Photo: Image from FAUST WALK performance by Wilmer Wilson IV, images by E. Jane forthcoming.
FAUSTGATE by Wilmer Wilson IV + chukwumaa (pdf)
On 16 September 2013, the tragic Navy Yard shooting incident occurred in Washington, DC; simultaneously, Wilmer Wilson IV staged “FAUST WALKS,” a performance that involved fellow artists E. Jane and chukwumaa. In the fallout of both the performance and shooting, the three artists were accosted by police officers on an anonymous tip by a concerned Georgetowner. Very soon after, Eames Armstrong’s new critical platform, PERI0D launched by publishing Jane’s response and recounting of the day’s events. This in turn led to coverage in the Washington City Paper by arts editor Ally Schweitzer. Below, Wilson and chukwumaa discuss the event and ensuing situations.
On the Performance + Shooting
WILMER: At about 10:15 am on the day of the performance, I learned via Twitter that a shooting was in progress in the Navy Yard area. Concerned, I did as much research as I could; the reports I found at that time indicated that only a few people had been wounded, and the shooter was contained. Despite the unfolding tragedy and uncertainty of the situation, I thus made the decision to continue with the performance as best we could based on that context. I relinquished my phone, which served as my primary source of information, for the duration of the performance beginning at 10:30am. I never imagined the shooting to become as bad as it did.
chukwumaa: The performance was a roving one, so we had a lot of ever-shifting ground to cover, as performer (Wilson), performance documenter (Jane) and performance assistant (myself), respectively.
I operated Wilmer’s phone for the duration of the performance, to live-tweet FAUST WALK, with intermittent breaks for E and the CONNERSMITH gallerists to correspond on Wilmer’s whereabouts. In addition, I employed my truck in the delivery of Wilmer and the ladder to the start point of the performance, as well as to assist E in following and photographing the performance. E’s challenge was following Wilmer and artfully attaining the shots they’d discussed. My challenge was keeping up with both Wilmer and E in DC traffic without accident or citation. I was practically a primary audience and the performance was a totally engrossing activity. Other events were pushed out of my mind for the duration of the performance.
WILMER: Both E. Jane and chukwumaa did a phenomenal job in supporting the infrastructure of my performance. They acted calmly, made sound decisions when necessary, and lent their great skill to the overall aesthetic and composition.
On the Police Encounter
chukwumaa: We noticed the police trailing us when we packed up and left the harbor at the end of FAUST WALK, and stopped when they flagged us down. When I first stopped, they commanded me to turn off the vehicle and put my hands out of the window. I was pretty terrified, because I’d (1) never heard that command before and (2) more police vehicles were showing up as we were getting these commands, including one truck that swerved from off M st to park directly in front of me. Both E and Wilmer were alarmed too.
WILMER: There was no indication that we were being stopped in relation to the Navy Yard shooting until well into the progression of the encounter, after the police felt ready to explain their reasoning. That preceding period of uncertainty was harrowing, as we reeled to think of any logical reason for having been stopped and because the initial police response was so vehement.
chukwumaa: Eventually some officers came to speak to us and E, understanding the weight and potential dynamics of the situation, overcame her fear and spoke directly and clearly to the officers about what she felt was an unfair stop. This actually calmed the officers as they shifted from barking orders to explaining the situation. They soon realized they didn’t have a situation on their hands, as reported to them, and quickly sent us on our way.
On E’s Essay
chukwumaa: You mentioned the core of the issue with the conversation around this incident possibly being the egging on of sensationalism, right?
WILMER: I don’t have firsthand evidence of the exact exchange(s) that occurred, but I do know that the bulk of E. Jane’s peri0d essay changed dramatically from its initial form. The alleged impetus was the stylistic preference of an editor. The final edit contextualized the performance and its parameters less, altered passages deemed “academic,” and focused more on the police encounter and all its confusion.
On the Fallout
chukwumaa: It seems that the places where the most responsibility for these events lie have been thus far ignored. The anonymous tipster had the privilege of acting on fear without recoil, though we in the car, did not. Considering the sudden and jarring shift we experienced from “ah, the performance is over” to “ah, there are several police, many bystanders and a cameraman surrounding us” all of our responses were reasonable and valid, period.
Likewise, the editorial decision to lead the launch of an art platform with such a charged, raw and honest response hasn’t been questioned as much as E has for simply sharing both her artistic and human response to the absurd situation.
I lastly noticed a kind of critique of a response to the situation, at all, as some sort of disrespect or affront to the experience of those affected by the shooting. To put it simply, this situation was an effect of the shooting too and sharing it in no way minimizes the pain of the loved ones of the other victims. This is akin to trying to silence the qualms of innocent Muslim folks enduring increased prejudice as a result of the tragedies of terrorism.
It doesn’t make sense.