Appropriating the form of mysterious short wave radio stations known as numbers stations, Mendi + Keith Obadike perform a charged erotics of data in their incantatory recitation of numbers from slave ship manifests, lynching statistics, and Stop-and-Frisk data. The crux of Soyoung Yoon's inquiry is the contradictory nature of these numbers-as-documents: the irreconcilable gap between the abstraction of the numbers and the histories of violence that would account for the accumulation of these bodies: a gap that both separates and binds. As Ian Baucom argues in his analysis of the insurance contract for the slave ship Zong — as the privileged document of the 1781 massacre, the captain’s drowning of 132 slaves to claim compensation for these “goods” under the salvage cause of the ship’s insurance policy — the numbers of the contract are haunted not only by the specter of slavery but also by the specter of financial protocol, the practice of converting history into bookkeeping, of substituting “evidence” for the imaginary, speculative knowledge of “credit.”
Soyoung Yoon poses the problem of a doubling of violence: how to speak to the violence not only in the content of the history but in the form of its telling, the story that is told but through a litany of numbers? How to give form to this abstraction as a “silence” that also functions as an index, a document, of the very process of accumulation through which persons became a people, a population, a race, the object of a particular regime of knowledge and system of exchange? How is the silence “heard”?
Soyoung is Program Director and Assistant Professor of Art History & Visual Studies at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School. She is also Visiting Faculty at the Whitney ISP. Her current research focuses on the re-definition of the "document" and the shift in its claims to the real from the post-WWII period to the present.
Images: Mendi + Keith Obadike, Numbers Station [Furtive Movements] (2015), installation shot, Mendi and Keith Obadike; Courtesy of the artists and RYAN LEE, New York