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

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9 June Venice – MAP1: Waterways

Date|Time: 9 June 2017, 6.30am-7.15pm
Performance Sites: Palazzo Pisani a Santa Marina, Venice, Italy & various outdoor locations.
Artists: Libita Clayton, Lynn Lu, Paul Maheke, Boedi Widjaja

Performance schedule:
6.30am – 8.30am : Libita Clayton, ( in and between place and home ) – outdoor performance 
10.00am – 2.00pm : Boedi Widjaja, Path. 8, Invisible Cities 。云海游 – outdoor performance
3.00pm – 5.00pm : Lynn Lu, Be afraid only of standing still  outdoor performance
6.45pm – 7.15pm : Paul Maheke, Mbu et les Autres – Diaspora Pavilion, Palazzo Pisani*

*Please note that places to attend Paul’s performance are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis – please arrive at 6:30pm for this performance as doors will close at 6:45pm. Please do note the work contains strobe lighting.

MAP1: WATERWAYS is a public live art programme conceived by curator Annie Jael Kwan in collaboration with Something Human that explores current notions of Diaspora connecting Singapore, UK and Italy. WATERWAYS is presented in collaboration with Beyond the Frame, a project led by International Curators Forum (ICF) and University of the Arts London(UAL) alongside the Diaspora Pavilion exhibition, curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, that is currently installed at Palazzo Pisani Santa Marina in Venice from 13 May – 26 November 2017.

In response to the critical themes explored by the artists of the Tactical Interventions: Diaspora Pavilion exhibition, MAP1: WATERWAYS presents a day of indoor and outdoor performances activating sites alongside water. MAP1 utilises the critical metaphor of “water” as conceptual locus to investigate the relations with three cities – Venice, Singapore and London – that have historically been hubs and gateways of trade and cultural exchange between different regions since medieval times to the present. Transition and movement via water also underpin the lived experiences of the artists and find manifestation in their projects, and is the imaginary metaphor in which to pull together diverse stories, aesthetics and cultural contexts.

Into this context MAP1: WATERWAYS asks the question as to how memories and meanings were collected and preserved in transition, when departure, resettlement and assimilation across vast distances fragment any sense of continuity, or materials are lost or destroyed, therefore refocusing on the idea that the ‘archive’ can be fluid and transposed in the living persons, who bear witness and willfully reconstruct and pass on meaning in the historical present. MAP1: WATERWAYS brings 4 live performances that draw attention to the artist as personal archivist of transitory collective and personal meanings of the past, present and future.

More information on performances here.
Full schedule to follow.