Some of you may recall my friend from the antediluvian age, Dread Scott. He was in town briefly and while I wasn’t able to attend his talk, I got my own special artist’s talk over breakfast.
He had some great questions about what we do, and why we do it, especially around Princeton, and in talking about my end goal (getting the public to understand how the past informs the present), I said something about how in Newport in 2014, the cars disappeared and we forgot we were in the present.
Scott’s great reply was about keeping the present present, occupying two time periods simultaneously, to recognize that the past made the present. I know that seems obvious, but it isn’t always when we’re out in our funny clothes. It’s another layer of interpretation that we can build onto our reenactments and recreations, particularly when we are trying to talk about slavery. Slavery built the institutions we have today– like Aetna Insurance and Georgetown University– so if we acknowledge our surroundings in a place like downtown Princeton or Newport, we can talk about more than just the moment we are recreating.
Some of us seek historical transcendence. Some of us enjoy a social experience. And some of us seek ways to connect the present to the past in ways that help us understand how we got here, and how to make a better future.
The more I contemplate what matters to me, the more I think I’m seeking that last more than I am even transcendence.