Writing for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums

The Eternal Insult

Janks Archive, installation views of The Eternal Insult (2012 - ongoing) at the Queens International 2016

My interaction with the art in the Queens International 2016 began before crossing the threshold of museum building itself. At the time I was unaware that wooden sandwich-boards being propped up in an area next to the hot dog cart on the corner of the path leading away from the stainless-steel globe might have had some connection to the art in the museum. One read: “Do you have gnomes in your attic?” I didn’t really understand the message, but it struck a chord in me alerting my attention. My cousin’s husband was in a band called “Gnome Attic” which I didn’t realize was a play on words until he explained that it sounded like “Nomadic”. I then noticed the other boards being propped up with messages that were equally as strange. Another read: “You’re so skinny that you have to run around in the shower to get wet.” I might have heard that one before, from my grandpa—he was a stringbean too. I soon realized that all of them had odd messages and some were even in languages other than English.

Inside the Queens Museum, I discovered that these messages were a part of The Eternal Insult (2012 – ongoing), a project by Janks Archive. In a dark room two digital video projectors played randomly selected footage from the group’s A/V archive. Individuals were shown on opposing walls delivering an insulting message to the camera. The image would freeze and the text of what was just said would appear superimposed on the frozen face. The video on the opposing wall would then begin with a new person delivering a new insult. I found myself looking back and forth across in anticipation as if there would eventually be a response, but each new face just one-uped the last with a smile on their face. In this way, The Eternal Insult explores the set-up to and tipping-point in a situation that is about to change dramatically. Since we do not get to see any of the reactions of those the insults are directed towards, this work is playful and oddly endearing. It reminded me of that moment when I realized that everyone in my family was old enough to dish-out insults that resonate deep through memories and shared experiences in a loving way to tease each other without malice or hurt feelings.

Exiting the exhibition and the Queens Museum, we made it a point to circle the Unisphere clockwise so as to avoid the sandwich-board team who had moved onto their next task: approaching strangers with a video camera and asking them for their best jank. Even though I loved the project, I am camera shy. Here’s my contribution to the Janks Archive: “Why don’t you go teach your grandmother to suck eggs.”