Michael Adno Tackles 'Cracker Politics' in Latest Exhibition

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Opening tonight at Art Center Sarasota, Cracker Politics: The Limits of Colonial Knowledge explores the singular history and peoples that give the region and the state its distinct character, and the institutions that seek to define them. SRQ sits down with Michael Adno, the Florida-born but now New York-based artist behind the installation, to talk inspiration and purpose.

SRQ: What does Cracker Politics: The Limits of Colonial Knowledge mean?

Adno: Cracker has no definitive etymology. It’s known as a derogatory term for whites in the South—from the cracking of a bullwhip to the diet of swamp cabbage and crackers—so Cracker Politics is a way of referring to the everyday politics that southerners and specifically people of a certain milieu—which is not just white people, but a lot of people—ascribe to.

And the limits of colonial knowledge?

When I first began working on the project almost four years ago, I was working in all these archives. And the way these archives work, whether they’re historical societies or the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian or public libraries—they’re fashioned by a certain body of knowledge. The history of Florida was very much fashioned by colonial knowledge. If you look at the pre-Colombian history, there’s not much of it. You have basically the 15th and 16th centuries, the settlers that came over and in those cases they had a recorded history, or more of an anthropology or ethnography, so that’s where the limits of colonial knowledge came from. It was a jab at the idea that an archive could really represent something fully and wholly or with any truth to it.

Did you learn anything about the area that surprised you or made you look at yourself differently?

What I learned is that my heart is in Florida. I love this place immensely. It’s a platitude to say that I learned how rich the area is. It’s not that the area is so rich but that I now have more depth to the way that I think about the area. Because I can think about the pre-Columbian history, I can think about the colonial era of British, French and Spanish and I can see all of that mixed up in the architecture and the landscape. Everything has more meaning and everything is just a little bit more colorful. There’s definitely more color in Florida after this.

What are you hoping people will take from the exhibit?

That everything is a little more stratified and layered than they like to think of it as, and that there is a level of grandiose beauty, awe, wonder and whimsy to everything, no matter how violent or ugly or troubled or conflicting or contradictory you might find it to be. Just a few layers down, there is a beauty in that. Beyond that, to look a little more closely at things. There are a lot of meaningful things to be seen in the most mundane and prosaic things of everyday.

Cracker Politics: The Limits of Colonial Knowledge opens tonight at 5pm at Art Center Sarasota with the artist in attendance.

Pictured: Photograph from "Cracker Politics." Image courtesy of Art Center Sarasota.

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