October 11, 2018

LEUNG | The Art in Artist

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I spent over an hour waiting at the stage. It was mid-day and the sun was raging. But I was at Firefly Music Festival and the reason I had come in the first place was to see BØRNS perform. So there was no option but to wait.

It was an experience that validated everything I had already thought about his music. He had an acoustic performance later in the day, and I waited for that as well, pushing people aside to get to the front. I was that girl. He had only released an EP then, but his psychedelic, ethereal tone was unlike anything I’d heard before. I got him to sign a copy of the EP for me. We hugged.

I saw him again at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. He had released an album by then.

I’ve never really been a fan girl to any artist, but BØRNS was different. He connected with his audiences. He made every performance intimate and connected with all of us, as annoying as we all were trying to out-scream each other with his lyrics. Garrett Borns, in his funky crop tops and blazers, was real.

“I am both hurt and angered over the disturbing and false allegations that have been spread over the past few days on social media. All of the relationships I had were legal and consensual. They ended abruptly and that obviously caused hurt feelings, but for anyone to suggest anything beyond that is irresponsible.”

Borns? My Garrett Borns?

I couldn’t believe that he had to issue this statement on Instagram. This wasn’t the singer-songwriter I knew. It couldn’t be him, they had to have had it wrong. These twitter accounts accusing him? Maybe they were fake.

But the more I looked into it, the more I knew these women had real reasons for coming forward with these allegations. Women described situations in which they were groomed at young ages and then taken advantage of when they turned of age. They described situations of friendship that turned into intoxicated encounters that led to manipulation. While many people have said that Borns didn’t act illegally and there was admission of consent, I couldn’t help but feel that these allegations had now tainted my view on an artist who had once inspired me with his music.

The sexual assault allegations against Borns involving minors arose during the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. I was at a place where I mistrusted men in power, where I knew that women had to speak up. I supported, I stood up for, I wanted these women to know I heard them. Yet I couldn’t believe it was so difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that one of my favorite singers had sexual assault allegations against him.

Could I separate his music from his actions?

What about the artists whose sculptures and paintings I admired? What about the works I study in classes, that I have dedicated a major to?

I was able to visit the Galleria Borghese in Rome last summer. Some of Bernini’s most beautiful sculptures, such as Daphne and Apollo and Pluto and Persephone, are located there. My favorite sculptures are Bernini’s: he works with marble in a way that turns it into flesh — he gives lifeless material life.

What happens when you find out that your favorite sculptor’s mistress was having an affair with the artist’s younger brother which makes him so angry that he attempts to kill his brother using an iron crowbar and sends someone to disfigure the face of his mistress with a razor? Does this influence the way I would see Bernini’s work? Would I think it any less beautiful?

How easy is it to separate the lives of artists with the work they do? I find it easier to appreciate their paintings and sculptures in artistic terms — texture, color, form — without connecting them with how they live their lives. I can disrespect how they live without disrespecting their art. With actors and producers, I find it more difficult. Actor Colman Domingo easily states in a New York Times article, “Yes, the art suffers” in reaction to the idea of separating art from the artist. His movie, The Birth of a Nation collapsed at the box office after the writer-director, Nate Parker, was accused of raping a woman 20 years earlier (Mr. Parker was later acquitted and the woman killed herself). Similarly, with the sexual assault allegations against Kevin Spacey, I find it difficult to watch American Beauty again.

I do not know if the allegations against Garrett Borns are completely true. But I will listen to these women and try to understand their experiences. And for now, BØRNS won’t be getting any more streams on Spotify by me.

Gabrielle Leung is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at gleung@cornellsun.com. Serendipitous Musings appears alternate Thursdays this semester.