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Diane Samuels

Five neighbors, Five countries


This play is a reflection on the (im)possibility of accepting diversity and the other. The fragmented body of the neoplasm—the fruit of unstable conditions—overcomes barriers, loves and denies itself and others, wanders around, forgetting its profession. It frequently and with pleasure divides, goes through dangerous palpation, questions the possibility of contact with the experience of the other. Poorly brought up but very successful, it invites us to a trans-species transition.

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Diane Samuels, co-founder of City of Asylum/ Pittsburgh, is an artist who has lived in the North Side’s Sampsonia Way since 1980. Central to her practice is an investigation of the detail or remnants of human presence within place; memory in the context of history and how stories (and memories – as personal, artistic, and social artifacts- are made, evolve, and are consumed. In a previous work, Mapping Sampsonia Way (2005), Samuels photographically presented minute details of the small alley on which she lives on the Northside of Pittsburgh and overlaid this with annotated stories collected from passersby while she worked. Cracks, marks, and indentations on the narrow street are juxtaposed with personal anecdotes and in this form, she creates a rich archaeology of place, the physical and ephemeral remnants of presence.

This new work entitled Five neighbors, Five countries, presents the juxtaposition of five neighbors on Sampsonia Way, three writers in exile from persecution in their countries, Khet Mar (Myanmar), Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador), Huang Xiang (China), and Silvia Duarte (Guatemala) and Henry Reese (USA), through the handwritten form of their respective constitutions, side by side, one neighbor beside neighbor. In transcribing each individual’s constitution questions of what constitutes a citizen, a nationality, an individual, or even a neighbor are prompted. What is the relationship between a country’s constitution and its inhabitants, the counted and the uncounted? Does the constitution exist as a guide to that country or an unrealizable document of improbable reality? Indeed, how is our relationship to country, state, city, or street created? Each constitution is written on handmade paper from respective countries with a spot of red ink, recalling the traces of blood in the writing of such documents, the formation of countries, the control of borders, and the lifeblood that runs through each of our veins. Above each panel are excerpts from the writings of each of the authors engraved into the glass that frames the work. Intermittently an audio track recounts a poem by Zimbabwean Chenjerai Hove about the sky above us all. We share the sky but what distance exists between us, here and now?

This work develops out of a larger body of work in which Samuels considers the documents that have defined the United States such as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As she says “I do take seriously the premise that the world can be experienced as a book. Insofar as we make it together and assert meaning to the making, to live in the world is, thus, inevitably to be both a reader and a writer.” Like much of Samuels’ work, this work uses individual histories and writings to create from and articulate the meaning of community.

Handmade paper from Burma, United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, China bearing the constitutions of five countries hand-copied with a .18mm Rapidograph and archival ink, hand-engraved glass bearing the text of five neighbors: Khet Mar, Henry Reese, Silvia Duarte, Horacio Castellanos Moya and Huang Xiang, display table, stools, and audio recording of Chenjerai Hove (Zimbabwe) reciting his poem, ‘Sky’ from Blind Moon, Weaver Press, Harare, 2003. 47 x 184 x 28 ¾ in.

Curated by Georgina Jackson


Neighbo(u)rhood: May 13 - September 11, 2011
About The Artist

Diane Samuels received both her BFA and MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. She has a Diploma from Harvard University, Institute in Arts Administration. She is a Visual Artist who uses other people's words to create her work.

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