The New School’s Vera List Center explored blackness and activism through the lens of visual culture in two days of film screenings and panel discussions. Hypervisibilities was organized in collaboration with mixed media artist Sondra Perry whose work cleverly presents psychological violence to black bodies through the use of high technology.
Perry’s video works use a combination of found images, web visuals, and often her own digitally modified face to interrogate and dissect oppressive power, police brutality, and black femininity. Among the screenings was her intense and perversely humorous “Resident Evil,” which delves deep into the digital spaces of black racialization and surveillance through an array of police brutality-related footage.
The piece begins with a video of actress Eartha Kitt singing “I Want to be Evil” before blending audio recordings of Korryn Gaines’s fatal encounter with a police officer with nighttime footage of an entry into her own New Jersey home. It concludes with footage of Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera and activist Kwame Rose in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Grey. Fox’s broadcast, where Sean Hannity literally calls the protesters “vandals,” is followed by a citizen video where Rose is seen pleading with Rivera for a more humane representation of black people on the media.
The piece takes its name from a 1996 Japanese horror video game where the heroes are trapped in a mansion with zombies. In Perry’s work, the resident evil manifest as the racist narratives that shape ideas of blackness in the media. But how do we exorcise this evil from the most easily corruptible of all undertakings, our stories?
In another of the artist’s videos not shown at the event, a computerized voice draws an analogy between a “blue wall of silence” (the unwritten rule among police officers not to report one another’s misconduct) and a “blue screen of death” (the error screen that appears when a Windows computer crashes), while we see revolving footage of police training videos, Micky Bradford voguing in front of cops, and revolving portraits of women who were killed by police.
Perry deliberately uses the inhumanity of computer and video-game software to frame the humanity of black lives against the media’s best efforts to do the opposite. In recontextualizing these viral images of black trauma, her work also redefines evil and claims it as both a physical and digital space for black bodies to take ownership of their own narratives. “Resident Evil” is more than a piece about institutional racism in America, it is about the way that technology allows racism to dictate our reality.