The unpacking and reconstruction of history is a central concern in Edgar Arceneaux’s (U.S., born 1972) installations, sculptures, and drawings. His work insists on questioning the singularity of truth typically proposed in accepted histories, calling out hypocrisy through anachronistic juxtapositions of imagery and text. Arceneaux’s work typically recombines these parts into imaginary but systematic patterns that reveal either blatant or subtly extant flaws in accepted structures—systems of power, ethnicity, and identity. Arceneaux’s architectural installation Library of Black Lies furthers this conceit, positing that there is no singular truth to history and that even well-intentioned narratives can lock things down to one agenda or cause. Arceneaux argues that the true nature of people and events, which is insistently messy, chaotic, and rhizomatic, is often whitewashed and sterilized. The plain wood exterior of Library of Black Lies is mute, minimalist, and seemingly a solid, singular object. Only upon discovering the entry can the “truths” it contains can be discovered. Structured to recall a labyrinth, the installation contains stacks of books, some readable and some obscured by a crust of crystalline sugar. The titles evolve like a game of telephone, slightly misheard and misrepresented, documenting tomes that figured strongly in Arceneaux’s intellectual history (e.g. Birth of a Nation) then evolving into invented or unrelated ones (Birth of a Night, Nation Goodnight, Goodnight Moon). A labyrinth—not a maze, which is designed to disorient—is circuitous but ultimately leads to a center, and is intended to be a vehicle of spirituality, a meditative journey mapped into the physical experience. Borges’ meditations on the infinite library spring immediately to mind, as does his fascination with mirrors, a recurring material in Arceneaux’s work. Mirroring fractures singularity, holding multiple views within a single reflective surface, while the sugar that grows on the books suggest a similar simultaneity (as a material, it is able to exist in multiple states) and fractal growth—structured chaos.
Ever suspicious of assertions of absolute truth, Arceneaux suggests that there is no empirical way to establish a single reading as the definitive one. This philosophy ultimately concludes that if things have no inherent meaning, it is the act of reading and creating meaning that should be emphasized. It is an alarming position for many, as it requires one to remain ever open and ready to shift subjectivities, to realign combinations, and to make infinite new books, systems, and proposals for future meanings. One cannot be trapped in the passive acceptance of history—see what that has done to us already, Arceneaux reminds us—but must restlessly push forward to create new significance from those images as they break, collapse, and make way for the future.