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word. sound. power

A few weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny day in London, my fellow smart-lady, Zana, and I got our wordiness on along the southern bank of the Thames.

We sandwiched the BFI's screening of Right On! between visits to the Tate Level 2 Project Space for their brilliant exhibition Word. Sound. Power.

Right On!

This is the Herbert Danska film is of the (original) Last Poets, late-60s poets - performers, griots-if-you-will, from New York. And crucial influences on the development of rap and hip-hop.

It was an amazing film, consisting of an 80 minute spit and flow of about 8 pieces by the trio, backed by drums, costume changes and amazing black male power on a hot summer afternoon/evening. And it was warm in London, too.

The series of spoken word performances -  poems, matras, incantations were performed, spat and hand-delivered from the rooftop of a hot Harlem block on a sunny afternoon in 1970, to a dark soporiphic theatre.

As the sun tripped from east to west across the sky, the trio: Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, interchanged between lead performer. The different forms for each poets flow, their particular voice and rhythm were mesmerising andsupported by a powerful drums, casual fly movement and the uhs, ahas and energy of the other two artists.

Works like Poetry is Black, Jazz and James Brown were not so much choreographed, but embodied, as crucial element of the relationship between words and the body, between the themes of race, sexuality, white power and poverty, as they came spilling out.

Taksh, an African-American scholar, originally born in South London hosted the afternoon, including giving a decade-by timeline of Black Power cultural expression interspersed with his own poems about each of those times.  To be honest, I would have loved to see that part as a separate event, as I felt that is overshadowed the power of the works in the film, and also simplified the black experience to solely musical genres. But I acknowledge my rather ignorant position on the matter.

Zana and I had to leave for part 2 of the exhibition, so didn't see the discussion the end. I was hoping for some powerful discussion on the place of words.

I would have loved answers to questions such as Is Poetry is Black in the 21st Century (as I believe it still is, certainly in London)?
What place do works like Right On! have on the British black (male) experience?
How can we acknowledge the beautiful, but fairly limited value of Woman in such films and how can words and power be part of changing that for the future?

Word. Sound. Power

Whenever I think about this show, a 90s throwback of lyrics that might not even be real lyrics from the Sub Swara ft Dead Prez song Speak My Language (Machinedrum Mix) comes flooding into my mind:

"This is word sound power, this is rebel soul."

And it is rebel soul, this phenomenal exhibition, curated by two amazing women, in conjunction with the fantastic KHOJ artists collective from india. It features 6 artists making work about sound, the voice, the word and power (not that you needed my help in making that leap).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has two works in the show. His work with Janna Ullrich, Conflicted Phenomes (pictured, pinched from the Tate website) is a visual research and data map of Somali spoken language tests to ascertain cultural original, to satisfy criteria for refugee status. As a data excercise on its own, it's quite beautiful - with its graphic keys to each person's relationships and language connections

As a reflection of official policy on the business of people's asylum and freedom implemented by outsourced agents, without checks or balances, it's creepy.

I was originally suprised to see that Australia uses this for their immigration processes. And then I really remembered Australia's immigration processes and was unsurprised, dammit.

His other work, The Whole Truth, shines a light on the relationship between the place in which the voice and power intersect: the Lie Detector; When the voice is used to support incarceration, the place in which a person's (political) voice is removed - according to Foucault.

Caroline Bergvall's word drawing and spoken piece was quiet, but striking. A poem, with all of the letter o-s taken out, and placed on the opposite wall, creating a spacial relationship to the word and the sentiment, supported by the surround sound work. It was simple, but I felt things.

Zana and I went back twice to see Mithu Sen perform I am a Poet and both times we missed her - she cancelled one performance, as it was too much to do too many in the day, and then she must have finished the reading early, because it was already over by the time we arrived after the movie. We were both super disappointed because we wanted to hear her.

But her work in the gallery is interesting and engaging nonetheless. I loved her underlying premise of nonsense as resistence. The language is crucially human and that defying the technology of language, there is a core resistance of all that is human.

In light of the work Boni and I have been doing with Relay - a chopping up of political speech, which is not necessarily straight-up nonsense, but an interesting link nonetheless. I enjoyed giving my nonsensical version of the poem, too.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum and his videos Arise and Keep Evans Safe Tonight was seemingly a major focus for the exhibition. Although, to be honest, I didn't feel like it was as crucial to the themes of the show as some of the other works, or the exhibition as a whole. Just my opinion.

The interviews in KEST were quite lovely, giving young men a voice and able speak out. I especially enjoyed the KEST boys speaking of the common diasporic experience of going back to the land of one's parents and suddenly feeling the ease of a culture that is deep within.

Added to the work in the gallery, the essays in the catalogue were amazing. Both women speak about the relationship between sound, power, culture in different ways but equally engaging. They provided second and third angles on the underlying themes of the show, providing a solid triumvirate, reflecting the title itself.

Loren Handi Momodu from Tate Modern writes about the experience of sound, referencing Brandon La Belle and speaking about it as a means of creating an 'aesthetic space' and the apparatus of the vocal, quoting Louis Chude-Sokei.

Asmita Rangari - Andi from Khoj speaks about the privilege of using the voice (and other sound means) to speak out - the ability and agency to articulate and the place of silence in this privilege.

The place of words, sound and power in contemporary aesthetics, culture and politics are particularly present at this time and the exhibition is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in any of these things, as well as the ways in which political ideas can be presented aesthetically not didactically.

The exhibition is on until November 2013.


speaking up: the personal, the professional and principles

I start a lot of my posts with caveats lately - here's another one:

caveat: I'm not an amazing example of professional because sometimes I let my principles get in the way of me making money.

I've been less chatty on here than I used to.
I've been saving a lot of my diatribes for twitter.
It seems to be the place where i'm getting the bulk of my intellectual discussion lately, although it's not always ideal. 140ch, even carried over a few tweets can get really confusing when you're trying to debate someone or actually discuss things. It's some kind of glitchy forum *.
However, it's still the medium of choice for me for some serious brain food.

Somehow I came to follow David McQueen. He's an amazing man - involved in youth education, business mentoring and empowering people to really do what they do and be amazing. From what I can tell from his twitter output, he's involved in a range of really interesting, worthwhile and actually helpful ventures, mostly talking to people and encrouaging them. And his #SundayReads are always impressive and provocative.

He's also a tall, black man with 2 daughters, a gorgeous wife he's been married to for 18 years and incredibly invested in seeing change around education, agency, race and principled people. I know this because, with measure, he didn't deny his personal effect within his professional adventures.

That's probably how he ended up in my timeline (I follow some pretty rad people, you know).

For example, he didn't pretend that it didn't effect him when Travyon Martin's killer was acquitted, he didn't pretend that the media blow-out wasn't influential during the Woolwich murder of a (white) British soldier and the ensuing EDL can-can, and he posted an opinion which I respected about Mos Def's intense video undergoing the Guantanamo Bay force-feeding regime (which I personally related to and valued the discussion, having done an artwork about the audio torture on those same detainees).

This was the scope of a professional life of a man living in London, with the connected joy and connected prejudice.

Anyway, about a month ago, David announced that he was going to set up a separate twitter account for his more-personal musings, rantings, humour and introspections. And keep his David McQueen account for professional discussion.

And it's probably the right decision.

Because his clients don't necessarily want to acknowledge that issues of race, poverty, education, homophobia, religious extremism, media sluttery (my words, not his) influence the business of running businesses or educating young people.

But I continue to rag on him for it.
(I hope it comes across like a niece ragging on her uncle.)

Because -  to my mind -  culture and privilege and media and bigotry do effect the world of business owners. And I like hearing that a successful, powerful man invested in education, with great results, is affected by these things, but continues to educate children, empower people with businesses and talk to people daily about how to overcome obstacles in achieving what they desire: regardless, because, despite and in spite of.

They're real things that happen.

And for me, it enacts the business of doing what you need to do in order to contribute to the world, without pretending that you're not in that world.

So what is the political balance between personal and professional?

I retch at the industrialist idea of a person just being a unit of labour, a denial of the social or personal effects on their work and vice versa.

I do believe they're interwoven - with the best and worst aspects of those effects (see under Roman Polanski, Catholic Priests, etc)

I have to acknowledge that I have a privileged position in this.  I was raised by women who kept reminding me that the personal is political. I'm also white, middle-class and really don't struggle (except financially)

When I go on about something, I'm not expected to be speaking for all of 'my people' and if it affects my professional capacity, it's unlikely I would have wanted to work with those people anyway.
And I'm not married with children, so my opinions about the world don't effect my husband's or my children's lives. I don't have corporate responsibility or institutional ties yet.

And even if I did, as an artist, it's also kind of expected that I might be outspoken and have left-leaning principles (or as I like to call them, manners).

It reminded me about the criticisms of Barack Obama during the Zimmerman acquittal (and other recent changes to American life that were influenced by race). He was criticised for denying his race. For acting as though he was separate from it when calling for calm or whatever. For separating his personal priciples from that of the Head of State. The suggestion was that to deny that the political was also personal, was, to some people, also a crime against other persons.

But is this unfair pressure on someone to be 100% accountable all the time, whilst I am as C-grade as it comes on the same scale?

Does this not just set up a sliding scale (and/or slippery slope) of behaviour in a public life heirarchy - a disconnection between what you do and how you feel?

Or do I just need to accept that this is the nature of contemporary times and multiple egos, where we have the need and skill to distance ourselves from others in a variety of ways and that there's nothing actually wrong with that.

*NTS: make a performance that reflects this.

**  I love p-square and the MJ reprise, but I have big problems about the same-ol-same-ol way of expressing ladies in this clip.



I have never considered myself to be interested in utopias - previously having lumped it in with the business of fluorescent triangle painters and mystical scando- aesthetics.

But I recently did some writing about my utopia, as part of an application process for a residency, in relation to race and white privilege.

And then today I found this quote from Toni Morrison on blunthought's tumblr (from whom I've also nicked the pic).

“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in."

Which made me wonder if utopic art, fantasy, paradise, etc - is it not the antithesis of (and therefore might as well be) social realism ? If it is, by definition, designed by those who aren't there - then doesn't it tell us just about who is here (and not there) and not anything more than that?

Like an Arnolfini Marriage-esque inverted mirror.

I need more thoughts on this, but just for today it poses some new perspectives on utopia and its aesthetics.