Critics’ Picks

Ina Archer, Hattie McDaniel: or A Credit to the Motion Picture Industry, 2003, four-channel video, photograph, handkerchief, tissue paper, doily, glass beads, dimensions variable.

Ina Archer, Hattie McDaniel: or A Credit to the Motion Picture Industry, 2003, four-channel video, photograph, handkerchief, tissue paper, doily, glass beads, dimensions variable.

New York

Ina Archer

Microscope Gallery
1329 Willoughby Avenue
August 21–October 4, 2020

Murmurs of old Hollywood echo across the gallery in Ina Archer’s first solo exhibition here. But two entrancing noises stand out—a tolling bell and a percussive snap, which almost resembles a synth drumbeat. The former hails from a scene in the film Gone with the Wind (1939), when a pair of enslaved young men ring a giant bell signaling the end of day in the cotton fields. The latter, stretched out and on a loop, is the sound of Sidney Poitier slapping a “genteel” bigot across the face in In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Archer masterfully samples America’s racist history in film and print while interrogating the legacies surrounding Blackness, racial appropriation, and dominion. In the multichannel video installation Hattie McDaniel: or A Credit to the Motion Picture Industry, 2003, the aforementioned bell creates a haunting soundtrack for Archer’s explorations of racialized labor via archival footage of McDaniel (the first Black woman to win an Oscar, for her role in Gone with the Wind) playing the all-too-accommodating housekeeper in a seemingly endless parade of movies. Archer inserts herself in the videos too and occasionally appears as a devilish maid, dusting away at computer screens.

The show’s multimedia title piece, Osmundine (Orchid Slap), 2020, integrates a triptych of drawings with a small video projection of Poitier’s pulsating, resounding blow. Orchids fill both the clip and Archer’s graphite-and-ink compositions. The hybrid work uses horticulture as an insidious metaphor—the man Poitier strikes compares the maintenance of the finnicky, epiphytic plants with the time it takes to properly “cultivate” African Americans. Archer’s remixes emphasize the still-present and nefarious logic at play in colonial epistemology: that some bodies were born to be governed.