Born in 1961 in Los Angeles, USA / Lives in Los Angeles, USA
Jens Hoffmann (JH): In your work for the 12th Istanbul Biennial you refer to a notorious serial killer called the Grim Sleeper who terrorized South-Central Los Angeles. In particular you are looking at a series of billboards that the Los Angeles Police Department produced and placed around this area of the city. Can you speak a little bit about the case, your interest in it, and the billboards?
Mark Bradford (MB): The attacker was dubbed the Grim Sleeper because he took a 14-year hiatus from his crimes, from 1988 to 2002. After his second crime spree, the police caught him and found about a thousand photos of unidentified women in his house. There was a massive billboard and website campaign asking the public for help identifying the women, and to find out if they were alive or dead. My interest is in the way these unknown women could be, or were, exploited for public voyeurism. The website received more than 6 million hits, but the police only received a dozen calls. That is a huge discrepancy.
JH: This all took place in the part of Los Angeles where you grew up and have spent most of your life, and now maintain your studio. How do you feel the case relates to the reality of this part of the city?
MB: I would say that the billboard campaign would not have been possible in other areas of the city. The manufactured story of South Central unfortunately involves black women being offered up over and over again in song and video to embody brutal stereotypes. I don’t think the public would have allowed a campaign of this magnitude or type if the women were not predominantly black.
JH: I have done many studio visits in the area over the last couple of years, including visits to your studio, and I remember seeing the billboards. I always wondered what this case was about until you brought it up and I looked into it more. Tell me a little bit about what you mean when you talk about a quest for purity, and how social narratives can intersect with abstract art.
MB: My reference to purity is a historical allusion to the normative modernist practices of art making— the tension that is created when socially loaded imagery and materials intersect this plane. These women are cast in a context of impurity, and this is something that I am interested in mining artistically. Many artists have used the grid—Gerhard Richter comes to mind, with his For 48 Portraits (1971), and certainly Andy Warhol. Many Felix GonzalezTorres pieces also clearly demonstrate how abstraction can be both poetic and socially charged.
JH: What will you do with the billboards?
MB: I collected 50 billboards from all around South-Central Los Angeles and will use them to create a new work for Istanbul. The work will be a large-scale multipanel paper piece. The panels will be approximately three meters by three meters and attached directly to the wall. The surfaces are achieved mainly with sanders, stripping back layers of material to reveal what lies below.