Justin Thompson & Bradley Treadaway
Southern Trees

Southern Trees is a multimedia installation by Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway that investigates cultural lineage; as inherited collective identities and as specifically documented genealogy. The installation was divided into four parts that reflect upon these ideas from various aspects and through the combination of a variety of disparate mediums.

The central form is a continuation of Thompson’s Palms series in which palm leaves and trees are created by hand sewing old quilts over welded steel armatures. The work conceptually links representations of Christian martyrs from Italian Art History to martyrs of African-American History through the re-contextualisation of the palm leaf (a symbol for the martyr) and the use of culturally specific materials. The wavering and seemingly dying nature of the trees contrasts the palm’s imagery in the European tradition as the perfection in nature and makes reference to the tortured past and distorted make-up of the present day African-American family tree. Treadaway’s own personal investigation reflects on the breakdown of cultural passage and family history using a variety of photographs and documents dating as far back as the 1880’s in New Orleans, LA. The reworking of these historic references employing digital and technologically advanced medium filter them through the contemporary lens that distances us from our ancestors evoking the fragility of our generational relations. In this installation Treadaway’s work takes the form of various census records, birth certificates and legal genealogy documentation tattered and attached to the root ball of the fallen tree. They range from a shredded pulp that engulfs them to frail and decomposing sheets of crumpled paper. These references are set in contrast to Thompson’s representation of the family tree that seems to crawl across the floor having erupted from its terra cotta container, the evidence of its metaphoric missing limbs visible up and down its trunk. Attached to the top of the tree are a series of small speakers strung together in grapples like dates. From these speakers, numerous overlapped versions of the famous song, Strange Fruit are played. The fruit of the palm tree was considered symbolic of fecundity and richness in ancient times. This symbolism is set in contrast to the songs reference to “strange fruit hanging from the…. southern trees” and the songs overlapping confused form speaks of historical distortion and of sampling in Black contemporary music forms. The installation draws connections to the south and its undeniably linked and perpetually reciprocal cultural divisions.

In the atrium space was a wall based work consisting of a whole-cloth quilt created out of a collaboration between Thompson and his mother. This was flanked by two backlit photographic prints stemming from a long distance collaboration between Treadaway and his grandfather. The work speaks of a mended generational divide and challenges our notions of craft and manual works in a post-modern era.

The front window display housed another collaborative work utilizing the form of the boards commonly found in Italy for the posting of funerary notices. This mortuary board is covered with photographic elements relating to Treadaway’s cultural legacy that are partially pierced and covered by afro-picks and dashiki fragments from Thompson’s. The sculpture stands in as a resting point or memorial to the weight of ancestral legacies that are carried on by future generations.

The video projection room will had a two screen projection based on the idea of freedom through evasion or flight. The video installation will pair an escaping figure that runs desperately through an unidentifiable landscape with the view from the windshield of a car that drives across the bridge that separates New Orleans from the mainland. Both images are projected upon a brick wall that implies the hopelessness of such escape. This work is accompanied by the ballad Flee Like the Birds to the Mountains originally written by Jelly-Roll Morton. This work has been arranged and performed with a solitary soprano saxophone by Jason R. Thompson and its slow and hypnotic movement contrasts the high speed of the video works.
Bradly Dever Treadaway and Justin Randolph Thompson met in 1997 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN where an ongoing critical dialogue began through collaborations in film and installation. This collaboration was continued transatlantic until a 2005-2006 Fulbright fellowship brought Treadaway to Florence, Italy. Now, respectively based in New York City and Florence Italy, the two have exhibited collaboratively on an international scale for the past five years and their broad range of techniques and media employed in the communication of socially conscious themes continues to permeate their artistic voice.

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