This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I. Opening July 1, 2017, and on view through January 7, 2018, In Flanders Fields Museum is pleased to present Fire Bill’s Spook Kit, the first solo museum exhibition of American artist and 2017 artist-in-residence Wilmer Wilson IV.
Fire Bill’s Spook Kit is the result of Wilson’s research into the aftermath of America’s participation in the Great War, as well as his numerous weeks spent utilizing the museum’s Knowledge Center, visiting cemeteries, and exploring farms in and around Ypres. In the resulting works the artist draws a number of connections between the deeply scarred landscape of the Belgian front, and American agricultural sites of postwar social terror. It centers around an anonymous figure named Fire Bill, who in 1919 sent a furious letter to a Mississippi sheriff threatening to “burn the entire state” and “poison every horse, mule and cow” if the continued lynchings of Black people did not stop. The letter caused a minor stir in the press, and was reprinted in two newspapers; both versions have slight but profound differences in spelling, phrasing, and grammar, corresponding to the stance the editors take in relation (or opposition) to its existence. The original letter is lost and Fire Bill makes no more appearances in the archival material from that time, which leaves only the friction between the two reproductions as a trace.
Central to the project is the monumental sculpture Measures Not Men, which is made of 3000 kg of agricultural salt lick blocks. With his own hand and the help of stonecutters from the region, the artist carved the two vastly differing archival versions of the letter onto opposing sides of the blocks. The resulting monolith is part monument, part materialized strategy for mourning— not unlike the countless memorials and cemeteries dotting the landscape in the region. Activated by the context of the museum, Fire Bill’s letter also alludes to the at least nineteen black veterans that were lynched upon their returned to the United States.
The artist also presents a series of scarecrow sculptures appropriated directly from Flanders farms. In our imagination scarecrows are the hokey figures of folklore, but here they take on chilling bodily gravity.
Accompanying the exhibition is an artist-designed publication featuring texts by Ladi’Sasha Jones and Mashinka Firunts.
Wilmer Wilson IV draws out forgotten histories and meanings through surprising combinations of everyday objects. He is versed in a diverse range of media including sculpture, photography, and performance. He has recently been included in exhibitions at the Barnes Foundation, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the American University Museum, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, among others. He graduated from Howard University in 2012, and received his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. In 2017 he was awarded a Pew fellowship. He lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
For more information contact Jan Dewilde, curator.
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