American as a Second Language by Kasia Krzykawska

American as a Second Language
by Kasia Krzykawska
at long last!
coming to The Window Project @ machinaloci space
January 30 2021


2021 marks 400 years since the first Thanksgiving meal, 100 years since the artist Joseph Beuys’ birth, and nearly 50 years since his 1974 performance I like America, and America Likes Me The events of the last few weeks serve as a forceful reminder of the danger inherent in any singular story of what it means to be American, and how important it is to listen to and fully value all voices and histories. Kasia Krzykawska’s questioning of national myth-making in American as a Second Language could not be timelier.

Join us for a physically distanced conversation with Kasia, taking place simultaneously on Zoom and in person (please wear a face covering if you come in person):
January 30, 2021 from 2:00 – 4:00PM
in person outside machinaloci space: 1721 63rd Street, Berkeley 94703

on Zoom: (   /j/82628780600?pwd=clBUcWo1cDQ2RjhoMUpKNkttUE90QT09)
   Meeting ID: 826 2878 0600        Passcode: ASLwindow

This is a COVID safe artwork intended to be viewed from outdoors, outside at machinaloci space. The artist will be present in person and virtually to launch the project on January 30th. Please come to look at the work and add your comments any time!

‘[T]he America encountered by these yearning souls was no visible saint but an invisible, ever-receding, unloving god.’ (Puritan Conversion Narrative 134)

When, as a recent immigrant to the US, Krzykawska was assigned a story of Thanksgiving to read for her English language class, she was intrigued by the coexistence of contradictory narratives around Thanksgiving. The clash between the story of welcomed Pilgrims and friendly Indians sitting down to eat together after which the Indians simply ‘disappeared’, and the intense critical scrutiny currently applied to colonial pasts in Europe was shockingly jarring. This led her to research the relationship between rituals of national glorification and enduring silence about genocide in the commemoration of Thanksgiving. She writes:

     It seems that beautiful lies are more useful for maintaining the fluidity of national traditions than truth is. In this I find a surprising similarity to my homeland, Poland. Like the monuments toppling here in the US, national mythologies are slowly falling apart there.

American as a Second Language, I address Thanksgiving’s dilemmas by alluding to Joseph Beuys’ 1974 performance I Like America, and America Likes Me, in which he locked himself in a cell with a live coyote, an indigenous animal, to “discuss” troubling American politics. I also refer to one of the first American monuments to make my own Plymouth Rock – an ironic memorial to my own arrival exactly 400 years after the Pilgrims.

Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday during the Civil War in 1863 – something to draw the nation together. On January 18 2021, The [PAST] President’s Advisory 1776 Commission released The 1776 Report. In the conclusion it said:

‘To be an American means something noble and good. It means treasuring freedom and embracing the vitality of self-government. We are shaped by the beauty, bounty, and wildness of our continent. We are united by the glory of our history. And we are distinguished by the American virtues of openness, honesty, optimism, determination, generosity, confidence, kindness, hard work, courage, and hope. Our principles did not create these virtues, but they laid the groundwork for them to grow and spread and forge America into the most just and glorious country in all of human history.

On January 20 2021, the 1776 Report was no longer available on line. Here are a few words from President Biden’s inaugural speech:

‘Will we rise to the occasion, is the question? Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world to our children? I believe we must. I’m sure you do as well. I believe we will. And when we do, we’ll write the next great chapter in the history of the United States of America. The American story. A story that might sound something like a song that means a lot to me. It’s called American Anthem. There’s one verse that stands out, at least for me, and it goes like this:

     The work and prayers of a century have brought us to this day.
     What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?
     Let me know in my heart when my days are through.
     America, America, I gave my best to you.
Let’s add. Let us add our own work and prayers to the unfolding story of our great nation. If we do this, then when our days are through, our children and our children’s children will say of us: They gave their best, they did their duty, they healed a broken land.

Krzykawska treats the shopfront window of machinaloci space as a sketchbook for quotes and thoughts that she gathered while adapting to a new land, new histories, and new cultural codes. The glass is big enough to host more than her impressions. Krzykawska invites you to discuss and share your thoughts within the fragile public space of The Window Project@machinalochi

The Window Project @ machinaloci space is a series of commissioned artworks that contribute to the local public conversation, working with the shopfront windows as an interface between public and private.

machinaloci space is a place for playful research into alternative ways of being, thinking and doing together.