Interview with Larry Achiampong

Something Human: For History Lessons: Fluid Records you will present your audio-visual work Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project, which builds on your previous projects Meh Mogya and More Mogya where you explored your aural heritage and Ghana’s socio-political context. Considering your previous projects, how does this new adaptation further your enquiry into notions of class, cross-cultural and post-digital identity?

Larry Achiampong: Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project as a performance and as a project overall is doing a lot of things at the same time. There is the concept of time travel, from a cultural, technological and sociological point of view. For example, the (remixing and) presentation of audios from communities throughout West Africa, that date back as far as the early 1900s and have a colonial taint to the context/s in which they were recorded (and found their way to the British Library). There’s the visual component of the work, which focuses on hacked visuals from a Nintendo videogame (Xenoblade Chronicles X), which take place in a futuristic, Sci-Fi (but also colonial-like) atmosphere that involves discovery, battle and pillaging. And then there is the presence of the problematic alternate identity the Slave to The Rhythm that I perform as, whom is wearing a spit-sock-hood and a disposable boiler suit (items used throughout the West in law-enforcement situations). I have a personal connection with that identity as my (black) body has been and continues to be, a target for police. I have been stopped-and-searched as well as arrested based on the (black) colour of my skin. The Slave to The Rhythm is kind of the glue for all of these situations that are being played out within a live moment, bringing together audio, visuals and vox pops that highlight interconnected issues (from the past, through to the present). Finally, I devised this work to enable it to be performed and accessed anywhere; I was never really bothered with a white cube or gallery-based environment, but more so, presenting this work in spaces other than the usual, exclusive, bourgeois context – I knew that it might then have a stronger resonance class-wise.

Something Human: In your practice sound plays a significant role in the way you bring together different communities and contexts. Could you please expand on how you obtain and select your audio samples, and how your re-presentation utilizes these recordings to reveal the socio-political contradictions in our contemporary society?

Larry Achiampong: As an artist, I think where and how I grew up plays a significant role to how I work with sound. My father played in the church band and my mother sang in the congregation. I went to church every Sunday and there was a relationship with sound in a very live, tactile sense. My uncle was also one of the only DJs in the 80s (and early 90s) that was mixing Ghanaian Highlife with Hip-Hop and R&B, so seeing him crafting mixtapes and practicing sets was a special thing. I grew up mostly in Bethnal Green from a working class background; during this time Garage music was hot and this thing called Grime was slowly pushing through and friends or people I knew had bedroom-studios. I’d see people making incredible things from literally nothing. Of course, listening to soundtracks whether from films or videogames also helped. Each of the above experiences influences how I think of sound, on multiple levels. I work from all kinds of sources sample-wise tapes; vinyl and collected field recordings….I also compose my own pieces and my studio-based approach is one that mirrors the route of the bedroom musician. One of my first audio-based works Meh Mogya was made entirely using samples from my parent’s vinyl collection, whereas some of my recent works on the Finding Fanon project and the Sunday’s Best/Untitled works are compositions built from the ground up with sounds from my personal archive. You can achieve quite a lot with very little and I’m proud of that. The idea of contradiction within my work comes from using (for example) an audio sample that existed historically as something else – with enough change of time or context, this sample can be used to either expand upon the space from whence it came, or can be transformed to take on a completely different form.

Something Human: In your body of work you demonstrate an ongoing interest in science fiction, video games and new technologies as artistic strategies to uncover new and/or alternative truths in the relations between digital and real life. Could you please share more about why these fields hold particular potency as an artistic resource for you in driving current and future projects?

Larry Achiampong: It’s probably a lot to do with the times that I grew up in and the type of culture I was surrounded by. Videogames are now the biggest form of entertainment in the world and generate more revenue than any other forms. I got into gaming during the NES/Mastersystem era and Videogames were not seen in the same light as they are today. For me they represented a new way of thinking about how stories, messages and ideas are shared. Games like Metal Gear Solid displayed such ideas, that for me transcended the medium from just being a type of entertainment, to one that brought together complex ideas relating globalization; warfare; technology and memes. I didn’t read as many books as I did comics as a kid (this still holds true today), so comic runs like Black Panther or the X-Men would always create ‘what if’ questions as to how the world works. The social and political in the directorial work of the likes of George A. Romero and John Carpenter (not to mention the memorable soundtracks) add heavily to this mix of experiences that still influence my work to date. I don’t come from a background where art in it’s traditional sense was accessible for someone like me, I had to find the art elsewhere…

More info about Larry Achiampong here

More info on History Lessons: Fluid Records performance programme here

Featured image credits: Larry Achiampong, ‘Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project’ Live Performance (2016-2017). Image courtesy of the artist (cropped)

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History Lessons: Fluid Records

Date|Time: 9 Sept 2017, 7pm-9pm
Performance Site: South London Gallery (Galleries and Clore Studio)
Artists: Libita Clayton and Larry Achiampong

History Lessons: Fluid Records is a live programme curated by Annie Jael Kwan in association with Something Human and Iniva, followed by Q&A. Featuring performances by Libita Clayton and Larry Achiampong which take their cue from the idea that the archive can be fluid and transposed into living people, who bear witness thereby willfully reconstructing and passing on meaning in the historical present.

Read our interviews with Libita Clayton and Larry Achiampong.

Ticket: £5/3 concession
Book online or call 020 7703 6120.
If the ticket charge means you are unable to attend please contact mail@southlondongallery.org

Featured image credits: Larry Achiampong, ‘Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project’ Live Performance (2016-2017). Image courtesy of the artist (cropped)

Interview with Libita Clayton

Something Human: Your work UP – RISING – UP / Typical Political– a domestic riot is currently installed in the Diaspora Pavilion in Venice. For this performance you’ve envisaged taking a part of the installed work out onto the streets of Venice? What prompted the urge to activate the installation in this way?

Libita Clayton: The idea when making the work was always to reference its potential to perform. By this I mean; move, migrate, float, bounce, – those sorts of properties. I made these sculptures that look similar to a rock you might sit on, or a post, or a lump of coal, but gloopy – seeping ectoplasmic substance. Gungy.

Made of polystyrene, expanding foam, liquid rubber latex, they are protected, insulated, and light weight. Youtube talked me through DIY techniques designing rocks and boulders for film. A hobbyist’s approach to creating the impression of something ‘real’. They are back drops to the big event, and act as types of debris, grounding objects to give sense of place.

I grew up by the sea, and massive chunks of granite are used to denote boundary; car park, walking areas, a seat. It’s kind of comical – you see these clumsy rocks plopped in a park or street for humans to read as something; prohibited or inviting. Modern stone henge’s installed by the council. They end up as landmarks for folklore, social hangouts, and unintentional sites of unrest.

I wanted to play with the objects deviance a little more. In my mind they are disobedient, and in search of something, they are heading towards consciousness. This is the first attempt to activate that part of their awakening. There’s something of life I’ve imparted onto the objects. In the installation they are heavy looking, weighty background oddities. Over seeing the other materials, a failing parental substitute. Paired with operatic trills and spills from singers of the Black British Classical Foundation. Left overs from a recording session constructed around an original score based on riot and order.

So, sound and sculpture share the same values and are of each other, blood relatives – in a Frankenstein kind of way. Phantom sound, rubber rocks -represent a type of bodily system – deep breathing – inhaling exhaling – limbs – sexual organs – scarred but strong. Symbolic of a metabolizing organism.

There is a personal relationship, a memory of territory in the form of a rock. Then there is bodily constellation; political, group, feminist, abused, oppressed, leading to an up-rising. A rupture. The pressure of non action and ability to suppress is alleviated the moment the rock leaves itself, it is lifted up and able to see, and be seen. A moment of entitlement, pride and revenge – subjective justice.

Something Human: For the performative intervention, you’ve chosen to begin in the early hours around 6am and to carry the fabricated rock around various locations till the city begins to wake for its trade. Why have you chosen this particular period in the day? Who might be the audience intended for this work?

Libita Clayton: Ok, when planning this up-rising, or resurrection style moment –  lifting and carrying the rock through the city. I wanted to embed it within structures of labour, work and trade. Very tangible narratives, hands on moments of economy, transaction and survival. The solidarity of a work force, and system of hierarchy within that. A city built on water makes things seem more weighty somehow. Stone becomes older – heavier and water becomes more like a layer or thick gelatinous membrane. There’s a forced reality of load baring ( literally ) when you look around and watch. This made everything, in my eyes – seem slower, harder to navigate, as if an age old struggle.

There’s a resonance in the landscape between bodily resistance and architecture. I wanted to warm up and wake up with the city, to move with an indigenous component – to stretch with it. In conversation with an everyday ritual, based on chance encounter and predictive mapping of space over time, sunrise and transport.

Embedded in the flow of the public, an intervention, imagined procession, and at times an improvised dance.

Something Human: In your work, it would appear you explore textures, surfaces and skin, while referencing how these are emphasized and enhanced in popular music video culture. How do you take on this exploration onto your performative body?

Libita Clayton: So there are a couple of different points here. The installed work which is sculptural, and the performance which happens outside of the Diaspora Pavilion. A staged and non staged environment. Both arenas become spaces of survival, in the gallery the materials degrade and get walked on – they alter as oxygen heat moisture and weight force a transformation. And in the public space my body weakens, sweats, and becomes soiled with various applications of gunk.

I binged on youtube music videos that somehow encapsulate an element of gunge, blackness, femme fatale, power, shine, latex and othering. Striding between memory and algorithm.

For the performance ( in and between place and home ) I wanted to channel the spirit of these women I remembered. Their states of defiance and projected selves as something from the future.

I’m into this performative happening of transformation, unpacking and measuring the life span of empowerment. Conflating and expanding – lifting and dropping it.

In the Pavilion planes of black underpin ( subliminally ) multiple sites, re-enacting a suppressed memory – seeping through, slipping out of. Greasy. I began to call them synthetic skins. Something about layering on top of an original and suffocating / preserving until the skin becomes an impostor – an amped up version of what was.

Erotic – fetish.

It’s language and uniformity is pinned down by feminine and masculine role play, dominant and submissive attributes. From walking over rubber to catching glimpse of slicked up latex pressed into silt ( river mud ). There’s an implied sexuality that is brutally corrupted by either feet, dirt, blade, grease, sludge. A muddying of beauty toward dystopia, that on the surface is seductive but practically ( beneath ) pulsating, bubbling, blistering, ageing.

The many of alter ego – doubling of self is present in both stages of the work. One is born out of the other. Each time a skin is shed, I step further away from a figure of this world.

More info about Libita Clayton here

More info on History Lessons: Fluid Records event here and on MAP1: Waterways performance programme here

Featured image credits: ( in and between place and home ) 2017, Libita Clayton, for MAP1: Waterways curated by Something Human. Image by Seet Yun Teng

Interview with Paul Maheke

Something Human: In your practice you discuss thinking about the body as an archive that needs to be reinvented, as a ‘territory’ with its own ‘cartography’, and an ‘utopia’ to be reinvented through strategies of resistance. How has the cartography of Venice influenced your work?

Paul Maheke: The cartography of Venice didn’t influence the work per se — in the sense that I haven’t worked from the Venetian context but rather with it. The research grounds itself in a speculative situation that investigates the ability of our bodies to stock information through various ways and to embody stories. I am mainly interested in seeing where this intersect with a broader socio-political context. In Venice I looked at the way in which water choreographs the life of the city; the island is porous and has gills, it breathes with water and it’s always in flux. I see many connections between this and my understanding of identity.

Something Human: Your work currently installed in the Diaspora Pavilion addresses History through non-human subjectivity. In what ways do non-human subjectivities shed light on human subjectivities within the context of the international Diaspora?

Paul Maheke: The work that I’m presenting at the Diaspora Pavilion stems from the desire to define new ways to address Blackness/Browness outside of identity politics. I treated the diaspora more as a means of understanding than a subject in and of itself. While I was dwelling on research into the memory of water and its responsiveness to emotions or at the classification of non-indigenous species of plants and their migration, I was looking to break the Western binaries that oppose culture to nature.

Something Human: Inspired by Astrida Neimanis’ Hydrofeminism, your performance in Venice, Mbu et les Autres, refers to fluids as substances whose subjectivity uses our bodies as vehicles. As your performances often reference dance moves, how do these movements express or affect this subjectivity?

Paul Maheke: The movements are not trying to be anything else but what they are. In Mbu et les Autres I’ve tried to make a dance that would also be a research moment based on physical memory. I often refuse literality in my work and I tend to think of those movements as extensions or parts of my thinking process. Nevertheless, if I don’t see them as a form of expression they definitely operate as a way to affect their subject, to inform and complicate it.

In my work, There are always multiple parallel lines that intersect at various points but also branch off and deviate. It’s a strategy for me to disrupt my own expectations about what the work should be. Often I feel like the work resists in the making, as most of my performances are improvisation-based, that’s one of the means I’ve used to expose and metabolise these tensions.

Mbu et les Autres gives way to a speculation about (and from) the standpoint of the waters of my body. The work aims to retell this relationship through movement, texts and sound.

More info about Paul Maheke here

More info on MAP1: Waterways performance programme here

Featured image credits: I Lost Track of the Swarm, Paul Maheke. Image by Ollie Hammick

Interview with Boedi Widjaja

Something Human: Since 2012 you have been investigating notions of place, origin and identity between Southeast Asia and Europe. For this new work, you have been invited to respond to the programme’s reflections on the Diaspora Pavilion and its context in Venice. How as this notion of diaspora been further explored in your Path series?

Boedi Widjaja: 1Path. series uses diasporic concerns as a departure point to make art, and is expressed through live art and exhibitions. Beginning in 2012, the series was first conceived as a personal/communal response towards my changed citizenship, amidst a vibrant national discussion about foreign talents in Singapore. Since then, Path. has grown more complex, with the works along the series engaging broader contexts such as global migrations and movements across borders. Artistic strategies also evolved, which at times involved the presence of an apparatus that functioned like an artificial body part to connect me deeper into my environment. Path. has been useful in helping me make meaningful intersections between personal memories and public history, culture and politics. Live art in particular, has enabled me to explore deep emotions that viscerally resonate with my personal migration experience.

Something Human: Why have you decided to fabricate and use the ‘sail carriage’, which references both the trolley, one of the most used means of transport for goods of the city, and the maritime past of Venice, for the Venice installment of your series, Path. 8, Invisible Cities 。云海游?

Boedi Widjaja: A ‘sail carriage’ is oxymoronic—maritime without being on water—and I was immediately drawn to its inherent contradiction. I made the ‘sail carriage’ to connect my embodied interiorities—memories, culture and politics of a Southeast Asian Chinese artist—to the multicultural context of the Diaspora Pavilion that is set within a broader international and Eurocentric contexts of the Venice Biennale. As I push the ‘sail carriage’ in Venice, the performative act aims to bring about a psychological conduit into the invisible dimensions of the city. The impulse for the ‘sail carriage’ came as I learnt of wind-powered land carriages with attached sails, as observed by 16th century European travellers in Ming Dynasty China—the dynasty that had sent a great naval expedition to Southeast Asia. Even as the ‘sail carriage’ addresses the overlap between Venice and Singapore within a maritime historical context, it also sets to resonate a Chinese ‘otherness’ that is present in my personal narrative and Venice. Growing up in post-Cold War Indonesia, my ethnic identity had been suppressed during Suharto’s New Order era. The Chinese ‘other’ similarly exists in Italy, with a high concentration of Chinese immigrants working in Italy’s textile capital of Prato. Incidentally, this Chinese ‘otherness’ is found in the geopolitical field today. China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR)—an infrastructural initiative that aims to resurrect the historical Silk Road on land, now added with a ‘Maritime Silk Road’, is poised to grow China’s global presence and yet it is not without international suspicion and reservations.

Something Human: In your performance you will map the textures of Venice’s alleys and buildings through the process of rubbing. What does this process mean for you in terms of relating to a place, crossing it and bringing with you its surfaces as shadow of memories?

Boedi Widjaja: I am always drawn to visual projections of places: maps, photographs, drawings or films. Jose Luis Borge’s full scale map which eventually replaced the city it cartographed is a fascinating notion of how the image representation ultimately subsumed its subject, to exist completely on its own. If suppose ‘place’ dwells in our personal and collective imaginations, then how I imagined ‘home’ in my childhood was through mass media imagery, due to displacement. Press photos and video were the primary sites I visited to imagine the land I came from. As I continued to do this over time, ‘home’ gradually became spectral and tactile—my mind’s eye transfixed on the image surface even as my body retained traces of sensual memories of my birthplace. To make a frottage is to experience the tactility of one’s environment yet what one is left is an abstract fragment of the experience, a visual document that with time, would subsume the entirety of the lived experience. The frottages map my lived experience as I pushed the ‘sail carriage’ around Venice. To map is to translate, its gesture internalises a place into one’s personal universe. This is my method to contemplate my identity as a Southeast Asian artist of Chinese ethnicity through the history, culture and politics of Venice.

 

More info about Boedi Widjaja here

More info on MAP1: Waterways performance programme here

Featured image credits: Image by Boedi Widjaja