Over a weekend in Edinburgh in August 2016, Selina Thompson came up with 1,000 questions concerning race and identity. The performance has travelled the country in different forms, as a card game, a durational performance, a one-on-one show. For In Between Time, viewers are left without a performer, and the questions are displayed as an installation covering a dark room in the Arnolfini.
The room is heavy with the weight of responsibility each human has depending on the pigment of their skin. The white cards, neatly printed and all of equal size, are clipped to thin chains that line the walls. Every corner is filled with question marks. Visitors move around slowly, the room commanding a level of respect and concentration. People dip down or move aside to avoid the lamp light casting shadows over questions others are reading.
Instructions are listed outside the room, and repeated on a table in the centre. On the table is a stack of cards, the same size as the ones lining the walls, a scattering of pens and a lamp. Visitors are invited to take their time reading the questions around the room, and to then take two pieces of card. On the first piece, the viewer is asked to answer one of the questions from the wall, and to pin their answer underneath the question. One the second, to copy down one question to take home.
In many ways I feel unqualified to answer the questions as a white woman when the cards are so tied up in racial inequality, but Thompson invites us to be open, free and safe in our opinions. She invites us to question ourselves and our prejudices. The questions are, largely, not about our own lives, but about our responses to others. They ask how we treat others, how we react to certain situations, and how we think about ideas and ideals.
Race Cards asks that the questions inside the room are not shared on social media, and in respect of that request I will not share them in this response either. I can say they range from the seemingly trivial to the deeply disturbing. Some have terminology I don’t recognise, and some might be asked by a curious five-year-old. Some are about specific people, while others are about wider concepts. Some you’d be nervous to ask aloud, whereas others come up in conversation regularly.
I settle on a question to take away. It caught my eye at the beginning and hasn’t been bumped out of my head by the others I’ve read. It’s something I’ve discussed with my friends and we’ve never settled on a definitive answer. I lift the card up and read a previous response. They say everything I wish I could articulate. They explain the difficulties and the ridiculous depths you can go into in trying to find the answer. I feel relieved that it’s not just me.
Finding a question to answer is harder. I go back to one I’ve been thinking about. I know what I want to say but I know my view isn’t necessarily right or fair. But that, I think, is part of what Thompson is exploring with this piece. The anonymity and privacy of the installation allows open thought and takes away the fear of your view sounding ignorant or wrong. I hesitate before writing down my answer and pinning it underneath the question. Each question seems to stem a hundred more.
Race Cards is a fascinating and quiet experiment, and it will be interesting to see how the piece continues to develop. Thompson has added a few new questions, handwritten, since that weekend in Edinburgh last year. Give the recent global political turmoil, asking these questions about race, identity and division feels increasingly important.
To find out more about Race Cards, click here.