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Beyond epistemic disobedience : the importance of humor in Fred Wilson's Mining the Museum Smith, Rachel 2014

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	  	  Beyond Epistemic Disobedience: The Importance of Humor in Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum  by Rachel Smith  B.A., University of British Columbia, 2011  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF  MASTER OF ARTS in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Art History and Theory)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)  September 2014  © Rachel Smith, 2014 	   	   ii	  Abstract  In 1992, installation artist Fred Wilson collaborated with The Contemporary, and the Maryland Historical Society to mount Mining the Museum. The exhibition consisted of objects, selected, arranged and installed by Wilson, and the items he utilized were materials entirely from the museum’s collection. The installations mimicked the traditional conventions of museum displays, but the objects he selected often stood in stark juxtaposition to one another. His arrangements appeared to be familiar museum displays, but the pairing of items in each case was subtly disjunctive, either visually or conceptually. Wilson highlighted these juxtapositions with several of his arrangements in order to call attention to the blind spots in the archive of the Maryland Historical Society, and the systemic racism in the authorized historical narrative.  The unconventional selection and disparate arrangement of items functioned as an intervention into museum practices. Instead of privileging predominantly white, male histories, Wilson installed and arranged objects that spoke to a history of racism, and the exclusion of African-American and Native American communities. His installations exposed the way colonial epistemologies continue to inform not only discourses on identity, but also the way forms of knowledge are structured and organized. I will argue that the power of the exhibition was in Wilson’s humorous arrangement of the museum’s archive. Mining the Museum capitalized on the slippages inherent in the structure of a joke in order to present to the viewer an alternative, and ultimately fluid history. His strategic deployment of humor, his jokes at the expense of white, Western institutions and ideologies, constituted what art historian Walter Mignolo calls an epistemically disobedient gesture.   	   iii	  This thesis examines several of the installation in Mining the Museum and argues that their juxtaposition of elements constituted a tendentious joke. I also argue that Wilson’s use of humor in his intervention at the Maryland Historical Society places demands on the viewer’s subjectivity. Following a Freudian analysis of the structure of the joke, I argue that Wilson’s installations had the potential to cast the viewer as either victim of the joke, or witness to it. The demand that the jokes placed on the subjectivity of the viewer represents a decolonial intervention in the Maryland Historical Society, and suggests the potential for humor as a disobedient rhetorical tool for upsetting the coloniality of the museum institution.  	               	   iv	  Preface 	  This work is the original, unpublished, independent work by the author, Rachel Smith.                   	   v	  Table of Contents Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... ii Preface ............................................................................................................................................ iv Table of Contents ............................................................................................................................ v List of Illustrations ......................................................................................................................... vi Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................................... vii Dedication .................................................................................................................................... viii 	  Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1 	  Section 1: Incongruity and Shared Logic: Humor in Mining the Museum ................................... 11 1.1 Making a Joke of Maryland’s History: "Metalwork 1793-1880" .................................... 18 1.2 A Joke at the Expense of the Episteme ............................................................................ 26 1.3 Beyond Institutional Critique ........................................................................................... 28 	  Section 2: Role Reversal: Humor as Subjectivity ......................................................................... 37 2.1 A Joke on Colonial Identity ............................................................................................. 44 2.2 Revisiting Identity Politics ............................................................................................... 50 	  Epilogue: Decoloniality, Post-structuralism, and the Structure of the Joke ................................. 55 	  Illustrations ................................................................................................................................... 58 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................. 59 	  	         	   vi	  List of Illustrations  Figure 1. Fred Wilson. Truth Trophy, installation view, 1992, silver plated copper globe, acrylic mounts, marble pedestals and busts  Figure 2. Fred Wilson. Metalwork 1793-1880, installation view, 1992, silver vessels in Baltimore Repoussé style, slave shackles  Figure 3. Fred Wilson. Collection of Numbers, installation view, 1992, white drawing ink, black India ink, lacquer  Figure 4. Fred Wilson. Cabinet Making 1820-1960, installation view, 1992, wood, mother of pearl, brocade, paint, gilding  Figure 5. Fred Wilson. Portraits of Cigar Store Owners, installation view, 1992, wood, lacquer, black-and-white photographs  Figure 6. Fred Wilson. Model of Chausser, Baltimore Clipper Schooner, installation view, 1992, wood, lacquer, string  * All images are listed but not reproduced. Copyright permission not granted.     	   vii	  Acknowledgements  I am sincerely grateful for the support of my professors and colleges in the Art History, Visual Art and Theory department of the University of British Columbia. I am particularly indebted to my advisor Professor Katherine Hacker, for her guidance through the theoretical terrain of my thesis. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to my first reader Professor T’ai Smith, whose expertise and input was invaluable to my project.  The encouragement of my peers and friends in the department, in particular Jackie Witkowski, Jeff O’Brien, Laura Dickson, Erica Zacharias and Klara Manhal, was vital. Thank you for letting me bend your ear, and for your thoughtful and enthusiastic input.   I could not have completed this project without my friends and family. To Carolyn, Jeff, Daniel, and Leah Smith, thank you for encouraging me to pursue my goals, and for always believing I would achieve them. To Ember Konopaki, Nicole Passmore, and Kelli Ogmundson, thank you for laughing with me.         	   viii	  Dedication  For those who laugh                  	   1	  Introduction  In 2001, New York based installation artist Fred Wilson sat down for an interview with art historian Maurice Berger to discuss artistic collaboration and the politics of display. Wilson, whose practice interrogates the role of curating, discussed his artistic tactic of mimicking conventional museum displays. He stated, “I try to use the very same techniques that individual museums use in design. I just like to shift the information to show how a slight adjustment in emphasis or subject can expose the museum’s point of view.”1 In the interview, he discussed the role of curating, and how objects in an exhibition are affected by the way they are displayed. Throughout his career, Wilson has explored this concept in a number of different installations and exhibitions, but for the first time in 1992, he mounted an exhibition using the infrastructure and archive of an established history museum. Wilson collaborated with Baltimore based museum The Contemporary, a nomadic, non-collecting art institution interested in site-specific and subject oriented projects.2 Wilson was invited to Baltimore to create an installation using the permanent collection of one of the city’s museums, and upon visiting the Maryland Historical Society, the states oldest continuously operating institution for state history, he decided to work there.3 Wilson completed a yearlong residency at the historical society, which culminated with the exhibition Mining the Museum, a project for the American Association of Museums conference, which met in Baltimore that year.  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  1 Fred Wilson and Maurice Berger, “Collaboration, Museums, and the Politics of Display: A Conversation with Fred Wilson,” in Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, ed. Doro Globus (London: Ridinghouse, 2011), 155.  2 “Mission Statement,” The Contemporary, accessed July 28, 2014,  3 “MdHS History,” The Maryland Historical Society, accessed July 28, 2014,	  	   2	  As part of Wilson’s residency at the Maryland Historical Society he had full access to all parts of the museum and its archives. Wilson was to have complete control over the research, installation, programming and didactic materials associated with the exhibition. The historical society devoted a whole floor to Mining the Museum, and the exhibition was installed in eight separate rooms. In each of the rooms, Wilson selected, arranged and installed objects and utilized materials entirely from the museum’s collection. The installations mimicked the traditional conventions of museum displays, but the objects he selected often stood in stark juxtaposition to one another. Wilson highlighted these juxtapositions with installations such as “Truth Trophy” (Figure 1), “Metalwork 1793-1880” (Figure 2), “Collection of Numbers” (Figure 3), “Cabinet Making 1820-1960” (Figure 4), and “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners” (Figure 5), in order to explore a complex thought or idea.4 Each of these arrangements presented the viewer with what appeared to be a familiar museum display, but the pairing of items in each case was subtly disjunctive, either visually or conceptually. Wilson’s use of disparate objects was at the heart of his intervention at the Maryland Historical Society. According to then assistant director of The Contemporary Lisa G. Corrin, “the ‘meaning’ of Mining the Museum cannot be separated from the museum in which it took place.”5 The Maryland Historical Society was incorporated in 1844. Its mission was to collect, preserve, and study objects and documents related to Maryland’s history, particularly relating to remarkable events and individuals, biographical memoirs or anecdotes of important people. The original mission of the historical society included a mandate to collect artifacts relating to “colonization, slavery, and abolition,” as well as “any facts or reasoning that may illustrate the doubtful 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  4 Wilson and Berger, “Collaboration,” 167.  5Lisa G. Corrin, “Mining the Museum: Artists Look at Museums, Museums Look at Themselves,” in Mining the Museum, ed. Lisa G. Corrin (Baltimore: The Contemporary, 1994), 11.  	   3	  question of the origin of the North American tribes.”6 The founding members of the historical society were exclusively white men from wealthy families, and the early collecting efforts of the museum reflected this demographic.  Some of the objects featured in Wilson’s exhibition, like a Klu Klux Klan hood, slave shackles, whipping posts, and damaged paintings, would never have been displayed before at the historical society. Other items, such as silver service sets, arrowheads, and furniture were more commonplace in the setting of the museum. The unconventional selection and disparate arrangement of items functioned as an intervention into museum practices, and presented the viewer with an alternative historical narrative. Instead of privileging predominantly white, male histories, Wilson installed and arranged objects that spoke to a history of racism, and the exclusion of African-American and Native American communities. For The Contemporary, and for Wilson, the show offered an opportunity to ask questions about the current state of museum practices. For the Maryland Historical Society, the collaboration was a chance to reach a broader audience.7 During the ten-month run of the exhibition, roughly 55,000 people visited, breaking attendance records for the historical society.   The issues that Wilson’s displays raised in Mining the Museum were serious. He made visible the systemic racism and exclusion perpetuated by museum institutions. His installations exposed the way colonial epistemologies continue to inform not only discourses on identity, but also the way forms of knowledge are structured and organized. The power of the exhibition, I will argue, was in Wilson’s humorous arrangement of the museum’s archive. His strategic deployment of humor, his jokes at the expense of White, Western institutions and ideologies, 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  6 Ibid.	  	  	  7 George Ciscle and Charles Lyle, “Foreword,” in Mining the Museum, ed. Lisa G. Corrin (New York: The New Press, 1994), lxxi.  	   4	  constituted what art historian Walter Mignolo calls an epistemically disobedient gesture.8 Mignolo argues that Wilson’s strategies of exhibition proposed a decolonial intervention in the museum.9  In his article on Wilson’s installation, Mignolo uses the terms “decolonial” and “decoloniality” (in distinction from “postcolonial” and “postcoloniality”) to describe a set of concepts that have as their ancestor the process of decolonization. Mignolo associates decoloniality with writers like Frantz Fanon, and his critical engagement with continental thought (Marx, Freud, Sartre), and concepts of political economy such as dependency theory, sociology and the philosophy of liberation.10 “Decolonial shifts are not just a change in content, but in the logic of the conversation. It is epistemic and aesthetic disobedience that opens up and puts on the table the decolonial option.”11 Mignolo sees Wilson’s intervention as decolonial, and epistemically disobedient because he utilized the architecture of the institution to reveal the assumptions of the institution. It is my contention that this argument can be pushed further to investigate the subjective role of humor in Mining the Museum.  In the introduction to Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, published in the same year as Mignolo’s analysis of Mining the Museum, Lowery Stokes Sims identifies some of the words often associated with the artists work. “Diversity,” “multiculturalism,” “deconstruction,” and “inclusion” were all part of the postmodern vocabulary that formed the cornerstone of the 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  8 I make reference throughout to “Western” or “Colonial” epistemologies, and often use the two terms interchangeably to refer to the same concept. My geographical and conceptual definition of “Western” follows closely the definition laid down by Stuart Hall in his essay titled “The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power,” originally published in 1992 in the edited volume Formations of Modernity.   9 Walter Mignolo, “Museums in the Colonial Horizon of Modernity,” in Globalization and Contemporary Art, ed. Jonathan Harris (United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011): 71.  10 Ibid, 79.  11 Ibid, 83.	  	   5	  critique of modernism and the museum institution in the latter half of the twentieth century. Sims, however, mentions in the introduction that she will avoid the “now-arcane discussions of post-colonial theory” in her survey of the body of literature on Fred Wilson.12 Instead, the author intends to center her discussion around the concept of “subjectivity,” in order to contrast the notion of “objectivity” that has been so central to Western intellectual history. Sims’ focus on subjectivity is an important one, but her analysis would be better served by a nuancing of postcolonial theory rather than an outright disavowal. The importance of the concept of “subjectivity” in Wilson’s installations can neither be separated from the history and legacy of the Western imperial project, nor from the history of coloniality that was so integral to the formation of university and museum institutions. Mignolo, among others, argues that our modern museums and universities are founded on coloniality, and that their structure today continues to reflect that. Wilson’s installations took place within these colonial structures, and made use of their archives. For this reason, analyzing them necessitates a discussion of colonial history. It is only by addressing the coloniality of the museum that we can appreciate the significance of Wilson’s refusal to conform to its strategies of display. His use of humor, which remains inadequately theorized, was a crucial aspect of his intervention into the colonial structure of the museum. More than any other aspect of Mining the Museum, Wilson’s use of tendentious humor represents the mobilization of a de-colonial way of knowing in its reliance on the individual museumgoer’s subjectivity.  While most scholarship on Fred Wilson makes note of his use of humor and irony, there has been little attention paid to the implications of the joke structure on the viewer’s subjectivity. In her 1993 article “Sins of Omission: Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum,” art historian Judith E. 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  12 Lowery Stokes Sims, “Introduction,” in Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, ed. Doro Globus (London: Ridinghouse, 2011), 13. 	   6	  Stein discusses the humorous nature of Wilson’s art. Her discussion of humor, however, is limited to Wilson’s “fine-tuned instinct for irony” as the motivation behind the “Truth Trophy” and “Cabinet Making” installations.13 In a 2006 interview with K. Anthony Appiah, Wilson describes his use of juxtaposition. He states, “I have two images or objects side by side and a third thought is revealed. It is my thought, but it allows the viewer to enter into my thinking a bit, but come up with conclusions for themselves, as well.”14 By his own description, Wilson places disparate images and objects together in order to create an alternative thought or idea. He does so, however, in a way that allows room for interpretation on the part of the viewer. In pointing to irony, Stein identifies an important aspect in the structure of Wilson’s arrangement of objects. The installations often involve a visual contrast among items, or a discrepancy between titles and objects on display. Stein’s discussion of irony, however, fails to account for a crucial aspect of the installations. The objects on display may indeed be ironic in the fact that they are visually disjunctive, but they also simultaneously share a sense of logic, which, according to Sigmund Freud, is the basis for a joke. A discussion of humor also more fruitfully accounts for the role of the viewer in the registration of the comedic effect.  In Sigmund Freud’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, he defines tendentious humor as humor with a specific purpose. He outlines the structure of a joke, which relies on elements of a joke that appear incongruent, but subsequently reveal a shared logic.15 The humor results from the simultaneous perception of disjunction and commensurability. Freud describes how the humor in these jokes lies in a displacement of logic, or the use of absurdity. The 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  13 Judith E. Stein, “Sins of Omission: Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum,” Art in America 81, no 10 (1993): 111.  14 Fred Wilson and K. Anthony Appiah, “Fragments of a Conversation,” in Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, ed. Doro Globus (London: Ridinghouse, 2011), 279. 	  15 Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (London: The Hogarth Press, 1905), 92.	  	   7	  technique of these jokes consists of presenting something that is nonsensical, the sense of which lies in the revelation and demonstration of something else nonsensical. These jokes will often have two parts. Both elements of the joke are disjunctive, but also share a sense of logic. The disparate elements come together to create a new meaning. It is true that in many of the installations in Mining the Museum Wilson placed objects together that created a sense of contrast. With many of them, a visual disparity was created when objects of different material or use were grouped together, such as a silver service set and slave shackles. This visual contrast was often heightened by Wilson’s titles, which alerted the viewer to the fact that the objects were together for a specific purpose. The objects may have been visually incongruent, and the pairing of them together may at first, have seemed absurd, but the arrangements revealed a third thought. Wilson mobilized this visual disjuncture to reveal the absurdity of particular histories and institutional frameworks.  According to Freud, a tendentious joke requires three parties; the first party is the comic, who makes the joke. The second party is the victim of the joke, or the individual who is the subject of some hostility. The third party is the witness, the individual whose pleasure the comic seeks to fulfill. It is this understanding of the structure of the joke and the role of the victim and witness that inform my analysis of Mining the Museum. Wilson certainly did install objects with a sense of discrepancy, but the structure of his installations requires attention to the role of the spectator. Wilson did not fix the role of the spectator, and whether the viewer identified as the second or third party in the joke depended on his or her subjective affiliation with a specific identity.  Fred Wilson’s oeuvre in general, and Mining the Museum in particular, are often discussed as institutional critique, or as the manifestation of identity politics. Wilson’s work is 	   8	  understood to engage critically with museum practices and to attempt to highlight the logic of the institution. His installations are seen as interventions within the setting of the museum, which relies on enlightenment philosophies. Through the lens of identity politics, Wilson’s work seems to reflect the “crisis of identity” brought to bear by the postmodern moment. His installations are seen to question traditional notions of identity and subjectivity, and to interrogate the manner in which these identities are constructed. While these are certainly valid interpretations of Wilson’s work, they fail to account for the structural manifestations and humorous elements of the installations in Mining the Museum. There is something to be gained from revisiting the objects, and theorizing the role of humor, not just as a tactic to critique the institution or notions of identity, but as a rhetorical tool that makes demands of the viewer’s subjectivity. Wilson’s exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society was important and impactful, as evidenced by the volume of scholarship it subsequently generated. My analysis of Wilson’s exhibition intervenes in this scholarship by specifically addressing the role of the humorous structure of his installations.  The first section of my thesis closely examines three of Wilson’s installations from the exhibition. I revisit the “Truth Trophy” installation as well as the pedestals and busts installed on either side of it. I examine the visual disjunction created by Wilson’s installation of pedestals with busts and without, and argue for the arrangement as an example of a visual joke. I also discuss the installation “Metalwork” with an attention to the deliberate way Wilson mobilizes typologies when grouping together specific items. The structure of this installation and the objects that comprise it also offer an opportunity to discuss the site specificity of the exhibition, and its relation to Maryland’s history of slavery and race relations. Finally, this section will examine the installation “Collection of Numbers” as an example of a joke that subverts colonial 	   9	  epistemologies in a broad sense. I conclude by returning to a discussion of institutional critique. I return to Mignolo’s argument about the way Wilson utilizes the structures of the institution to reveal the assumptions by which it operates. I argue that Wilson’s intervention at the Maryland Historical Society was particularly effective in revealing these assumptions because of his humor, and the demands it placed on the subjectivity of the viewer. Accordingly, Wilson’s exhibition is an example of institutional critique that foregrounds the viewer in a radical way.  In the second section of my thesis, I examine the installation “Cabinet Making,” which addresses a specific history of corporal punishment in Maryland. The punishment of criminals in Maryland was often determined by the race and relative wealth of the criminal; therefore, this installation necessitates a discussion of the interrelations between race, labor, and Maryland’s economy. Since the early colonial period in Maryland, and up until the twentieth century, the economy ran on coerced labor, both white indentured servants, and black slaves. The state’s laws for the punishment of criminals eliminated the death penalty for lesser offences with the intent to, above all, maintain the labor force. This installation also offers an opportunity to discuss the fluid nature of the humor in Mining the Museum, and the role of the viewer in identifying as the second or third party in the joke. I also discuss “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners,” and argue for a more nuanced interpretation of the installation. Rather than seeing the arrangement as a simple challenge or inversion of a stereotype, following Homi Bhabha’s writing in the late eighties and early nineties, I argue that the joke functioned to underline the slippage and instability inherent in colonial identity. The second section concludes with a discussion of how the slippages in the humor in Mining the Museum can reinvigorate a discussion of identity politics.  Mining the Museum was successful in foregrounding the historical blind spots, exclusions, and coloniality of a particular collection, and museum institution in general. It also 	   10	  opened a discussion about the various ways colonial identities and histories are imbricated. It is my contention that Wilson’s most important intervention at the Maryland Historical Society, and the very reason that his exhibition was a success, was the humorous structure of his installations. The exhibition emphasized the slippery terrain of history, knowledge, and subjectivity by creating fluid installations that utilized the structure of a joke. The humor in Mining the Museum constituted an “epistemically disobedient gesture” in its radical demands on the individually inhabited subjectivities of visitors. It is through a thorough exploration of the tendentious humor of the exhibition that we can begin to appreciate the importance of this gesture.                	   11	  Section 1: Incongruity and Shared Logic: Humor in Mining the Museum   In the lobby of the historical society, Wilson greeted visitors in a videotaped message, in which he related that the design of the exhibition is intended “to make you think, to make you question.”16 From here, visitors entered an elevator that delivered them to the exhibition floor. Upon entering the exhibition floor, the viewer immediately saw the first of Wilson’s installations: “Truth Trophy.” At the center of the arrangement was a silver-plated globe, embossed with the word “TRUTH” in gold capital letters. The globe, dating from approximately 1913, was produced by the Stieff Company, and awarded for “truth in advertising” to various ad agencies until the early 1920s. The globe was set inside a large acrylic vitrine effectively separating it from the viewer, and mimicking the conventions of museum displays. Inside the vitrine, surrounding the globe, were eight small acrylic pedestals, each of which was left empty. The empty pedestals created a sense that the display was incomplete, or that there were pieces missing. This display, contained inside the vitrine served as a kind of leitmotif for the exhibition, alerting the viewer to the idea that the “truth” as we know it is incomplete, or predicated on omission.  Expanding outwards, the vitrine containing the trophy was surrounded by six stone pedestals, the kind typically used to display sculptural busts. To the right of the truth trophy, were three pedestals containing the busts of Henry Clay, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Andrew Jackson. Henry Clay (1777-1852) was a lawyer and two-time presidential candidate. He served as a senator representing Kentucky, Speaker of the House of Representatives and as Secretary of 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  16 Corrin, “Mining the Museum,” 13.  	   12	  State from 1825-1829.17 Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was a French military leader and Emperor of France between 1804-1814. Napoleon was responsible for the dissemination of the Napoleonic Code, which forms the legal basis for several countries in Europe.18 Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was the seventh president of the United States, from 1829 to 1837.19 One of Jackson’s more controversial legacies was his commitment to a policy of Indian Removal, whereby Native Americans were forcefully removed from their traditional territories.  On the left were another three pedestals bearing the labels Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Benjamin Banneker, all of which remained empty. Tubman (1822-1913) was an African-American abolitionist from Dorchester County Maryland. She was born into slavery, though she escaped, and facilitated the escape of a number of her enslaved friends and family. After the civil war, she campaigned for women’s suffrage.20 Douglass (1818-1895) was an African-American born into slavery in Talbot County Maryland, and freed at the age of 20. He campaigned for abolition and published several memoirs.21 Banneker (1731-1806) was a free African-American scientist born in Baltimore County, Maryland. He was largely self-taught, and owing to his knowledge of astronomy, he was able to publish a series of successful almanacs.22  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  17 Quentin Scott King, Henry Clay and the War of 1812 (North Carolina: McFarland & Company Publishers, 2014), 3. 	  18 Frank J. Coppa, “Napoleon Bonaparte,” in Encyclopedia of Modern Dictators (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), 205-206.  19 Robert A. Nowlan, The American Presidents, Washington to Tyler (North Carolina: McFarland & Company Publishers, 2007), 254.  20 Milton C. Sernett, Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 2.  21 L. Diane Barnes, Frederick Douglass: Reformer and Statesman (New York: Routledge, 2013), 12.  22 Silvio A. Bedini, Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 19, s.v. “Benjamin Banneker,” (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008), 174. 	  	   13	  The existing scholarship on this installation often points out that the three individuals represented by the busts have little to no association with Maryland, while the pedestals that remain empty stand in for African Americans who were local Marylanders.23 In fact, both Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay were members of the American Colonization Society, which was responsible for establishing a colony called Maryland in Liberia for the purposes of forcefully removing the free black population of the state.24 Though Jackson and Clay were not local, they have a specific history with Maryland, and it is a history associated with the oppression of the African-American and Native American populations of the state. Bearing this in mind, the narrative of the Maryland Historical society seems to be complicit with a history of racism, and the silences constructed by the archive seem even more egregious. The arrangement here served to repeat the concept initially delivered by the empty pedestals surrounding the silver and gold truth globe: the truth and history of the Maryland Historical Society is rife with omissions. The history that has been collected and curated by the Society, and sedimented in its archive, is a very particular history. The truth trophy (awarded, as it was, for truth in advertising) acts as one element in the visual joke that Wilson stages. The pedestals that surround it, serve to visually demonstrate the absence in the archive of the historical society of African Americans who were local to the state of Maryland. The absurdity and humor results from the fact that busts in the historical society’s collection represent three 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  23 A thorough cross-section of critical scholarship on Fred Wilson and Mining the Museum can be found in Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader edited by Doro Globus, published by Ridinghouse in 2011. Judith E. Stein, Maurice Berger, Lisa G. Corrin, Ira Berlin, Jennifer A. Gonzales, Walter Mignolo and Fred Wilson himself all discuss the installation but do not make reference to Jackson and Clay’s specific relationship to Maryland history. Darby English also discusses the presence of Jackson and Clay in the exhibition in How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness, but his analysis does not account for the specificities of their relationship to Maryland.  24 Henry Noble Sherwood, “The Foundation of the American Colonization Society,” The Journal of Negro History 2, no 1 (1917): 209-228.   	   14	  white historical figures, whose tangential connection to the Maryland area speaks to a history of segregation and racism. Philosopher Simon Critchley has argued that humor often relies on a disjunction of elements, either conceptual or rhetorical.25 On the one hand, conceptual disjunction may be achieved when two elements of a joke seem disparate in their formation. Wilson played with conceptual disjunction in the “Truth Trophy” installation by placing pedestals with busts next to empty ones, an arrangement that was visually jarring. On the other hand, a rhetorical disjuncture may be achieved when our expectations are suddenly thwarted by the visual disjunction. Wilson’s “Truth Trophy” installation thwarted expectations by presenting the viewer with empty pedestals. Throughout the exhibition, Wilson utilized juxtaposition and incongruity in a number of ways.  Wilson’s installations often rely on a conceptual incongruence that is visual in order to produce a rhetorical incongruence. His pairing together of visually disparate elements such the truth globe, empty pedestals and those with busts, served to produce a rhetorical incongruence by somehow thwarting our expectations. This is because, at the same time, these elements share a common ground. Place two disjunctive objects, concepts or ideas side by each, and humor results if there is a revelation of a shared logic or equivalence. Expectations may be thwarted, and a bathos achieved when certain objects are placed together that are simultaneously incongruent, yet share logic. In Wilson’s own estimation, the juxtaposition created by two dissimilar objects creates a “third thought,” and this third thought is where the humor is generated. The objects are placed together with the expectation that their incongruence will be generative. The humor in the “Truth Trophy” installation resulted in the revelation of the absurdity of the Maryland Historical 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  25 Simon Critchley, On Humour (London: Routledge, 2002): 71.	  	   15	  Society’s inattention to local African American history, while famous white historical figures with tangential and problematic connections to the area were accounted for.  The absurdity of this reality was effectively highlighted by Wilson’s arrangements in this initial display. By framing the presences and absences with the truth globe, Wilson subverted our expectations in a number of ways. The installations in Mining the Museum played on conventional museum displays in a way that was familiar to most audience members. The busts and the globe, even the pedestals and vitrines are all items that one might find in a history museum. Their appearance in and of themselves, on one level, is recognizable and expected. When the items are considered side by side, however, some incongruence is registered. The globe declares a plain notion of “truth,” while the pedestals betray the manner in which archives, and indeed history, are constructed. Importantly, the joke relied on the production of a certain amount of tension. There was disjunction registered between elements of the joke. In the example of a verbal joke, the disparate elements would be the body of the joke, and the punch line. The punch line is necessarily incongruous with the tension created by what precedes it, and upon its delivery, the tension is relieved by the comedic effect. This disjunction is simultaneously registered with the perception of a shared logic between elements. Considering how the elements of a verbal joke may be translated into a visual one, the “Truth Trophy” and the pedestals were visually disjunctive, yet they shared a sense of logic, and that was the logic of the archive. The perception of a shared logic is the step that turns two disjunctive elements into a joke. Instead of two dissimilar items simply generating confusion or incongruity, their simultaneous commensurability renders them productive and creates a comedic effect.  	   16	  This simultaneous incongruity and shared logic in the “Truth Trophy” installation is a strategy repeated throughout Wilson’s installations, and it is this structure of installation that made the exhibition so effective. The “Truth Trophy” set the tone for the exhibition, and served to introduce the viewer to the type of humor that Wilson employed throughout. The structure of this display also served to highlight and problematize the continued complicity of the museum institution in perpetuating exclusive histories. It is through his recourse to humor that Wilson was able to intervene in a particularly painful history with such poignancy. As noted with the “Truth Trophy,” Wilson used humor in order to speak to a history of exclusion in a particularly effective way. The artist also employed this strategy with installations like “Metalwork 1793-1880,” which spoke to a history of racism, and “Cabinetmaking 1820-1960,” which foregrounded Maryland’s legacy of racial violence. Wilson’s humor also took aim at the colonial episteme that underpins the organization of the museum, with the installation “Collection of Numbers 76. 1. 25. 3 – 76. 1. 67. 11,” which foregrounded the accession numbers attached to artifacts in the museum. He also utilized humor in his installation “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners,” where he engaged with notions of racism and colonial stereotype. In his installations, it was this perception of incongruity, and the resulting humor that Wilson harnessed in order to explore Maryland’s history of slavery, violence, and racism.26 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  26 Recourse to a particularly dark humor in art is of course, nothing novel. Andre Breton and the surrealists were well known for their engagement with humor, a topic on which Breton published an anthology in 1939. The Anthology of Black Humor, coins the term that would come to define the surrealist notion of humor as something dark, but at the same time, extremely liberating. Black humor rears its head in dark situations that cannot be sufficiently addressed by traditional poetic, artistic, or even scientific work. Quoting Freud, Breton suggests that humor “refuses to be hurt by the arrows of reality or to be compelled to suffer. It insists that it is impervious to wounds dealt by the outside world, in fact, that they are merely occasions for affording it pleasure” (xviii). It is clear that, for Breton, black humor arises out of painful situations that, under normal circumstances, would result in suffering. With the introduction of humor, however, the suffering can be mitigated, and a measure of pain avoided. Indeed, it would seem that the painful situation is the necessary precondition for black humor.   	   17	  In the introduction to his volume, Critchley outlines the three main theories of humor most often discussed in contemporary scholarship on humor. The first, the superiority theory, suggests that we laugh from feelings of superiority over others. In this theory, which Critchley traces to thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Quintillian and Hobbes, laughter is the result of a sudden perception of superiority over someone else. This first theory dominates the philosophical tradition until the eighteenth century.27 The second, the relief theory, asserts that laughter is the release of pent-up energy that would normally be used to repress psychic activity. This theory emerges in the nineteenth century, and Critchley argues that this theory is the most Freudian. According to this theory, the energy that is discharged in laughter provides pleasure because it allegedly economizes upon energy we would normally spend repressing psychic activity.28 And finally, the incongruity theory posits that laughter results from the perception of incongruity between our expectations and reality. Critchely notes that this theory can be traced back to the mid-eighteenth century, and is explored by various philosophers and thinkers, including Kant, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard.29  There are aspects to Wilson’s humor, in fact, that relate to each of the theories that Critchley outlines. The physical structure of each installation relates most overtly to the incongruity theory of humor, while the superiority and relief theories elucidate the function and motivation of Wilson’s humor. The superiority theory begins to explain the roles involved, as the joke identifies a second party who is the victim. The relief theory explores the role of the third party, and the act of witnessing the tendentious humor. 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  27 Critchely, Humour, 2.  28 Ibid. 	  29 Ibid.  	   18	  In his outline of the function and structure of the joke, Critchley draws heavily on Freud’s 1905 Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, in which he meticulously outlines various joke techniques.30 In fact, all three contemporary theories of humor feature heavily in Freud’s 1905 argument. Freud draws a distinction between innocent jokes and jokes with a purpose. Innocent jokes are jokes, which, for the most part, don’t serve a purpose. Tendentious jokes, on the other hand, serve a particular aim beyond fulfilling a simple enjoyment in the witness. These jokes have an underlying meaning, and often communicate significant ideas. These jokes, according to Freud, are used as “envelope[s] for thoughts of the greatest substance.”31 The subject matter of Mining the Museum is of great importance, and Wilson used tendentious humor to question the received narrative perpetuated by the Maryland Historical Society. His jokes poignantly delivered questions to the viewer about racism, violence, and historically sanctioned exclusions.  1.1 Making a Joke of Maryland’s History: “Metalwork 1793-1880” 	  Many of the objects in the exhibition were not humorous in nature, and the history with which Wilson engaged is a painful one. Several of the installations explicitly called upon the viewer to consider Maryland’s history of slavery and violence towards its African American population. The installation “Metalwork 1793-1880” is often cited as being a particularly powerful one within the exhibition, and the jarring juxtaposition of elements is often noted in literature on the 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  30 If you ever endeavor to research or theorize humor, you will quickly realize that Sigmund Freud is something of a hegemon in the field of jokes. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious proposed a theory of humor in 1905, which continues to inform or even haunt contemporary explorations of the subject, and, to date, all sources I have consulted on humor reference Freud extensively. In his writing, Freud dissects various joke techniques, and discusses the psychic motivation and purpose of humor.   31 Freud, Jokes, 92. 	   19	  exhibition.32 Much like the “Truth Trophy” installation, “Metalwork” relied on the visual disjuncture of the objects on display. While the truth globe and pedestals served as a general joke about the nature of the collection and archival omission at the historical society, the objects in the “Metalwork” installation referenced a specific chapter in Maryland’s history of colonization and slavery. I would argue, however, that the “Metalwork” installation opened a discussion on slavery and racism in a particularly nuanced manner that allowed room for the complexity of the history in question. It spoke to both the encounter between master and slave, as well as to the particularly complicated history of race and power relations specifically in Maryland. The installation consisted of a silver service set, ornately embossed wine cups, mugs, teapot and wine decanter. The service set was polished to a high shine, and evoked a sense of wealth, luxury and leisure. The set was rendered in precious metal, and the owner would most certainly have been a member of Maryland’s wealthy elite. Centered amongst the silver service set was a pair of iron slave shackles. Surrounded by the delicate repoussé, the dark color and rough forging of the shackles, their nature and purpose evoked a sense of violence and subjugation, which was heightened by their conceptual disjunction. Displayed on its own, the silver service set may have appeared as an example of metal artisanship, or a specific type of metal design. When juxtaposed with the slave shackles, however, the viewer was invited to contemplate alternative meanings. The silver service set, and the iron slave shackles were so obviously different in style and use that the pairing of them together created a sense of conceptual disjunction, especially in the context of the Maryland Historical Society. According to Lisa G. Corrin, at the time of the exhibition, the Maryland Historical Society followed a Winterthur tradition of display. 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  32 For an alternative analysis of the “Metalwork” installation, see Darby English, How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness.  	   20	  Accordingly, furniture, silver and other domestic objects would be displayed together as “decorative arts,” lit against a backdrop of fine fabrics.33 By placing the silver service set and the slave shackles together in the “Metalwork” display, Wilson upset the principles of the Winterthur tradition, and created his own humorous typology.  The “Metalwork” pairing was at once absurd, and entirely logical. Freud argues that a nonsensical joke consists of presenting something that is nonsensical, the sense of which lies in the revelation and demonstration of something else that is nonsensical. A nonsensical joke will often have two parts. Both elements of the joke’s structure will be absurd, with the first element’s absurdity being a reflection of the second element’s absurdity. With the title of this display, Wilson called up a well-rehearsed museum model of organizing objects by typology, based on a system of differentiation. Typologically organized displays might group items together based on categories like material or use.34 Wilson engaged with typological organizational structures, and it is clear from the title that he organized this display based on the material of the objects, as they were all indeed works in metal. The items were, however, undeniably disparate in appearance, and the display was visually jarring. The visual disjunction here created a rhetorical disjunction, and demonstrated the absurdity of the historical narrative presented by the museum. Displaying these items together is something that would not occur in the Maryland Historical Society under their Winterthur tradition, which is especially absurd given that the objects are both implicated in the state’s history of slavery.   The structure of the joke that Wilson employed is particularly apt for addressing Maryland’s history of slavery, because it necessarily resists categorization. He created an 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  33 Corrin, “Mining the Museum,” 11.  34 William Ryan Chapman, “Arranging Ethnology: Pitt Rivers and the Typological Tradition,” in Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, ed. George W. Stocking, Jr. (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 27.	  	   21	  installation whose elements were at once incommensurable yet based in the same logic and this structure reflects the complicated nature of identity and race relations throughout Maryland’s history. By offering the viewer a joke, Wilson created an installation predicated on the slippage between elements, and it is through this slippage that he was able to account for the complexity of the history in question. Rather than reinforcing a prescribed notion of race-as-identity, the slippages inherent in the humor in Wilson’s installation allowed room for a more complex process of identification. According to historian Ira Berlin, from the time that Maryland was first colonized in the early 1600s, until the end of the civil war, race relations in Maryland were particularly unstable. Many white Europeans arrived in the colony as servants, engaged in a relationship of legal subordination. Most people of African descent arrived legally as slaves and were forced into labor. The white “servant” population and the black “slave” population, under the burden of servitude, forged a relationship that transcended racial bounds. Such blacks and white often “worked together, played together, and, on occasion, stood shoulder to shoulder against the weighty champions of established authority.”35 Up until the nineteenth century, this cross-racial identification complicated the attempts to segregate Maryland’s population along color lines. Further unsettling questions of race and status, for a brief period of time in the seventeenth century in Maryland, the colony’s rule of decent was patrilineal. This created a small population of mixed-race slaves who could claim freedom by reason of their descent from a freeman.36 Maryland also had a unique agricultural economy, largely composed of small-scale tobacco farms in which slaves often worked alongside their owners, often sharing in the same 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  35 Ira Berlin, “Mining the Museum and the Rethinking of Maryland’s History,” in Mining the Museum, ed. Lisa G. Corrin (New York: The New Press/The Contemporary, 1994), 36.  36 Ibid.  	   22	  tasks. Berlin argues that this created a certain sense of shared experience. “By their sense of time and place, their knowledge of the landscape, and their rhythms of their work, Africans and Europeans became one people. During much of the early colonial period, African-American and European-American life developed along parallel lines with a good measure of overlap.”37 Berlin argues that the early history of race relations in Maryland was complex, and that simple historical narratives cannot easily capture the lived experiences of African-Americans and European-Americans. Relating these histories requires a structure that accounts for nuances and specificities, and the fluid structure of the joke does just this.   With the “Metalwork” installation, Wilson made a powerful statement that acknowledged the complexity of race, wealth and violence in Maryland’s history. He did so by employing the structure of a joke. The completed circuit, just as with the registration of humor, relies on the simultaneous perception of the disjuncture and shared logic of the items. The items in “Metalwork”, by a traditional museum classification of use, did not belong together. But, as Wilson so aptly demonstrated, the service set and the shackles share a history from which they cannot be disentangled. The history he presented was not a parallel-yet-separate history. By making a joke of the items, he opted not to present a history of slavery that stood in distinction from the history of Maryland as told by the historical society. Maryland’s history of slavery is complex and impossible to separate from the history curated by the gentlemen of the Maryland Historical Society, and Wilson’s joke bound the narratives together. The historical society’s website describes their collection in categories such as “paintings, silver, furniture, works on paper, textiles, archeological objects, jewelry,” and so on.38 Wilson did not construct an 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  37 Ibid, 37. 	  38 “Collections,” The Maryland Historical Society, accessed August 20, 2014,  	   23	  exhibition of items in a separate category of “African American objects” or “Objects Related to Slavery.” Rather he selected objects from the existing categories, and produced a show that mimicked the existing typology of the institution. This gesture emphasized the extent to which Wilson’s “alternative” history was imbricated within the sanctioned history as told by the Maryland Historical Society.  After the American Revolution, the number of free blacks in Maryland began to swell. Some earned their freedom by taking up arms during battle, while others were emancipated, as Maryland’s agricultural economy shifted. Many farmers abandoned their tobacco crops, which required year round harvesting, in favor of wheat, which only required seasonal labor. In 1774, tobacco accounted for 90 percent of Maryland’s agricultural output, and by 1859 it accounted for less than 15 percent.39 The replacement of tobacco farming with cereal farming produced substantial changes in the requirement of agricultural labor, and this, coupled with the post-American Revolution equalitarian atmosphere, contributed to the rapid growth of the free black population of Maryland.  The size of the free black population, and the complexity of early relations of race and servitude are all aspects of Maryland’s history, which are important to a discussion of the “Metalwork” installation. The joke that Wilson employed was predicated on the slippage of disparate objects revealing a shared logic. It is the joke that allowed him to account for the complexity of the history in question. The objects in the installation were not simply about race, just as Maryland’s history of slavery was not simply about race. The joke had the potential to be read in multiple ways. It was about the broad relationships between privilege and oppression, and luxury and violence. But it was also about the specificity of the master/slave relationship. 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  39 Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 5. 	   24	  The silver service set and slave shackles spoke directly to a history of slavery, arguably one of the most insidious chapters of colonialism. “Metalwork” functioned as a testament to the slave labor economy, which was integral to the functioning of the pre-civil war American economy. The slave labor economy in the state of Maryland produced complicated and unstable race relations but by the beginning of the eighteenth century, Maryland society was specifically organized towards segregation. The divisions between black and white were legislated and laws were drafted that distinguished the rights of each group. The situation of even free black individuals was such that they were denied even the most basic of liberties. By 1750, free black individuals were denied the right to employ white indentured servants, hold office, serve in the militia, or vote.40 The situation for the enslaved black population was even more perilous, and it is this population that Wilson highlighted in the “Metalwork” installation.  The “Metalwork” installation called to mind a specific encounter between a slave owner and slave. It invited the viewer to contemplate the horrors involved in the minutia of slavery. The service set was suggestive of the kind of everyday domestic work to which an enslaved individual might have been subjected. The service set and the shackles speak to a history of coerced labor, but the installation also necessarily called up the physical capture and transport of slaves from Africa to the colonies. Directly beside the “Metalwork” installation, Wilson installed a model of the ship Chausser, a Baltimore Clipper Schooner, the type of vessel converted to slave ships after the war of 1812 (Figure 6). Wilson installed this model ship next to the inventories of slavers. The ship and inventories next to the vitrine containing the “Metalwork” installation affected the arrangement by broadening its scope, and demonstrating the volume of slaves that arrived in Baltimore against their will. Considered in context next to the model ship, which represents a vessel used for the transport of slaves from Africa, the viewer was reminded 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  40 Ibid. 	   25	  of the broad scope and vast geographical reach of the slave trade. The horrors of the minutia of slavery were effectively multiplied by Wilson’s arrangement. Many African Americans in Maryland remained enslaved until it was officially abolished in 1865. During the civil war, Maryland was a border state, and the debate on slavery was extremely polemical. The state was neither part of the Union nor the Confederacy, and the divided sympathies of the citizens of the state have led scholars to argue that there existed two Marylands. One sympathetic with the Union, and in support of manumission, and the other, aligned with the Confederacy, dependent on slave labor for various agricultural industries. By 1850, Maryland had the largest free black population of any slave state but, according to Barbara Jeanne Fields, their position in society was always problematic. As the population of free blacks swelled in Maryland, the newly liberated community began to create their own society. Churches, schools, fraternal societies, and new residences were erected, and these changes frightened and angered many who were still committed to the system of slavery. Slaveholders in Maryland considered the free black population of the state to be “a standing incitement to servile disorder.”41 In addition to campaigning in support of slavery, many slaveholders worked for the elimination of the free black population as well. From the post revolution period until the eve of emancipation, slaveholders and other like-minded members of society petitioned for the physical removal of free blacks from Maryland. In 1817, the American Colonization Society established Maryland in Liberia on the west coast of Africa as a colony for former slaves. Maryland’s slave-owners viewed this removal of African-Americans, which they termed “extirpation”, simply as a step towards civic improvement.42 Noting Maryland’s history 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  41 Ibid, 4.  42 Berlin, “Rethinking Maryland’s History,” 41. 	  	   26	  with the American Colonization Society also offers further context to Wilson’s initial installation of the busts of Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, who, as noted above, were both members of the organization. The Maryland Historical Society has in its archive busts commemorating Jackson and Clay, who were part of a plan attempting to forcefully relocate Maryland’s free black population. The silences in the archive regarding Maryland’s African American history seem more egregious when seen in the context of its commemoration of these individuals. The American Colonization Society’s project, according to Berlin, was less motivated by an inherent belief in the inferiority of the black population, and more about a fear of civil unrest in the aftermath of the radical egalitarianism of the Declaration of Independence. “Believing that black people yearned for the liberty that was the birthright of all people but were forever barred from enjoying it in Maryland, ‘colonizationists’ saw only three alternatives: amalgamation, race war, or physical separation.”43 This attempt to physically remove the black population from Maryland is also reflected in the histories that have been written and recorded by the Maryland Historical Society. The intense urge and attempt to separate the races produced historical silences and voids to which Wilson so aptly drew our attention.  1.2 A Joke at the Expense of the Episteme  	  While it is true that many of the objects in Wilson’s installations have a specific history directly tied to colonialism, his work also engaged with the continued legacy of coloniality by virtue of their intervention into traditional museum practices. It was not simply that Wilson used objects from the colonial era; he installed them in ways that thwarted expectations. In his 2011 essay, “The Darker Side of the Enlightenment,” Walter Mignolo discusses the possibility of a 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  43 Ibid, 42.  	   27	  decolonial reading of Immanuel Kant’s Geography. According to Mignolo, when Kant was delivering his lectures on geography, mapping and describing the earth and its inhabitants, the epistemic foundation of the field was already “deeply grounded in the belief that knowledge-making about the world was detached from the knower.”44 Our Western disciplines, he argues, employ a system of gathering information, of reasoning, and interpreting that is fundamentally incompatible with de-colonial readings. This system of classifications relies on the construction and registration of difference. Mignolo argues that the necessary questions of inquiry need be epistemically disobedient if we are to begin to formulate decolonial knowledge. Wilson embodied this disobedience with his “absurd” pairing in the “Metalwork” installation, which is an example of a nonsensical joke. The important thing to note about Wilson’s installations is that they consisted of objects that are at once incommensurable, while simultaneously sharing a particular logic. The installations were effective precisely because of this simultaneous registration of difference and shared logic. At the heart of the installations was an engagement and play with classificatory systems, which organize Western epistemologies. Santiago Castro-Gomez argues that, for 500 years, the world has been dominated by “the scientific-technical rationality of the Occident,”45 to the exclusion of all other epistemological frameworks. The continued hegemony of Western epistemologies in the realm of determining “real knowledge about the nature, the economy, society, morality and people’s happiness,”46 has relegated all other ways of knowing to the sphere of doxa, placing them firmly in past. Scientific-technical rationality is predicated on a 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  44 Walter Mignolo, “The Darker Side of the Enlightenment: A De-Colonial Reading of Kant’s Geography,” Reading Kant’s Geography, ed. Stuart Elden and Eduardo Mendieta (Albany: State University of New York, 2011), 319-343.  45 Santiago Castro-Gomez, “The Missing Chapter of Empire: Postmodern Reorganization of Coloniality and Post-Fordist Capitalism,” Cultural Studies 21, no 2 (2007): 429.  46 Ibid. 	  	   28	  system of classification based on similarities, and exclusions based on difference. These judgments of similarity and difference are imagined to stem from objectifiable quantitative observations, and can be traced back to the early days of the colonial project, in which European nations undertook to observe and quantify the world, to organize it, and know it in its entirety.47 Wilson’s use of humor took this impetus to classify and organize, and utilized it in the service of a joke. Museums tend to rely on systems of classification and organization in order not only to arrange their archive and to construct their displays. Wilson’s arrangement of items seemed at first to conform to these standards of classification, but upon close consideration, he was most certainly subverting the system. By placing things together as he did in the “Metalwork” installation, that were both similar (i.e. both works of metal), and different (i.e. disparate in appearance, purpose, function), Wilson forced the viewer to consider how these systems of classification function within the institution. 1.3 Beyond Institutional Critique  Institutional critique is usually characterized by a gesture of negation. The art institution, like the university, library, or public archive, was advanced by Enlightenment philosophy. The aesthetic dimension was discursively realized in salons through the process of critique. This was coupled with the promise of public exchange, a public sphere, and the production of a public subject. The art institution also functioned as a space of self-imagining, and was integral to the formation of 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  47 Walter Mignolo and Santiago Castro-Gomez are two authors in a great number who examine the nature and structure of knowledge. Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, in which he outlined the history and structure of scientific advancements and revolutions that trigger paradigm shifts. Following Kuhn’s examination of the structure of scientific paradigms, Michel Foucault, in 1969, examines knowledge as a set of epistemes that are governed by rules in The Archaeology of Knowledge. Other authors approached the question of knowledge from a post-colonial perspective in order to examine the many ways that power and specifically the colonial legacy inform the Western epistemic tradition. Edward Said explores this concept in his 1978 with Orientalism, and Homi Bhabha employs these ideas in his examination of literature in 1994 in The Location of Culture.  	   29	  the bourgeois identity.48 The term “institutional critique” was first used as a description for politicized artistic intervention in Mel Ramsden’s “On Practice” in 1975. Ramsden wrote of the subsumption of art into an overly instrumentalized system characterized by administrators, dealers, critics and pundits. For Ramsden, the art world, and all its major institutions had come to resemble, in nature and function, a capitalist structure.49 The politicized intervention to which Ramsden is referring has a long history and takes many shapes. Through the sixties and seventies, artists began to critically examine the Enlightenment promise of the art institution. For many of these artists, the institution was not adequately fulfilling this promise, and they were interested in examining the social realities that informed museum and gallery spaces. In the moment of its inception, institutional critique was both analytically and politically motivated, and there was the hope that “if one problematized and critically assessed the soundness of the claims advanced…by art institutions, then one would be in a better position to instantiate a nonrepressive art context.”50 The early gesture of institutional critique was one of negation, and according to Alberro, it was dialectical in its attempt at intervention with the hope of synthesizing some sort of real change within the institution.  The possible strategies of institutional critique are numerous. Some artists engage in criticism positioned from within, while others enact strategies that stand outside the institution. These kinds of external criticisms have manifested in a number of ways, including boycotts, public meetings and sit-ins, attempts to gain free entry to museums, and the performance of actions and demonstrations outside the confines of the institution. Attempts to intervene and 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  48 Alexander Alberro, “Institutions, Critique, and Institutional Critique,” in Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists’ Writing, eds. Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009), 3.  49 Ibid, 8.  50 Ibid, 3.	  	  	   30	  critique the institution from within work to expose the political, economic, and ideological structures that dominate the art world. These strategies generally utilize the institution in order to reveal the ideological assumptions on which it rests in order to affect more informed consumption of art and history.  Wilson intervened in the Maryland Historical Society by utilizing the structures of the museum, the staff, gallery spaces, and the objects in the archive, in order to demonstrate the mechanisms that inform the institution’s operation. The objects he installed were objects he discovered in the archive of the museum. They were objects categorized, stored and cared for by the museum, and collected under the mandate to preserve anything relating to remarkable events or characters in Maryland’s history. He installed and titled them in such a way as to mimic typological organization, which foregrounded and interfered with the historical society’s Winterthur model of display. Wilson’s arrangement of the museum’s archive was executed in such a way as to put the institution’s history, ideology and political alignment on display. He demonstrated how the institution’s collection mandate, as laid out by the founders in 1844, has contributed to a historical narrative predicated on racism and exclusion. It is this use of the institution to reveal the underlying assumptions of the institution that prompted Mignolo to call Mining the Museum an epistemically disobedient gesture. He highlighted the structures that organize the day-to-day operation of the museum, its collecting, and its displays. Wilson emphasized the organizational apparatus of the museum quite explicitly in the installation entitled “Collection of Numbers –,” which displayed a number of arrowheads. Normally, there is nothing remarkable about an arrangement of arrowheads, especially in the context of museum display. Wilson, however, opted to turn over the arrowheads so that their accession numbers are made visible. Accession numbers are used in a museum, 	   31	  often affixed directly to artifacts as a means of recording salient information, such as date of acquisition, location in the archive, etc. The numbers are also a means of organizing artifacts so that they may be easily stored and retrieved when necessary.51 The numbers are painted directly on the arrowheads with black India ink, atop white drawing ink; and instead of being hidden from view, they were prominently displayed, and emphasized by the title of the installation. By prominently displaying the accession numbers of the arrowheads, Wilson emphasized the organizing apparatus of the museum and by extension, the Western epistemological underpinnings of the institution.  The epistemological structure that Wilson underlined here is, according to cultural theorists Stuart Hall linked to a productive idea of the “West.” Hall, writing the same year that Wilson prepared Mining the Museum, argues that the West is a historical construct, which refers to a particular kind of society, namely developed, industrialized, urbanized, capitalist, secular and modern.52 The concept of the West is at once a historical construct, and a productive force. It produced organizational frameworks that allowed for individuals to describe things in particular ways with a specific kind of language. “It became both the organizing factor in a system of global power relations and the organizing concept or term in a whole way of thinking and speaking.”53 The concept of the West operates as a standard model of comparison, allowing us to compare societies to each other, and evaluate to what extent they resemble or differ from one another. In addition, the West is also an image or set of images. It is a visual language that 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  51 Thomas J. Braun, “An Alternative Technique for Applying Accession Numbers to Museum Artifacts,” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 46, no 2, (2007): 92.  52 Stuart Hall, “The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power,” in Formations of Modernity: Understanding Modern Societies, eds. Bram Gieben and Stuart Hall (Cambridge: The Open University, 1992), 277.  53 Ibid, 278.  	   32	  necessarily has implications for the display of objects in a museum.54 The West, as a concept, conjures a specific picture in the mind’s eye; and in the museum setting, this image is manifested in a particular strategy of display. A visitor to a museum like the Maryland Historical Society would have come to expect like objects to be catalogued and displayed together in familiar arrangements. It is this expectation, at this particular moment in 1992, that Wilson capitalized on with Mining the Museum.   The show was mounted during a moment when academia was reflecting upon the construction of the historical record and the ways this narrative is disciplined through museological displays. Leading up to Mining the Museum, various other exhibitions were mounted with the intention of presenting a revisionist history to the viewer. In 1987, the Hudson River Museum mounted an exhibition titled The Catskills, which was in direct response to a large-scale retrospective of the Hudson River School painters running at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during the same year. The retrospective at the Met was organized and mounted in a traditional manner, with spacious galleries privileging wall-mounted paintings. The Catskills, by contrast, exhibited landscape, portrait and genre paintings alongside maps, postcards, books, china, railway timetables, hotel bills, and other artifacts related to nineteenth century Catskill tourism. According to Alan Wallach, the combination of displays, and the juxtapositions they created served to demonstrate how the materials on display derived from, and also simultaneously constructed nineteenth-century tourist culture.55 The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, mounted in 1991 The West as America, a highly controversial show that 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  54 Ibid. 	  55 Alan Wallach, Exhibiting Contradiction: Essays on the Art Museum in the United States (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), 120. 	   33	  reframed American history painting with didactic panels that argued for alternative interpretations of the history of the American frontier. Still other exhibitions around this time intervened in traditional exhibition practices with experimental display tactics. For example, “Art/Artifact” opened at the Center for African Art in New York City in 1988. This show installed objects with an attention to how the gallery space frames and contextualizes them. Certain rooms appeared like modern art galleries with whitewashed walls and a lack of contextualizing information, while others mimicked the display techniques of nineteenth-century curiosity cabinets.56 Wilson’s approach to revisionist history, however, was unique among these exhibitions. His restaging of history rests on the installation of the objects in the show, and the way they came together to create new meanings. Rather than relying solely on didacticism and text panels to contextualize and reframe objects, Wilson relied on the arrangement of the objects themselves to suggest alternative histories. He did not overlay an alternative interpretation in contradistinction to an authorized version of history. Instead, he juxtaposed objects in order to create space for a third thought. His humorous arrangements, by resisting traditional didacticism, reframed history in a way that resists the western epistemological tradition. Mignolo and many others have argued that the current hegemonic episteme was established alongside colonial expansion. During the eighteenth century, an unprecedented period of colonial expansion, scientific descriptions of the world’s geography, flora and fauna were a major part of the imperial project. New lands were “discovered,” explored, described and categorized, and a bank of knowledge was established. The world and its species (including people) were meticulously recorded in a rational, scientific manner in which they could be 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  56 James C. Farris, “ART/Artifact: On the Museum and Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 29, no 5 (1988): 775-776. 	   34	  understood by a Western audience. Not only was this a period of unprecedented scientific exploration and knowledge gathering/making, it was a time in which the very definition of knowledge was established. In his essay, Mignolo recites the four questions outlined by Kant in his Logic. What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? And, what is the human being? These questions, according to Mignolo, form the basis of Western epistemological inquiries. Kant, in fact, answers his own questions. He suggests, “Metaphysics answers the first question, morals the second question, religion the third question and anthropology the fourth.”57 Mignolo points to Kant, because for him it is a means of identifying the questions of inquiry that underpin the Western scientific-technical rational way of knowing the world. This definition of knowledge continues today to be the dominant epistemological framework informing universities and museum institutions.  There is, however, an alternative mode of inquiry. In order to subvert the current epistemological structure, Mignolo suggests that we need to begin with different questions: who is the knowing subject and what is his or her material apparatus of enunciation? What kind of knowledge/understanding is he or she engaged in generating and why? Who is benefitting or taking advantage of such and such knowledge and understanding? And, what institutions (universities, media, foundations, corporations) are supporting or encouraging such and such knowledge and understanding?58 Instead of asking what can possibly be known, this decolonial epistemic platform questions the how and why of knowledge. Most importantly, these questions foreground the subjectivity of the individual. 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  57 Mignolo, “Enlightenment,” 325.  58 Ibid.  	   35	  Mignolo argues that it is necessary to begin from these questions in order to decolonize knowledge. This decolonization needs to take place in both scholarship and in museum exhibitions and argues that that is precisely what Wilson is doing with his installations. He sees them as motivated by a decolonial episteme and Wilson’s work, for Mignolo, is decolonial in its use of the institution to reveal the underlying assumptions of the institution.59 I would argue that Wilson’s epistemic disobedience went beyond its intervention in the museum institution. His strategic employment of humor represented a disobedient rhetorical tool in its refusal to conform to colonial definitions of what constitutes knowledge.  Wilson posed a few questions of his own in an educational handout accompanying the exhibition. His questions anticipated the line of inquiry of Mignolo’s proposed de-colonial episteme, and asked questions of the individual visitors. Wilson invited viewers to question what objects were, where they were, and why, for whom the objects were created, and who was represented. He also posed questions, the answers to which were entirely subjective; what do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you think? These questions set the tone for the exhibition and emphasized that it was about questioning histories and locating subjectivities.  Wilson’s strategies of intervention within the Maryland Historical Society are something of a leitmotif in his oeuvre, and as a result, he is often discussed through the lens of institutional critique. It is my contention, however, that his employment of tendentious humor has implications beyond the art institution. Beyond identity politics, and beyond institutional critique, the use of humor in Mining the Museum represents a radical notion of subjectivity in the production of knowledge in the museum space. His use of humor emphasized the notion of subjectivity, as each individual viewer would either be in on the joke or not. The museumgoer at the exhibition played the role of witness to Wilson’s joke. He or she may have registered the 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  59 Mignolo, “Museums in the Colonial Horizon,” 79.	  	   36	  humor, or not. Wilson’s humor was about the specific history of Maryland, and it was also at the expense of the dominant Western episteme. His displays combined objects that were at once disparate, yet shared a particular logic, and the humor was predicated on this slippage. It is this slippage that resists categorization and defies Western epistemologies. It is also this slippage that complicated the role of the witness. The joke here was not simply about identifying as black or white, or as victim or aggressor. Wilson’s jokes cast the audience as either the second or third party, or the victim or witness. This structure made demands of multiple aspects of the viewer’s subjectivities, in a way that acknowledged the complexity of identity.                                	   37	  Section 2: Role Reversal: Humor as Subjectivity The humor in Mining the Museum, reliant as it was on subjectivity, was situated to communicate to a specific audience. Following Freud, the tendentious joke generally calls for three parties. The first party is the one who makes the joke, or is responsible for creating the comedic effect. The second party is taken to be the object of the aggressiveness, or the party at whose expense the joke is made. The third party is necessary to complete the circuit, and their role is to bear witness to the joke, and it is their pleasure that the comic seeks to fulfill.60  In Mining the Museum, following Freud, Wilson was the first party, the individual responsible for organizing the humorous installations. Wilson’s tendentious jokes were arguably at the expense of individuals and institutions that are (consciously or otherwise) perpetuating a particular worldview. This worldview is one predicated on the continued marginalization of the Other, and one that seeks to maintain the status quo. Wilson’s jokes specifically took aim at Western institutionalized knowledge, and colonial epistemologies that continue to privilege a particular method of classification and organization originating from the enlightenment. In order to identify as the third party, an individual needed to witness the installations and register their humor. The individual audience member might have identified as either the second or the third party of the joke, and Mining the Museum was particularly powerful because these roles were fluid and not prescribed.  The museumgoer, depending on their subjectivity, might have found themselves either in on the joke, or the victim of Wilson’s humor. The jokes that Wilson constructed in the exhibition inverted the power relations perpetuated by Enlightenment classifications and Western institutionalized epistemologies. In addition to presenting the audience with an alternative 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  60 Freud, Jokes, 100. 	   38	  historical narrative, they also had the potential to cast the viewer in the role of either second or third party in the joke.  The installation “Cabinet Making” played with the notions of power and victimization in a number of ways. In this installation, Wilson arranged four wooden chairs to face a whipping post. The chairs were arranged such that they appeared to be awaiting an audience. The objects seemed to be anticipating an event, with the presence of the whipping post suggesting punitive violence. The arrangement readily suggested the presence of certain individuals. The appearance and quality of craftsmanship of the chairs suggested a refined atmosphere, a formal interior setting. One can imagine members of Maryland’s wealthy elite having occupied these chairs. The individuals represented by the chairs are the same ones represented by the silver service set in “Metalwork.” They are among Maryland’s rich and powerful and, as suggested in the “Metalwork” arrangement, they would have been the beneficiaries of the slave labor economy. The arrangement in “Cabinet Making” suggested that these individuals were also implicated in state-sanctioned violence and torture. The title of this installation, “Cabinet Making” is part of the same strategy that Wilson employed with “Metalwork.” He was alerting the viewer to the different typology of display that he is affecting at the Maryland Historical Society. This method of display intervened in the Winterthur model employed by the society, and suggested new criteria for grouping objects together. In the case of “Cabinet Making,” all of the objects were crafted in wood, though their purpose and appearance are disparate. The chairs were suggestive of sitting and relaxing in a sophisticated environment, while the whipping post suggested public corporal punishment. Similar to “Metalwork,” this installation employed the structure of disparate objects united by a specific typology identified in the title. 	   39	  The title of “Cabinet Making” can also be understood in the active sense, and implies labor. This is especially significant given that Maryland’s early legislators made conscious efforts to reinforce the plantation-based political economy.61 During the seventeenth century, Maryland experienced chronic labor shortages, and during the first half of the century, the state relied on a substantial immigration of white indentured servants to fill labor requirements. The demographic of laborers shifted during the latter half of the seventeenth century when a large number of African slaves replaced the population of indentured servants.62 For much of the seventeenth century, however, Maryland experienced an acute labor shortage, and for this reason, the death penalty was eliminated from lesser crimes and replaced with lashes and fines. Subsequently, criminals convicted of crimes such as theft were subjected to corporal punishment and sunk into debt. The legislative decisions made in the early colonial history of Maryland were influenced by the states labor shortages, and this legislation influenced the application of corporal punishment well into the nineteenth century. Wilson hints at the interconnection between labor and Maryland’s legislation of corporal punishment with the title of this installation.  While both black and white individuals would have received public lashing for crimes committed, slaves were disproportionately punished in this manner. Slaves would receive lashes as punishment for petty larceny in place of fines because they had no means of paying. In addition, punishment for certain crimes such as “fornication and bastardy” carried heavier penalties for black individuals than for white. Lashing was carried out in public, and the application of corporal punishment was a spectacle. This public display was intended to deter 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  61 Jim Rice, “This Province, so Meanly and Thinly Inhabited”: Punishing Maryland’s Criminals, 1681-1850,” Society for Historians of the Early American Republic 19, no 1 (1999): 20.  62 Ibid.	  	   40	  potential criminals.63 Given Maryland’s history of corporal punishment, the “Cabinet Making” installation highlighted the disproportionate victimization of the black slave population. Wilson also emphasized the aspect of spectacle involved in the punishment by arranging the chairs around the whipping post as if they were awaiting an audience. Political scientist Robert M. Pallitto has argued that the history of liberalism in the United States is impossible to separate from a history of state sanctioned torture. There is a parallel trajectory between the attitudes towards actual bodies of the victims of state sanctioned violence, and the development of a purportedly liberal political order. For Pallitto, there has always been a gap between the ideal of liberal commitments, and actual state practices in the United States.64 This gap is manifested in certain “states of exception,” whereby individual’s rights are suspended, and corporeal punishments are carried out.65 Maryland legislated states of exception as early as 1681, with the passing of “The Act for the Speedy Trial of Criminals,” which subjected slaves to separate corporal punishment for certain crimes. Wilson’s installation in “Cabinet Making” made this state of exception visible. He presented the viewer with a visual manifestation of the contradiction between liberalism and state sanctioned violence with the refined armchairs arranged around the whipping post. When these objects are displayed together, the chairs come to represent the liberal political order, and the whipping post the parallel history of state violence. The political reading becomes more apparent when we note that one of the chairs, in fact, bears the symbol of the Baltimore Equitable Society, which served to heighten the perception of disjunction.  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  63 Ibid, 22.  64 Robert M. Pallitto, ed., Torture and State Violence in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2011), 1.  65 Pallitto cites the argument of political theorist Carl Schmitt in his discussion of “states of exception”.	  	  	   41	  With this installation, Wilson again foregrounded connections between parallel histories that are often ignored. He achieved this by utilizing the structure of a joke, and placing objects together that were disparate, yet shared a similar logic. The objects in the installation were not installed as if they were part of a separate history of the African American population of Maryland. Rather, Wilson brought to light the overlooked and silenced aspects of the sanctioned narrative of the Maryland Historical Society. By the museum’s traditional mode of classification and display, an installation of these chairs would not seem out of the ordinary, and might stand as an example of fine wooden craftsmanship or the interior spaces of Maryland’s elite. By installing the chairs with the whipping post, however, Wilson invited the viewer to consider the relationship of these refined objects to a parallel history of state sanctioned violence.  While the corporal punishments carried out on the whipping post would generally have had an audience, those witnessing the punishment would not have been seated in armchairs. Thus, the arrangement and refined appearance of the chairs produced a sense of disjuncture and absurdity, and suggested particular roles for the individuals watching the lashing. The victims would have been disproportionately black and poor, while Maryland’s wealthy white individuals would not have been subjected to this kind of treatment. Wilson’s arrangement, however, inverted the roles of victim and witness by making the individuals represented by the chairs the target of the joke. His intervention here is significant. He explored a painful history of violence and racism, but by using the structure of a joke, he complicated the relationship of victim and perpetrator.  The role of the viewer was also complicated in this installation. If a particular aspect of the installation resonated with them, they may have identified as a witness to the joke, or as a victim of it. Wilson created the joke in the “Cabinet Making” installation, but it was up to the 	   42	  individual audience member to locate herself or himself.  Mining the Museum did not fix the second and third parties necessary to complete the joke circuit. The power of the exhibition was that whether an audience member became the second or third party was dependent upon their identification and subjectivity.  The individual audience member would necessarily approach the exhibition from his or her own perspective, and their individual subjectivities would influence whether or not humor is registered. In order for the circuit to be completed, the audience must be “in on the joke”, or believe in the inherent dark humor of the installation. The subjective nature of humor means that not everyone will perceive the comedic effect, and indeed there was a certain measure of discrepancy with Wilson’s installations. During a guided tour of the exhibition, the Director of Education for the society witnessed a surprising audience reaction: One black man said to me that it was almost humorous. I was blown away. Nobody in any of the other groups had thought it was humorous. And another black man said, “Well, I don’t see anything funny about it. To me it’s not funny at all. I’ve had personal experience with the Klan in Louisiana and I can hardly look at this. I am sweating right now, just looking at it.” There was more of a general discussion and a white woman in the group moved on toward [the next room] and said, “I think we’ve been here long enough. I think it’s time to move on.”66  As this episode with three distinct points of view demonstrates, the humor that Wilson employed was by no means universal. Certain audience members were predisposed to find the exhibition humorous, while others were unable to register the comic effect. This discrepancy, however, is not the result of an unsuccessful joke. Rather, it is a testament to the subjective nature of Wilson’s project. His deployment of humor emphasized the inherent contingency of subjectivity on which his intervention relied. The joke structure that Wilson employed in the exhibition had 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  66 Judy Van Dyke, as quoted in Jennifer A. González, “Fred Wilson: Material Museology,” in Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, ed. Doro Globus (London: Ridinghouse, 2011), 346.   	   43	  implications for the role of the audience. If humor was registered, the audience member was cast as the third party in the joke, or as the witness. Alternatively, however, there was the potential for the audience member to occupy the role of the victim in the joke. Significantly, however, the joke structure requires all three roles, and the presence of a witness. It cannot be completed without it. In this way, Wilson installations relied heavily on the viewer, and their affiliations with specific identities.  Mignolo argues that if we are to achieve decolonial knowledge, it is not enough to simply say that knowledge is situated, or that experience is the seat of knowledge. These statements do not do enough to unseat knowledge from its colonial matrix.67 Knowledge itself still remains the domain of the knower, disembodied and beyond geo-political histories or bio-political subjectivities. As Mignolo argues, decolonial knowledge must go beyond a change in content, it entails a change in the logic of the conversation. We must recognize that colonial epistemologies racialized bodies and places. These epistemologies produce knowledge that cannot be rearranged to account for subjectivity because they originate from an exclusionary assumption. Rather, decolonial knowledge need to fully face and address any remaining fantasies of objectivity, and Wilson’s humor did just this. The role of subjectivity in humor and the necessity of individual perception of the comic effect, suggests a decolonial shift not by changing the content, but by changing the logic of the conversation. Since the beginning of the imperial project, Europeans collected information and penned descriptions of distant parts of the world, and the white European male was responsible for arranging this knowledge. A seemingly messy and disorganized world was scientifically ordered, and rendered legible from the exalted position of the objective observer. The hierarchy of races developed during the Enlightenment cannot be separated from the epistemological framework 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  67 Mignolo, “Enlightenment,” 328. 	   44	  whereby the scientific-technical rational way of knowing the world is valued above all else. And, since the Enlightenment, scholars and artists have been grappling with the legacy of these concepts of race, and the manner in which they continue to influence the politics of identity.68 2.1 A Joke on Colonial Identity  The early sciences of race position the white European advantageously to be the producer and keeper of knowledge. Humankind, in the late eighteenth century, began to be divided between humanitas, those who control knowledge, and anthropos, those whose knowledge is not considered legitimate. The former group includes white Europeans, while the latter includes nearly everyone else.69 Difference was written on the complexions and facial features of the human body, which were categorized and ordered. The humanitas/anthropos binary began with the descriptions of foreign bodies as markers of difference, and was reified and institutionalized in the colonial epistemologies. For many theorists on race, and for Kant in particular, different peoples, once described and categorized, were fit into a hierarchical framework. Kant outlined this hierarchy in Geography, where he states, “[i]n hot regions, people mature earlier in every sense, but do not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity is in its greatest perfection in the race of the whites. Yellow Indians have somewhat less talent. Negroes are far lower, and at the bottom lies a portion of the American peoples.”70 After the races are described, distinct from each other, they are ordered according to their perfection and talents, and all under the authority of science. Significantly, for Kant, nature and all its constituent parts, including man, could be thought of as 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  68 In addition to Hall and Mignolo, the politics of identity and the impact of colonialism on the Western idea of knowledge are also taken up by Frantz Fanon, Partha Chatterjee, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha, among others.  69 Mignolo, “Enlightenment,” 352.  70 Kant, as quoted in Mignolo, “Enlightenment,” 334.	  	   45	  adhering to the teleological principle. Nature was rationally moving towards a logical end and the linear history of Man could be seen to unfold in the hierarchy of the races. At issue here is not only the idea of race and colonial identity, which was ‘scientifically’ constructed in the eighteenth century, but the very manner in which this knowledge was legitimated and reified.  An installation where Wilson dealt explicitly with identity is “Portraits of Unknown Cigar Store Owner, Elizabeth Buckler, John Klein, and Bernard Faistenhamer.”  The installation consisted of cigar store Indians that were arranged to face photographs of various individuals of Native American descent, which hung on the walls. The statues are carved from wood and all stand contrapposto. Four of the five statues depict individuals in ornate headdresses, and the fifth statue wears a simple hat. All are dressed in robes, and have long painted black hair. Each has an arm extended offering tobacco, a traditional crop of Native tribes in the Americas, and a historically important cash crop in Maryland. The statues were arranged so that they faced away from the viewer, oriented towards the wall. On the wall, Wilson installed photographs of individuals of Native American descent, which range in date from 1930-1990. A number of these photographs are posed portraits of one or more individuals. One photograph shows a couple on their weddings day, another shows three people behind the counter of a general store. Significantly, none of the individuals in the photographs can be described as stereotypically “native” in appearance; they appear quite different from the statues. The arrangement of the statues seemed to suggest that they were actively looking at the photographs. The statues, usually inert and somewhat offensive representations of Native Americans, were activated by Wilson’s installation, and imbued with agency.  Wilson titled the statues after the owners of the cigar stores, presumably the individuals who commissioned the statues. The wooden statues, commissioned by non-Natives, would 	   46	  typically have been installed outside Cigar stores. The goal with these statues would not have been a faithful depiction of a member of a specific Native American culture; rather, they were intended as a symbol of welcome. Tobacco was understood in the context of these statues to indicate a gesture of welcome. Today, they are seen as pejorative stereotypes. They represent a trope, a reductive fantasy of Native American identity. For Homi Bhabha, colonial stereotypes are marked by ambivalence. Stereotypes mark out an Other that is “at once the object of desire and derision.”71 Colonial discourses construct the Other, through stereotypes, so that they are foreign, strange or confusing, at the same time that they are fully knowable and visible; outside, yet wholly contained. The stereotype is essentially a paradox, and this paradox is prone to slippage. This installation focused on this slippage, and made of it a joke. The two representations of Native Americans, the statues and the black and white photographs were indeed disparate. Titled “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners,” the installation led the viewer to question how individual and group identity is constructed, and who has a hand in the process. In her exhibition catalogue essay, Lisa G. Corrin argues that the statues, arranged as they are, suggest to the viewer that these depictions of “Indians” may, in fact, be more telling of their owners than of actual Native Americans.72 The intervention here, I believe, was slightly more complex. It is significant that the statues were “portraits”, which traditionally speaking, aim to present a close mimesis to the person being represented. It is obvious that the statues did not resemble any particular individual, let alone the owners of the cigar stores by whom they were commissioned. By titling them “portraits” however, Wilson subtly questioned that reliability of any representation that aspires to mimesis. Placing the statues in such close proximity to the photographs of actual individuals forced the viewer to think about the construction of racial 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  71 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 116.  72 Corrin, Mining the Museum, 15. 	   47	  identity. In addition, Wilson’s “Portrait of Cigar Store Owners” troubled a notion of identity that relies on binaries of Self and Other via the rhetorical tool of humor.  In this installation, Wilson’s joke was the result of the disjuncture between the cigar store Indians, and the historical photographic portraits of Native Americans. The black and white photographs, with their stiff and formal composition, served as a kind of exalted historical document. On the other hand, the statues, originally purposed to stand at the entrance to tobacco shops, are today recognized as stereotypes. Though there exists a sharp disjuncture in legibility, between the historical portraits and the stereotypical statues, the objects also share a sense of logic in that they are both mediated representations. The simultaneous disjuncture and shared logic produced the joke by which Wilson questioned stereotypes and questioned the construction of colonial, racialized identities. For Bhabha, identities imposed upon a colonized people are never fixed, but often oscillate between fear and desire. There is also a fundamental difficulty inherent in defining and describing the Other. It is this difficulty in naming the Other, and being able to name one’s own relationship to the Other that creates a crisis of representation, or the slippages that betray the imposition of a colonial identity. At certain moments the mechanisms that impose identity are exposed, and the representation is seen to be just that; a representation that is constructed, and an idea that often loses its purchase on the Other. Wilson’s arrangement of Cigar Store Indians and portraits of Native Americans spoke to the difficulty of defining and describing the Other. The statues are obvious stereotypical representations that were revealed as constructions when placed beside portraits of Native Americans. The portraits however, should also not be seen as a “true” representation of Native Americans or a direct foil to the statues. They are also mediated representations that attempt to fix identity. Colonialism was, and continues to be inherently 	   48	  corporeal. Janice Boddy argues that attention must be paid to the “tacit everyday bodiliness of colonial experience” in anthropological, feminist and critical historical literature.73  This scholarship must move away from conventional, event-oriented colonial accounts. Attention to the bodily experience of colonialism helps to expose and emphasize the subtle pressures put on colonial subjects to “civilize” their daily lives.74 The colonized were made to alter their customary practices in order to adopt a more European lifestyle. This necessarily imposed upon their “habits of dress, work, bodily comportment, speech, adornment, cleanliness and domestic order, foods they deemed edible and how they consumed them.”75 In essence, cultural practices, which formed the identities of the colonized peoples, were forcibly altered, and a new racialized identity was imposed upon their bodies.  As Bhabha argues, colonization often involves the imposition of the colonizers customs, values and religion on the colonized population. Colonizers often aim to “civilize” indigenous populations, but when the colonized population mimics their customs, the result is unstable. The adoption of customs is never unproblematic or complete. For Bhabha, the colonial desire for mimicry is the desire for “a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite.”76 Mimicry is marked with ambivalence, and placed side-by-side, the statues and portraits offered no definitive answer on the question of identity. The statues that Wilson installed speak to Bhabha’s notion of stereotype, with their long hair, feather headdresses, and colorful robes. The photographs he installed opposite these statues, with Native 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  73 Janice Boddy, “Bodies Under Colonialism,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, ed. Frances E. Mascia-Lees (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2011), 119.  74 Ibid. 	  75 Ibid.  76 Bhabha, Culture, 122.  	   49	  Americans in Western dress, speak to the notion of mimicry. Both aspects of the display troubled the Self-Other binary, and revealed the slippages inherent in colonial identity.   This installation also must be considered in relation to the specific history of the colonization of the United States. The early years of the American settlement were characterized by violent clashes between colonizers and the indigenous populations. After the end of the American Revolution the country’s native population became identified with the enemies of the republic.77 American hunger for territory, westward expansion and the concept of Manifest Destiny saw indigenous land ownership as an obstacle to the prosperity of the nation. The American congress and a number of presidents including Andrew Jackson, sought to overcome this obstacle with treaties demarcating Native territories (most of which were subsequently breached) and executive orders for the removal of Native populations.78  Relations between the American government and Indigenous tribes in the nineteenth century were characterized by violent conflicts, and policies of forced relocation and removal that are today recognized as sanctioned genocide.79 That the statues in the installation offer tobacco as a gift of welcome seems especially absurd given this history. Indigenous tribes in Maryland were decimated by disease in the early colonial period, and the remaining populations were subsequently displaced from their traditional territory. Today there are no federally recognized Native American Tribes in the state of Maryland.80 The statues’ gestures of welcome appear to cleanse the history of violent displacement of Native Americans. The narrative of 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  77 Colin G. Calloway, “The Continuing Revolution in Indian Country,” in Native Americans and the Early Republic, eds. Frederick E. Hoxie, Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999), 3. 	  78 Paul VanDevekder, Savages and Scoundrels, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), xvii.  79 Ibid. 	  80 “Federal and State Recognized Tribes,” National Conference of State Legislatures, accessed August 20, 2014, 	   50	  western expansion sanctioned by the United States celebrates the taming of a wild and, for the most part, unpopulated frontier. The cigar store Indian statues represent a fantasy of the kind of relations and interactions that occurred during westward expansion, and a sanitization of the true nature of colonization. The arrangement of the statues and the photographs in “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners” visually insisted upon the instability of colonial identity. The stereotype is only successfully applied on the static figures of the wooden statues, and began to fall apart when the statues are placed next to the photographs. The photographs did not simply debunk the stereotypes. Instead they offered an alternative image of the Other. They alluded to the impossibility of the colonial desire to ever fully know or wholly contain the Other. With the visual disjuncture affected by the installation, the mechanisms of the colonial identity were revealed, and Wilson challenged the episteme that has a hand in the construction of the colonial subject. Wilson’s “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners” was a joke that revealed the faulty reasoning of the construction of the colonial subject. Placing the statues alongside the photographs made a certain kind of sense in that both objects were representations of Native Americans. This logical reasoning served as a façade for the absurdity inherent in the stereotype.   2.2 Revisiting Identity Politics  Exposing pervasive stereotypes and challenging colonial epistemologies is no simple task. Wilson was intervening in a system of knowledge production and classification that originated with the Enlightenment and has been all but hegemonic since the beginning of the colonial period. Further, Mining the Museum revealed historical blind spots, challenged the very notion of history, and forced the viewer to question the dominant narrative. The impetus behind this challenge, namely the notion that aims to challenge the hegemonic episteme and expose its deep 	   51	  imbrication with racial and cultural identity, is certainly not unique to Fred Wilson. By the late 1980s, many academics and artists had begun questioning notions of history and identity, as they were traditionally understood by colonial epistemologies. In a broad academic sense, this questioning was an integral part of the field of identity politics. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the social sciences began to vigorously question the old identities that attempted to stabilize the social world. Throughout the seventies and early eighties, these constructed identities, predicated on strict definitions race, gender and nationality began to dissolve, giving way to a so-called “crisis of identity” and fragmenting the modern individual as a modern unified subject.81 During this time, Stuart Hall published extensively on the notion of identity and the question of subjectivity. According to Hall, the “crisis of identity” is brought on by distinct structural changes that transformed modern society. These structural changes fragment the cultural landscapes of class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race and nationality, which traditionally gave the individual a firm location.  These structural changes also affected the individual’s personal identities, undermining their sense of self as integrated subjects. The loss of a stable “sense of self”, sometimes called the de-centering or dislocation of the subject, coupled with a fragmented cultural landscape displaces the individual from society and from themselves.82 Quoting Kobena Mercer, Hall states, “identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty.”83 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  81 Stuart Hall, “The Question of Cultural Identity,” in Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies, eds. Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert and Kenneth Thompson (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 596.  82 Ibid.  83 Kobena Mercer, as quoted in Hall, “Cultural Identity,” 596.  	   52	  Hall lays out three conceptions of identity. The first, the Enlightenment conception of identity is based on the idea of a person as a fully centered, unified individual endowed with the ability to reason, the capacity for consciousness and action, and a spirit that remains essentially unchanged from birth to death. In the sociological conception of identity, the subject forms an identity in relation to the culture of the world s/he inhabits via symbolic interactions. Identity exists as a sort of core substance, which is continuously modified by dialogue with the outside world.84 The final conception of identity that Hall addresses is the post-modern identity. This subject might inhabit several sometimes-contradictory subjectivities. “Identity becomes a ‘moveable feast’: formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround us.”85 Increasingly, the political landscapes of the modern world are destabilized, fractured and shifting. Instead of being predominantly located in a “master identity”, determined, say, by class or race, identifications are dislocated and proliferated. The post-modern conception of identity is slippery, constantly shifting, and mutable.  Throughout his argument, Hall reminds the reader that identity shifts according to how the subject is addressed and represented, and is not an automatic process. Identity may be won or lost, constructed or deconstructed according to the influences and representations that a subject is exposed to. Accordingly, the manner in which certain identities were represented became an issue of increasing importance throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Artists and academics alike began to scrutinize the ways races, classes and genders were constructed differently, and the mechanisms of these constructions became a major focus.  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  84 Hall, “Cultural Identity,” 598.  85 Ibid.	  	  	   53	  Hall’s post-modern subject, variously identifying in multiple and sometimes contradictory ways, is important to the function of Mining the Museum. The objects that Wilson selected, and the way he structured the installations, invited the viewer to identify with them, but did not prescribe the way she or he might have done so. The slippages inherent in the humor Wilson employed reflect the slippages characteristic of the post-modern self. Rather than perpetuating fixed identities based on race and class, the installations in Mining the Museum acknowledged the contradictions and complexity of the process of identification.  In contrast, art historian Darby English has argued that the installations in Mining the Museum perpetuate the notion of an intrinsically differential, or essentialist cultural space.86 In one of the few critical assessments of the show, English argued that Wilson’s exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society served to reinforce reductive notions about African American history and art. He is skeptical of the way Wilson framed the project within the museum and found the thematic link to slavery problematic. Mining the Museum seemed to English to be an exercise in tokenism, in which Wilson showed an African American audience that they were also represented at the Maryland Historical Society, and that their history was also there. Most importantly, for English, none of the installations in the show were unstable, and Wilson’s installations presented the viewer with an alternative, albeit fixed history of African Americans in the state. I would argue, by contrast, that Wilson’s arrangements were far more fluid and prone to slippage than English acknowledges. The humor in arrangements like “Metalwork,” “Cabinet Making” and “Portraits of Cigar Store Owners” operated as closed systems in which visually disjunctive, yet historically linked elements created a joke. The joke resulted from highlighting the juxtaposition of different objects, the silver service set and the shackles, or arm 	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  86 Darby English, How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2007), 166. 	   54	  chairs and whipping post, which were simultaneously incommensurable and inextricably intertwined.  Within these installations, the viewer was invited to consider slavery and leisure, privilege and oppression, as parts of the same system. The jokes were the result of slippages however, and the role of the viewer is not prescribed. It is not a simple matter of an “other” audience entering the museum and seeing “their” history on display, as English suggests. Mining the Museum, rather recast the historical roles of victim and witness and called upon the subjectivity of the viewer to identify herself or himself as the second or third party in the joke – or perhaps both simultaneously.  A great number of the objects in the exhibition related to a history of racism, slavery and oppression. The emphasis on this particular history was set into a local context when Wilson identified historical blind spots within the archive of the Society, as he did with the display of empty pedestals at the entrance to the exhibition. As a result, the viewer was prompted to question the relationship between historical narratives, omissions, and their influence on conceptions of the self. The exhibition questioned what role the institution played in the construction of identity. Wilson entered the archive at a moment in the early nineties informed by the crisis of identity, with the intention of exploring the historical processes that produced (and reproduces) conceptions of race, class and gender. These conceptions necessarily require the demarcation of boundaries between particular identities but significantly they were not fixed boundaries in Mining the Museum.     	   55	  Epilogue: Decoloniality, Post-structuralism, and the Structure of the Joke  Mining the Museum was well positioned to engage in a number of key debates in the late eighties and early nineties. Wilson’s installations critically examined the ways in which the Maryland Historical Society selected, curated and presented a very specific history, by selecting, curating and presenting an alternative version. He mounted a show that focused on a history and demographic that had been silenced as a result of the mandate and method of the museum. After visiting Mining the Museum at the Maryland Historical Society, the rest of the history in the museum was effectively called into question.  In a 1992 interview with the City Paper in Baltimore, Wilson was asked whether he thought people would be outraged by his exhibition. He responded, “I use humor a lot, I use irony a lot. I hope it’s something that will last a little longer than something that just has shock value.”87 He goes on to emphasize that the show at the Maryland Historical Society is not combative in nature, but he admits that it would likely defy the expectations of visitors who are expecting a traditional historical exhibition. Wilson’s explicit intention was to invite the viewer to question the institution, the history it presented, and the various ways identity was implicated in the process. Many authors have discussed the effectiveness of Wilson’s 1992 intervention; Walter Mignolo discussed the epistemic disobedience and decoloniality of Wilson’s work by examining his use of the institution to reveal the underlying assumptions of the institution. Judith Stein identified Wilson’s sense of humor and propensity for irony in his selection of objects for the installation. Little attention has been paid, however, to the implications of the structure of humor in his installation for the role of the viewer, and this thesis examined a number of the installations through this lens.  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  	  87 Simon Dumenco, “Lost and Found: Artist Fred Wilson pulls apart Maryland’s Hidden History,” in Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, ed. Doro Globus (London: Ridinghouse, 2011), 39. 	   56	  Though Lowery Stokes Sims asserts that post-colonial theory is now arcane in the discussion of Wilson’s work, I believe that Walter Mignolo, Santiago Castro-Gomez, Homi Bhabha, and Stuart Hall, all of whom are heavily indebted to post-structuralism and post-colonial theory, are crucial voices for understanding Wilson’s intervention. The legacy of post-structuralism necessarily questions the stability of knowledge, and the location of authority in the construction of meaning. My argument for the role of the viewer in the perception of humor in Wilson’s installations is informed by these concepts. Wilson’s installations, and the tendentious humor they engender radically decenter meaning in the context of the museum. Wilson enters the context of the Maryland Historical Society and presents an alternative history, but this history is not just another stable, didactic narrative. Instead, he presents the viewer a juxtaposition of images and objects, in order that a third thought might be revealed. Because he structures these juxtapositions as jokes, the third thought forms fluidly. Its formation is dependent on the subjectivity of the viewer, on the identity of the victim of the joke, and on Wilson himself. Attention to the slippages inherent in tendentious humor reveals the breadth and complexity of the work Wilson does with Mining the Museum and has implications for the analysis of other humorous works of art.  Arguing for the importance of humor as an epistemically disobedient rhetorical tool demands an engagement with post-colonial theory and an allusion to post-structuralism. For this reason, I am tempted to suggest that humor, post-colonialism and post-structuralism may all, in fact, be distant cousins. A tendentious joke is inherently unstable, predicated on slippage and fundamentally subjective, and this why it so readily lends itself to a post-colonial or post-structuralist intervention.  	   57	  The joke was the perfect platform from which to address the questions of identity that arose in authors like Frantz Fanon in the early fifties, and continued with Homi Bhabha and Stuart Hall in the early nineties. The structure of the joke was also perfectly poised to comment on colonial epistemologies, identities and stereotypes because their construction and imposition is fundamentally unstable. The humor in Mining the Museum intervened so radically in the institution because the essential nature of the joke relies on the same slippages and deconstructions that form the basis of post-colonial studies. Interrogating the legacy of colonialism and the structure of knowledge is a process that seeks out slippages. Post-colonialism and post-structuralism take aim at the Enlightenment notion of “objectivity,” and the structure of the joke compliments this in it’s reliance on subjectivity. The humor in Wilson’s installations produced a small rupture in the façade of the colonial institution. By utilizing the structure of a joke, Wilson managed to change the logic of the conversation, and carve out a space for a long neglected individual. The role of the victim, with the sudden cathartic release of laughter, is recast as the third party in the joke, and from this position, agency can be reclaimed.         	   58	  Illustrations 	   Figure 1 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was an image of the installation listed below. 	  Figure 1. Fred Wilson. Truth Trophy, installation view, 1992, silver plated copper globe, acrylic mounts, marble pedestals and busts.  Figure 2 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was an image of the installation listed below.   Figure 2. Fred Wilson. Metalwork 1793-1880, installation view, 1992, silver vessels in Baltimore Repoussé style, slave shackles.  Figure 3 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was an image of the installation listed below.  Figure 3. Fred Wilson. Collection of Numbers, installation view, 1992, white drawing ink black India ink, lacquer.  Figure 4 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was an image of the installation listed below.  Figure 4. Fred Wilson. Cabinet Making 1820-1960, installation view, 1992, wood, mother of pearl, brocade, paint, gilding.  Figure 5 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was an image of the installation listed below.  Figure 5. Fred Wilson. Portraits of Cigar Store Owners, installation view, 1992, wood, lacquer, black-and-white photographs.  Figure 6 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was an image of the installation listed below.  Figure 6. Fred Wilson. Model of Chausser, Baltimore Clipper Schooner, installation view, 1992, wood, lacquer, string.        	   59	  Bibliography  Alberro, Alexander. “Institutions, Critique, and Institutional Critique.” In Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists’ Writing, edited by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, 2-19. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009.  Barnes, L. Diane. Frederick Douglass: Reformer and Statesman. New York: Routledge, 2013.  Bedini, Silvio A. Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Volume 19, s.v. “Benjamin Banneker.” Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008, 174.  Berlin, Ira. “Mining the Museum and the Rethinking of Maryland’s History.” In Mining the Museum, edited by Lisa G. Corrin, 35-46. New York: The New Press/The Contemporary, 1994.  Bernasconi, Robert. “Introduction.” In The Idea of Race, edited by Robert Bernasconi and Tommy L. Lott, vi-xviii. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000.  Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.  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