In addition to the outdoor projection at the Gem, this exhibition consists of two installations in the Grand Arts galleries. Biggers has been exhibiting widely since the 1990s and was notably included in the Studio Museum of Harlem's excellent 2001 exhibition Freestyle and the 2002 Whitney Biennial. Incorporating sculpture, film, objects and performance art, Biggers often concentrates on the idea of art as a sociological experience. Having grown up in South Central Los Angeles and having spent two formative years in Japan, he infuses his pieces with elements of Buddhism that work in concert with hip-hop, African-American history and urban culture, among other influences.
Here, Biggers' pieces expand the idea of art as experience. "Blossom," the centerpiece of the exhibition, is a baby grand piano bisected by a tree that seems to have grown up through the floor into the piano, lifting it off its feet. The piano plays "Strange Fruit," the beautiful and melancholy Billie Holiday song about lynching (Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees). The piano keys' movements imply a human presence, and its bench lies upended, as if the player had abruptly stood up and left. (Adding more layers of significance: Biggers played piano as child, and the piano is a relative of the African kalimba.)
The implied body is also present in "Lotus," the other gallery work. It's a dark circle of glass, seven feet in diameter, encased in a heavy steel collar, the kind clamped around a human neck. Etched into the glass are small bodies of faceless people lined up in the holds of a slave ship. Reduced to so much decoration, these bodies echo the dehumanization that was central to slavery.
Like all of his work, these pieces are interrelated, expanding upon Biggers' ongoing investigation into the meanings and rereadings of histories, interpretations, experiences — often ugly and ongoing — in order to unpack their significance and establish dissonances and commonalities. The lynching tree still carries the traces of its history but becomes something else. All materials and things are related, Biggers suggests, and can be renegotiated through reiterations.