foreign policy in order to live.” — George F. Kennan
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), there are a total of 3,838 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of May 19, 2020. Among them are 256 children, along with 4,351 who were reported to have been injured. We’re reminded again and again that, in our past, it has too often been the foreign power of bigger nations who would either aggressively inflict war against small nations, or at times when they don’t succeed, would invent treaties to divide them in half, be it, for example, North Korea vs South Korea, or North Vietnam vs South Vietnam, which were the mere creations of the US and former USSR. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of 2020 there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people seeking peace from their war-torn countries. Among them now are over 6.5 million Ukrainians.
As many advanced economies, such as the US, have been mistakenly frightened by our displaced fellow human beings, out of a misguided belief they will bring their troubles into our borders, what are we, as artists and creative individuals, to do at this moment of imminent crisis? Are we not the great grandchildren, grandchildren, and children of these former refugees, former immigrants who had left their beloved fatherland or motherland for our safety and our future? It’s precisely because of their sacrifices that we were provided peace and time to contemplate endless works of art in museums, in galleries, and were inspired to make our own, or to read multitudes of books, be taken into the universality of characters, narratives which may lead to our own in the form of novels, poems. The same applies to the field of architecture, dance, music, theater, and so on. This ample time to absorb previous culture in order to create our own culture is not to be taken for granted.
Having witnessed two ruptures—the pandemic and the ongoing crisis of our social and political condition, implemented in part by those who deploy technology and social media to create chaos and anxiety for self-serving purposes—we at the Rail responded by swiftly launching our New Social Environment (NSE) daily Zoom platform lunchtime conversation series. The NSE has now completed over 570 episodes and has reached a viewership of more than two million since the first program on March 17, 2020. It cultivates thoughtful discussions of pertinent topics in the arts, humanities, and sciences and values the amplification of “social intimacy”—in contrast to “social distancing”—through culture. The NSE, like the Rail itself, is freely available to all and aspires to help heal our social and political ills through the arts and the humanities.
As an extension of this important communal action, we now feel a great sense of urgency to create a large exhibition that will unfold over a period of several months and will bring together many different kinds of practices, styles, and voices. As we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, this timely exhibition is a celebration of hope for the future, in a similar spirit to our critically praised monumental exhibition Come Together: Surviving Sandy in 2013. The unifying idea behind this wide-ranging and broadly inclusive exhibition is suggested by its title: Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy.
This exhibition is inspired by an underlying philosophy that runs through American history and advocates for “the art of joining” as a social and cultural process that can mediate the disequilibrium within American political culture. Spread across more than eleven venues, the exhibition will combine works of art made by artists who were formally trained alongside works by artists who were self-taught, including works by incarcerated artists and artists who struggle with mental illness. Among the participating artists, many urgent themes and topics, such as gender, ethnicity, and the limits of knowledge, will be prominently featured.
As an integral part of the Rail’s curatorial vision, which emphasizes cross-pollination of the arts and humanities, there will also be a good deal of public programing, including panel discussions with artists, historians, and curators, readings of poetry and fiction, film screenings, music and dance performances, along with cooking performances led by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu, which will be organized in each location throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Each venue of the exhibition will be dedicated to one of our recently deceased friends, as a tribute and form of living memory to that friend’s lasting contributions. Please stay tuned for more information about several forthcoming locations.
In solidarity, with love and courage, as ever,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the extraordinary life and work of our friend Peter Lamborn Wilson (1945–2022), whose aspiration of a temporary autonomous zone (T.A.Z) had a significant impact on how the Rail Curatorial Projects were shaped. We send our deep condolences to the members of Peter’s immediate family along with his endless friends and admirers. We’d like also to extend our huge congratulations to Sarah Sze, David Henry Hwang, Y.Z. Kami, and Min Jin Lee at their ever-timely 2022 Asia Arts Game Changer Awards. Lastly, below are the first three parts of our expansive curatorial project. Please come and visit during each of the exhibitions’ duration.
Part 1: Art Cake
214 40th St, Brooklyn, NY
May 26–June 25
Part 2: The Scully Tomasko Foundation
447 West 17th St, New York, NY
May 28–September 1
Part 3: Below Grand
53 Orchard St, New York, NY
May 29–July 2
Featured artists: Peter Acheson, Yasi Alipour, Jean-Philippe Antoine, Gil Batle, Tony Bechara, Brian Belott, Robert Bergman, Vivien Bittencourt, Louis Block, Andrew Blythe, Regina Bogart, Hawkins Bolden, Lauren Bon, Katherine Bradford, Jared Buckhiester, Phong H. Bui, Pam Cardwell, James Castle, Dawn Cerny, Lili Chin, Courttney Cooper, William Corwin, Pradeep Dalal, Thornton Dial, Sam Doyle, Aleksandar Duravcevic, Edward Durnford, William Edmonson, Adriana Farmiga, Marc Fischer, Lucy Fradkin, Louis Fratino, Kenji Fujita, Joe Fyfe, Rico Gatson, Allen Glatter, Glenn Goldberg, Max Goldfarb, Charles Goldman, William Hawkins, Mara Held, Carla Herrera-Prats, Helmut Hladisch, David Humphrey, Incident Report, John Jackson, Merlin James, Bill Jensen, Y.Z. Kami, Ben Keating, Alain Kirili, Julia Klein, Gustave Klumpp, Ken Landauer, Matvey Levenstein, Margrit Lewczuk, Erik Lindman, Vera Lutter, Chris Martin, CT McClusky, Tom McGlynn, Sam Messer, Tracy Miller, Amanda Millet-Sorsa, Joe Minter, Andrew Moeller, Cy Morgan, Loren Munk, John Newman, Jo Nigoghossian, Louis Osmosis, Jacob Ouilette, Martin Ramirez, Joseph Rappal, David Reed, David Rhodes, Daniel Roberts, Tyler Rowland, Cordy Ryman, Ethan Ryman, Peter Saul, Julian Schnabel, Sean Scully, Jon Serl, Nancy Shaver, Zorawar Sidhu & Rob Swainston, Arthur Simms, Allison Smith, Sterrett Smith, Soberscove Press, Federico Solmi, Steel Stillman, David Levi Strauss, Maya Strauss, Leopold Strobl, Earl Swanigan, Mary Tillman Smith, Mose Tolliver, Fred Tomaselli, Lilliane Tomasko, and Peter Lamborn Wilson.