The Design Observer Twenty

Claudia Rankine + John Lucas | Poetry

“Situation 5”

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Editor's Note: Although it looks for the most part like an ordinary roadside, the landscape in "Situation 5" is filled with the history of racial oppression. "We are all caught hanging," says the voiceover: "the rope inside us, the tree inside us." If Jim Crow is inside the landscape and the landscape is inside the speaker, so is the prohibition from it — prison. "Prison is no place," and when "we open our mouth to speak — blossoms, o blossoms," there is "no place coming out." This tangle of spaces is the subject of "Situation 5." It begins with a man staring eagerly out at the landscape outside the car he rides in. The audio talks about prison. It's as if he has just been released. The range of his faces, and the lyric response to prison and to racial history, evoke the space he's free from and the attitudes that would imprison black men like him. These attitudes are part of the landscape; we are complicit, and the visuals draw out our prejudices. His face ranges in two seconds from a threatening man in an alley to a child at the window. This sort of haunting compassion makes "Situation 5" a good poem, a good short, and a short lyric film in a class of its own. —Adam Plunkett

Claudia Rankine has written four books of poems and other work, including a play, "The Provenance of Beauty," a travelogue and lyric first staged on a bus that drove through the Bronx. She lives in Claremont, California, with John Lucas, her husband, a photographer and videographer who has collaborated with Rankine on many projects, including Rankine's last book, Don't Let Me Be Lonely, and of course "Situation 5."  Lucas is at work on his first feature-length film, "The Cooler Bandits," about a group of men given long prison sentences as teenagers.

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