Degradation, Removal, Longing, Suspension by Ian Samuels
My first encounter with Wayne Dunkley’s work was the award-winning Web project www.sharemyworld.net (2001), subtitled The Degradation and Removal of the/a Black Male. From its beginnings, the roots of this project lay in the idea of inviting shared perspectives to emerge through public participation. A series of street posters were distributed in Toronto, featuring the artist’s face and a kind of “comments space” below it, which encouraged passers-by to fill in blanks reading “the ______” or “a ______”.
The online component of the project (still accessible on the Web) began with a photographic documentation of the ultimate fate of these posters (defacements and graffiti), and an interactive design structured to gradually reveal text stories culled from Dunkley’s personal experiences with racism and alienation. Site visitors were then encouraged to email Dunkley with their own anecdotal experiences in response. The artist gradually added these anecdotes to the site — first as animated interactives, and later in journal format.
Degradation and Removal … brought the artist into something of an editor’s role, Dunkley working to shape the submitted stories, searching for the core of their narratives in a process similar to the way in which sculptors “find” a figure in a block of stone. The results were compiled in an elegant online setting, carefully crafted to provide visitors with an accessible venue for engaging the work. Indeed, Dunkley’s aesthetics of text and image appear to have been governed in important ways by the need to create a Web site that would function as a space for interaction. His approach to selecting stories reflected a similar concern for inclusiveness across social boundaries. It worked to emphasize that problems arising from notions of “race” are multi-sided, that they extend beyond the experience of visible minorities, affecting everyone in the involved society.
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Ian Samuels is a writer who lives and works in Calgary. His work has appeared in
periodicals including dANDelion, Open Letter and The Capilano Review, and has been
anthologized in Side/Lines: A New Canadian Poetics (Insomniac Press: 2002). His first
book of poems was CABRA (Red Deer Press: 2000), and he has recently completed a