Sorry not sorry.
(Couples Counseling for Artists and Institutions: Step Two) 1

(Author’s note: In contemplating how our world holds us (or doesn’t), I have been examining the role of apology. We seem to fear direct apology, perhaps because it sets a precedent for future reparations (i.e. if I say sorry now, how many times will I need to say sorry in the future?). Is apology a moment, a process, or a rut? How can we begin to see it as an opportunity?

Sorry not sorry is an interweaving of personal experiences of apology, or the blank gaps of non-apology, mixed with quotes from famous institutional and professional apologies. Quotes appear in bold. The source of each quote has been cited in the footnotes. A database of political apologies and reparations can be found here Both the search function and the links to external sources only sometimes work. Sorry about that.

I recently apologized to someone myself, the real way: I acknowledged what had happened, I said it was because of me, and then I said the words I’m sorry. I also cried a little. As to that last bit, I wish I hadn’t.  Still, the vulnerability inherent even to the shabbiest of apologies makes it an interesting point of departure from which to dissect the relationship between individuals and institutions. — Chloë Bass)

Apologies for mis-attributing your role in the project!

Apologies for the random reach-out.

Apologies for my delay here.

I apologize that I couldn’t send an object up to Montreal.

Our apologies for the confusion.

Apologies for duplicate emails.

I apologize for not sending a clear and specific proposal.

Llamas to apologize to Texans now.2

We did some homework — speaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause. But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people. Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning, we apologize. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration. We commit to reviewing the feedback and understanding the reactions from today.3

Well-cited: the things that people say when they think everyone in the room is like them. Less-cited: the things they don’t say when they realize that wasn’t the case. I am made strange to myself through the apology of not passing and the silences it prompts.4

First, it should be said (I wish it went without saying) that no racial implication was intended, by Time or by the artist. One could argue that it is racist to say that blacker is more sinister, and some African Americans have taken that position in the course of this dispute, but that does not excuse insensitivity. To the extent that this caused offense to anyone, I deeply regret it. Nor did we intend any imputation of guilt. We were careful to avoid that in our story, but for at least some people, this cover picture was worth several thousand words. The issues surrounding photo-illustration, particularly with regard to news photos, are much more complex. To a certain extent, our critics are absolutely right: altering news pictures is a risky practice, since only documentary authority makes photography of any value in the practice of journalism. On the other hand, photojournalism has never been able to claim the transparent neutrality attributed to it. Photographers choose angles and editors choose pictures to make points[.]5

A sharing exercise at an outdoor art event in New York in July. It’s a hot day, and I’m partnered with a stranger, a young white woman, to take turns holding each other’s heavy places. I hold her first. My focus is hazy in the heat, but I breathe and try to accept her. After a few minutes, we’re told to switch. I place my hands on top of her hands, gradually giving her the weight of my arms. She begins to tremble, adjusts herself, and then looks into my eyes with alarm. I feel sick, she says, I need to sit down. She slumps, puts her head down: I’m sorry. I rub her back. It’s okay, I think, if I didn’t have to feel the way I feel in the world, I wouldn’t want to, either.6

[T]hank you for caring enough to complain or to praise. Perhaps we can all agree that whatever values we look for in the theater, we all stand on the common ground that it is a vital and important art form that we look to to illuminate the human experience with complexity and integrity.7

Note the way we treat other people as vaults: I told you to remember that so I wouldn’t have to hold onto it myself. I can’t count the number of times some supposed ally has pointed me towards a piece of Black information — even useful things I don’t yet know — only later to ask “wait, what’s that?” when I reference that same information again. No sign of a blush for the fact that you gave me something so you had the permission to forget it yourself.8

We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.9

I was sitting on the floor of Powell’s, reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger and beating myself up for not choosing a more interesting book while surrounded by so many rare things, when I was struck by a sudden sneezing attack. Once, then twice, and on and on. No one near me said anything. My eyes began to swell. The sneezes continued. I believed I was cursed: to keep up these exhausting explosions until someone acknowledged me with bless you.10

I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.11

Every day, the weight of this work breaks my heart, and then I work again to unbreak it. Surely there must be more to life’s labor than this.12

For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you.13

In the importance of acknowledging context and how it holds us, let me tell you that I intended to write this work entirely in transit between Portland and New York City on September 11th, 2017. I liked this disconnected scene: imagining the I’m sorrys that tie me to the ground while floating disconnected through the air. But I couldn’t do it. I was seated next to someone else’s grandmother. We were traveling together. It is hard sitting down to a piece of writing when you’re responsible for someone else’s relative. It is even harder if you’re responsible for your own. Your own relatives know when you’re lying.14

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.15

I’m so sorry, he writes. Please forgive me. And I do.16

***

Sorry not sorry. (Couples Counseling for Artists and Institutions: Step Two)17 was commissioned by ARTS.BLACK as part of Field Perspectives 2017, a co-publishing initiative organized and supported by Common Field as a part of their Los Angeles 2017 Convening. Field Perspectives 2017 is a collaboration between Common Field and arts publications ARTS.BLACK, Art Practical, The Chart, Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, contemptorary, DIRT, Pelican Bomb, Temporary Art Review, and X-TRA. Partners each commissioned a piece of writing that aims catalyze discussion, dialog, and debate before, during and after the Convening.

 

 

  1. Presented as part of Chloë Bass’ project The Book of Everyday Instruction, Chapter Six: What is shared, what is offered. Previous couples therapy sessions between artists and institutions have explored an exploration of phases of love shared over time (“Step One,” which premiered in February 2017 at CUE Art Foundation as part of The Visible Hand, curated by David Xu Borgonjon), as well as couples counseling for individuals and their relationship to Blackness (which premiered at the Design Studio for Social Intervention in March 2017, a few days shy of Black History Month (sorry/not sorry), at the invitation of Kenneth Bailey.
  2. A brief sampling of the first 50 search results for “apologize” in my Gmail inbox, as of September 25th, 2017.
  3. The start-up company Bodega’s apology about their name, and general launch proceedings, to the people of the internet, 2017, accesed via [https://blog.bodega.ai/so-about-our-name-aa5bff63a92d].
  4. a) While I have never, to my knowledge, been mistaken for white, I am often seen as not-Black even by other Black colleagues. Passing is complicated, so I do not expect an apology for these moments of misidentification, but I wonder what purpose it serves. [and/or] b) I tend to find myself in spaces where people share a fair amount of educational affiliation, so difference can come as quite a surprise.
  5. Jim Gaines, then managing editor of TIME Magazine, apologizing for the infamous cover photo that darkened OJ Simpson’s skin color, accessed via [http://www.thewrap.com/oj-fact-check-read-time-magazines-apology-for-making-simpson-blacker/].
  6. I tend to take no longer than 10 minutes between admitting I feel nauseated and actually vomiting.
  7. Tim Stanford’s apology to the audience of Playwrights Horizons, 2013, accessed via [https://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/artsbeat/2013/03/25/the-flick-prompts-an-explanation-from-playwrights-horizons]
  8. A corollary to this is when the information people are feeding me somehow corresponds to their sense that they’ve invented who I am, or suddenly been the first person to discover me out of nowhere. This is very much, I imagine, how America felt when Columbus sailed up and crowned it the Indies.
  9. BP CEO Tony Hayward’s apology to residents of the Gulf Coast following the 2010 oil spill, accessed via [http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/30/gulf.oil.spill/index.html]. An apology advertisement video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AwD_7yNzKo
  10. Fourteen sneezes, at which point I got up and moved.
  11. Bill Clinton’s apology to the American people concerning the nature of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, 1998, accessed via [http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/08/17/speech/transcript.html].
  12. First recorded instance of heartbreak: sometime in the fall of 1997, my 8th grade year. Cause: the senior boy I liked not saying hello to me during his travels from homeroom to science class (Physics? Chemistry?), a route that I strategically walked on as many mornings as time permitted. Later, when I was older, this boy became my boyfriend. We dated for over three years. When we separated, the heartbreak I felt was different, but not worse.
  13. Pope Francis’ apology for ongoing incidents of juvenile sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, 2014, accessed via [http://www.phillyvoice.com/transcript-pope-francis-apology-church-victims/].
  14. Like many people, I lie more about innocuous things than important ones.
  15. Apology from the Australian government to the Aboriginal people of Australia, 2008, accessed via [http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people/apology-to-australias-indigenous-peoples].
  16. A future iteration of this work may focus on forgiveness, and whether the equation of forgiveness = forgetting really holds true. Sometimes I think I forgive more when I remember the incident that required the apology. To remember translates forgiveness into an ongoing act rather than a generosity that stops after its instance.
  17. Chloë Bass is a conceptual artist working in performance, situation, publication, and installation. Her work addresses scales of intimacy, where patterns hold and break as group sizes expand, and daily life as a site of deep research. Her current project, The Book of Everyday Instruction, is an eight-chapter investigation into one-on-one social interaction. Chloë is a 2017 – 2018 Workspace resident at the Center for Book Arts, and a 2017 studio resident at Triangle Arts Association. Her projects have appeared in recent exhibitions at CUE Art Foundation, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, the James Gallery, and elsewhere. Her forthcoming book will be published by the Operating System in December 2017; her writing is most often found on Hyperallergic. She is an Assistant Professor of Art at Queens College, CUNY.