Humor in the mundane has a way of bringing levity to certain thorny and complicated issues in American history. Race can be a difficult topic to broach, but for comedians and performance artists alike, race and power structures can offer a multitude of possibilities and rich material. Upon hearing of Christy Chan’s performance, The Long Distance Call (2015)—a re-enactment and live performance inspired by actual conversations with Miss Anne, a Ku Klux Klan seamstress from Alabama—I was intrigued and my imagination instantly activated.
As part of Southern Exposure’s January Sets, Chan was one of three artists in residence to use the gallery space to showcase video installations and hold a live performance. Her previous work Letter to the KKK (2012)1 was based on childhood memories of the artist communicating with the KKK, which served as a point of departure for these works to come to fruition. Chan masterfully recounts the story of growing up in rural Virginia in a highly conservative, Christian environment dominated by the infamous group. As the only English-speaking person in her household, and encouraged by her mother to respond to the letters, Chan mediated communications with the KKK. This correspondence continues to serve as a basis for her ruminations on race, power, and what it means to be an American. With The Long Distance Call, Chan reverses power dynamics in an unimaginable and absurd light as she positions herself among the clientele of a group that would otherwise not serve her and, historically, harassed and oppressed her family.
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Review for Art Practical