#WanderingWILDING: Movement as Movement
Legacy Russell, Curator

I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days / (I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still / accepts me foolish and free / . . . in a sense we’re all winning / we’re alive  [1] 

Poet Frank O’Hara writes these words of serenade to a buzzy New Amsterdam in 1961. It is smack dab in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement in America, six years after the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, eight years before the poet’s beloved New York saw the Stonewall riots and, later, celebrated its queerness in an inaugural Pride Parade. In the dawn of 1961, just days before John F. Kennedy is sworn in as President, Republican Dwight Eisenhower in his State of the Union farewell warns: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence … by the military-industrial complex” stating that, “the potential for the … rise of misplaced power … persists.” That year, Freedom Riders begin interstate bus rides in America to put a U.S. Supreme Court decision on integration to the test. Buses are attacked and firebombed across the country; riders are also arrested disembarking from vehicles, charged with “disturbing the peace”. In the autumn of 1961, French police launch an attack in Paris on 30,000 people gathered in peaceful assembly to protest against a curfew applied solely to Algerians.

In 1971—the same year Apollo 14 delivers two men to the moon, and Richard Nixon declares the U.S. “War on Drugs” on the ground—black American writers Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin meet in London for a PBS television broadcast. Baldwin, eighteen years Giovanni’s senior, speaks to the younger poet, commenting: “The danger of your generation, if I may say so … is to substitute one romanticism for another. Because these categories—to put it simply but with a certain brutal truth—these categories are commercial categories … It’s very hard to recognize that the standards which have almost killed you are really mercantile standards. They’re based on cotton; they’re based on oil; they’re based on peanuts; they’re based on profits.” Giovanni responds, “To this day.” Baldwin retorts without missing a beat, “To this hour.” [2]

It is in Baldwin’s “hour”—one of twenty-four stitched together to comprise Giovanni’s eternal “day”—where we stand now. This exhaustive clock of “commercial categories” and “mercantile standards” that distorts the arc between 1961 and 2016, between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. Wrapped in the veil of this history, O’Hara’s fantastic “foolish and free” escapes us, an impossibility for bodies of colour, a flânerie stripped of futurity. Stunned, disoriented, we settle on a compass and ask questions of the stars: Are we stuck in a permanent loop? Has any time passed at all?  

Wandering as a flâneur for Charles Baudelaire is a quest, the wanderer described as “a roving soul in search of a body”; for Walter Benjamin the same action is “botanizing on the asphalt.” [3] Baudelaire’s “soul” finds comfort in Benjamin’s “asphalt”, a concrete mark of progress, useful urbanisation, strategic city planning, aimful pathways provided for an aimless journey. This is a topography defined by, and created for, the transport of whiteness. Thus, what is a fond and familiar foothold for those bodies privileged enough to pass, becomes a gurney for others, a surface to be surveilled along, dragged down, choked on, disappeared from. As reaction to this dystopia we feel tempted to tuck ourselves away, paralysis via stand-still, an erasure that aims to “cast no shadow”. [4] This self-imposed constraint is not an option: the movement of bodies of colour is filled with potential, and must persist. We must create space, assert space, take up space—Internet, we must [cyber-] congregate!

How is it that we miss so deeply all who dared roam, those whom we have never even met? We, too, jump out of bed, but somnambulate in our cities along asphalt throbbing with the spectres of fallen heartbeats. Let our wild bodies continue to rove in remembrance of wanderers who have been stolen from us, a quest taken on while still alive by those resisting via existence, moving together through threat, congregating toward victory.


ANAÏS DUPLAN

“A POEM BY ANAÏS DUPLAN” is comprised of what the artist describes as “three video poems.” This collage of words and found-footage moving image, painterly juxtapositions of humans and organic matter, is uncanny. “I Think That I Can Love It” nearly mirrors the structure and cadence of a childhood rhyme: Pitch-black Mary told a lie, / told the kids to ride / the ponies, freely. Any joy of childhood however is quickly subsumed—a haunting soundtrack that wails, each line of text unpacking heavy baggage, meditating on false constructions of truth and real fictions of freedom. Freedom for whom? We see a white female body stuck in perpetual Olympic loop, her gendered performance of postured decorum in stark contrast with an atemporal athleticism that defies the retro aesthetic. In the absence of visible blackness, Duplan’s words tell a story of a corporeality beyond the frame devoid of safety, bodies subjected to the sharp lashes of a social violence. In “Why Does It Feel Natural to Want to be Stable for the Lady in the Mirror?” a black man in a football jersey stars, traversing with urgency across streets and through what appears to be a public park. Later we see this character rolling in the grass as he tussles with an unknown rival. Duplan calls out, language stretched across the screen as our main character moves away or toward something we cannot see: My stable body yet, / it is the stage of the real. / My labor is inscribed / upon the earth. Is it the name / of the father, the law? Regardless / of capital, this is my self-growing. Thus this body we see before us becomes the “stage” for Duplan’s “labor”, that “earth” of “self-growing” that is enacted in cinematic avatar by her lead, a man of colour plucked from the archives, anonymous and unnamed. In “The War of Parasites” names we still want: We warred without names / Only the places we fought were utterable. These soldiers stripped of nomination are displaced, alchemised into white suburban child-bodies at play that, in their surrealist experiments, test the limits of nature with a near-magic that transports.


ELISE R. PETERSON

In Elise R. Peterson’s “Talking Heads” we listen in on a recorded conversation, a Skype call between a younger and older female protagonist, mutually dialing in at the start of Peterson’s animation. The viewer is presented with the carefree city-wandering of a central character multiplied en masse. We follow this faceless “crowd of one” through a landscape of assembled photographs, a fantastic tapestry of ever-opening pathways—into shops, across illuminated bridges, through church courtyards. On the line we hear one protagonist allude to collaborations with British rocker Steve Winwood and English new wave band The Police. These snippets of conversation carry us as eavesdroppers across a textured fabric of cultural nostalgia, intersecting with an abstracted discussion of personal aspiration and faith. Peterson presents a glimpse into a narrative exchange via the digital, two generations inextricably intertwined.


JACOLBY SATTERWHITE

Jacolby Satterwhite’s “En Plein Air Abstraction #5” is a slice of a larger project, a concept album comprised of 8 videos entitled En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance. Here Satterwhite constructs a dizzying rendering of futurity, wherein surveillance via floating machines allows us to observe global disaster zones, and travel to cyber-galactic territories. The viewer is transported to a bustling space station, where it remains unclear if the metamorphosis of the bodies encountered therein has taken place due to external pressures of imperial takeover, or if perhaps these cyborgs are part of an imagined queer future where glittering re-formations of the corporeal as merged with machine are cornerstone to a newly realised erotic.


ZADIE XA

Zadie Xa’s “Deep Space Mathematics // The Transfer of Knowledge” is a trio of video vignettes that apply the performative gesture of mudang (Korean shamanism) initiation rituals against a neon-infused landscape overrun by the natural elements of fire and water.  The artist, influenced by the aesthetic tropes of the 1990s and the role of American hip­-hop as part of an aspirational cultural assimilation, creates labyrinthine textile works, which can be seen in the videos, actively being worn on the bodies in motion therein. Though two of the three vignettes are set to a mesmeric soundtrack without words, the third integrates a semi-cybernetic voiceover that expounds on the prefix of “post-” as applied to theoretical constructs within a very real and ongoing discourse of imperialism (“post-colonial”, “post-hybridity”). Xa’s deployment of post- here calls attention to both the consequences of, and erasure across, bodies of colour impacted by the legacy of colonisation. The monologue builds to a necessary call to action:  "… most definitely post-post-post-motherfuckers oppressing us, telling us we can’t shine. Man! You can’t tell us nothing!"

These works have been curated by Legacy Russell for Daata Editions as a virtual extension of Wandering / WILDING : Blackness on the Internet, Curated by Legacy Russell, IMT Gallery, London, open until December 10, 2016.



Legacy Russell is a writer, artist, and cultural producer. Born and raised in New York City's East Village she is the UK Gallery Relations Lead for the online platform Artsy. Her work can be found in a variety of publications worldwide: BOMBThe White ReviewRhizomeDISThe Society PagesGuernicaBerfrois and beyond. Holding an MRes of Visual Culture with Distinction at Goldsmiths College of University of London, her academic and creative work focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, idolatry, and new media ritual. Her first book Glitch Feminism will be published by Verso in 2017.

Footnotes

1  O’Hara, Frank. “Steps”, from Lunch Poems. San Francisco: City Lights, 1964. Print.
2  Baldwin, James, and Nikki Giovanni. A Dialogue. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1973. Print.
3  Benjamin, Walter. Walter Benjamin: Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Zohn H., London; New York: Verso, 1973. Print.
4  Excerpted from Aria Dean’s essay for the exhibition Wandering / WILDING : Blackness on the Internet, Curated by Legacy Russell, IMT Gallery, London, 3 November - 10 December, 2016.

Art
Artists
Me
Info