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Yale Union acknowledges that it occupies the traditional lands of the Multnomah, Chinook, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and other Indigenous peoples.

An Alternative History of Abstraction

June 5, 2020, 4pm PDT
Screening and Live Q+A on TWITCH

As part of the Sometimes, when birds make sounds, it feels like the sounds are coming out of me exhibition, Yale Union screens a new long-form work by manuel arturo abreu, commissioned by Atlanta Contemporary and Discrit, An Alternative History of Abstraction (2020). It will be preceded by abreu’s video piece for hierophants (2019). The screening will be followed by a live Q+A.

In this new performative lecture (presented as a screen recording with audio), Dominican artist and home school co-director manuel arturo abreu heeds Suhail Malik’s call for an exit from contemporary art and its historicism. Part of this exit is realizing that abstraction is not European: abreu briefly discusses the long timeline of the abstract; a few examples like Muslim aniconism, Chinese calligraphy, West African fractal pattern; and the value of an interdisciplinary approach that understands abstraction not as sublimation away from the concrete / market / functionality, but as fundamental to mundane daily life, expression, and function. The germ of abstraction is the tongue itself: as an arbitrary linkage of sound and meaning, and as a way of articulating possible worlds, language is abstraction per excellence. From strange biological and physical constraints emerges the calculating potential of electric meat, i.e. the brain, and the history of human survival inextricably depends upon the reproduction of abstract culture which constantly constructs reality while wrestling with calculation, the “irrealis” or subjunctive, and the idea of “something more” than just surviving.

for hierophants involves family footage, road and field footage from the Dominican Republic and the Bronx, footage of artifacts in an underground cave in the DR, pentecostal WhatsApp memes, Swype sigils, the bulerias compas, and documentation of a private exhibition in an ex-housemate’s room, installed from detritus they left to test how much spiritual trace was left in them.

manuel arturo abreu (b. 1991, Santo Domingo) is a poet and artist from the Bronx. They studied linguistics (BA Reed College 2014). abreu works in text, ephemeral sculpture, and what is at hand in a process of magical thinking with attention to ritual aspects of aesthetics. They are the author of two books of poetry and one book of critical art writing, the Oregon Book Awards Sarah Winnemucca creative nonfiction finalist Incalculable Loss (2018). Their writing has appeared in Rhizome, Art in America, CURA, The New Inquiry, Art Practical, SFMoMA Open Space, AQNB, etc. abreu also composes club-feasible worship music as Tabor Dark, with nine releases to date. They also co-founded and co-run home school, a free pop-up art school in Portland in its fifth year of curriculum. Recent solo and duo shows: Portland State University, Portland; Yaby, Madrid; the Art Gym, Portland; Open Signal, Portland; Institute for New Connotative Action, Seattle. Recent group shows: Superposition, LA; Veronica, Seattle; Felix Gaudlitz, Vienna; Critical Path, Sydney; Studio Museum in Harlem, NYC; NCAD Gallery, Dublin; online with Rhizome and the New Museum; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva. Recent curatorial: Yale Union, Portland; Center for Afrofuturist Studies, Iowa City; SOIL, Seattle; Paragon Gallery, Portland; old Pfizer Factory, Brooklyn; S1, Portland; AA|LA Gallery, LA; MoMA PS1, NYC.
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home school is a free pop-up art school in Portland, Oregon run by Victoria Anne Reis and manuel arturo abreu. They provide welcoming contexts for critical engagement with contemporary art and its issues. Their multimedia curriculum follows a pedagogy that honors the casual rigor of the etymology of “school,” from the Greek shkole: “spare time, leisure, idleness, rest.” Now in its fifth year of curriculum, home school has received support from the Precipice Fund, the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Allie Furlotti / the Calligram Foundation, a Rhizome Net Art microgrant, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the Cooley Gallery, and a 2019 artist residency with Yale Union.
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