A FESTIVALS OF THE FUTURE COMMISSION / PREMIERE
AYỌ̀ AKÍNWÁNDÉ (Nigeria/Scotland)
INTERACTIVE DIGITAL ARTWORK
21-30 May 2021 on demand
ACCESS: The work is an interactive installation which contains multiple visual artworks. Films within the installation which contain text will be captioned.
Kòrónà Stomp is a digital performance piece that uses photography, video, sound, texts, and GIFs to situate the viewer in a ‘Covidscape.’
This Festivals of The Future commission asks “How can we be present in the absence?” It foregrounds discussions on the ideas of connection, movement and proximity.
The Coronavirus pandemic has magnified questions on the notion of presence and absence in our collective human existence, and it has exacerbated the reality of those on the fringes.
The starting question for this piece is, “Is there a performance without the presence of the performer?” and, “If the medium is digital, is it still performative?” The new collective rituals of washing hands, staying apart, wearing masks etc. has made day-to-day life performative.
It is in this framework that artist Ayọ̀ Akínwándé has deployed 15 works – photographs, videos, archive materials, sound, GIF, and texts – in a performative way to reflect on the notion of presence and absence, using the coronavirus situation as a centre point.
The title of the piece is inspired by the Frank Stella painting “Hyena Stomp”, which was inspired by the tune of the same title by American ragtime and jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton . The idea of syncopation, which informed both the work of Stella and Morton, is used in Akínwándé’s work, set in a context where our regular flow of rhythm is being obstructed by the pandemic.
While the piece was to be staged in physical format, it has been adapted digitally due to Covid restrictions, and the audience can navigate this interactive piece using the floor plan of the gallery space as a backdrop.
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to have a look at these questions! I’d like to say that I find email interviews a bit of a worry, as the questions can come across as a little blunt: without the context of conversation, they can appear either vague or ignorant. Having said that, it is always exciting to receive the answers, so thank you again!
Thank you for taking out time to go through my work and sending these questions. I equally understand the lack of fluidity in email interviews as against spontaneous in-person conversations. But I will surely do some justice to your questions.
I am fascinated by the way in which Korona Stomp is consciously identifying the influence of COVID on the creative process, and that syncopation can be used as a metaphor for the interruptions caused by the lockdown. Yet syncopation is the foundation of some remarkable music: do you think that the COVID situation could be seen as a potentially inspiring moment for new ways of either creating art or living?
I agree with you on syncopation as the foundation of some remarkable music. Miles Davis once stressed this when he likens it to the game of basketball, when he is more interested in that momentarily silence that ensues when the ball is in the air and about to hit the basket, which breaks that constant movement of the players on the court.
I think this era might be defined by the current pandemic, unless there happens to be a WWIII, which isn’t sensible, but the nature of mankind is destructive. I will not speculate on how the COVID situation will impact new ways of living or making art.
But what has become clear to most of us is how a health crisis has been politicized. And new forms of inequalities are being created in the process. As artists, the pandemic will only bring out the best or worst in us. As humans, we might just find ourselves existing in a digital version of the old way of living, and many might misinterpret that as new.
I believe that you began your creative career in architecture. Does your performance work retain any traces of that discipline, and do they reveal themselves in Korona Stomp?
Yes, I started with architecture. And the understanding of space, forms, light, are very integral in my process, where I am constantly drawing thoughts. In approaching my performance works, I borrow from my “architectural notes” in a way that is different from theatre, where enough room is left for surprises, improvisation, etc.
In making Kòrónà Stomp, the principle of anthropometrics takes centre stage, especially in the context of social distancing. What does it mean to keep 2 meters from your loved ones? What kind of implication does that have on how we design our homes, our daily lives, and how does it help us navigate notions of visibility and invisibility.
In making the piece, I began with the floor plan of the space inside the Tramway I was supposed to use for staging the performance. The floors of our public and communal spaces are now marked, and I wanted to place the videos, and other materials on the floors using the dimensions of socially distancing. And with Covid restrictions, the idea got adapted to fit into a digital floor with the audiences navigating by “clicking safely.”
“How can we be present in the absence?” seems to ask questions about COVID and the nature of visual art in the gallery: often the artist is no longer physically present, even if the audience are allowed to share the space. When approaching this question, what ideas did it provoke for you?
I approached that question from a broader spectrum of what it means to be present in the absence.
What does that mean for those who are hunted by the “ghost” of the Home Office? They are present in the U.K, but also absent at the same time. But also what does it mean for there to be a performance without the presence of the performer? And what does being present in the absence mean in the context of Brexit and the Scottish Referendum? Be mentally part of something and physically absent from it.
I am not a “truth seeker,” I love to ask questions rather than find answers. And the works I have presented in this digital interactive performance piece are questions that borders on different subjects, and different spaces where being present in the absence have different meanings.
Can you talk a little about the meaning of the word performative in the context of our new daily ‘rituals’ – the wearing of masks, washing hands, etc. Do you feel that these actions are more performative than other, preCOVID, activities?
When I speak about “rituals,” it’s an attempt for me to play with the understanding of a word that has very deep meanings and become “demonized” in certain quarters.
We all have daily chores a.k.a rituals. The Muslim person that prays five times a day, the NHS staff that goes on shifts, the Christian who goes to church every Sunday, etc.
The actions we collectively do now are as powerful as these rituals I stated above. They are very performative too. What does it mean to wash hands for 19 seconds and not 20 seconds? What does it mean to sanitize? While life itself is performative, now these actions are at the fore. They have political ramifications, and they are being demanded of us.
I am always excited by the combination of artist and activist. How far do these two roles overlap for you – is it even possible to be an artist without being an activist?
I don’t see them as roles. I see them as part of my life. As an artist, I have the privilege to articulate my thoughts visually. As an activist, I am passionate, and I invest my emotions in the issues I care about. But I also know that passionate is often not profitable (in all sense) and I know that emotions can get you to the gate, but to pull it down, you need strategy.
I think it isn’t about the titles. I often don’t care if someone calls themselves an activist or a hero, I am more interested in who they truly are. Many folks have different personas. We have celebrity activists, we have capitalist activists, we have the hashtag activists, and we have folks who are damn passionate about the cause they believe in.
If we ask if its possible to be an artist without being an activist, then by the Beuys saying of, everyone is an artist, we can assume that everyone is an activist, and maybe every activist is an artist. In the end, aren’t we all performing something?
Ayọ̀ Akínwándé is an artist, activist, curator, and writer from Lagos. With an academic training in Architecture, his oeuvre is engineered towards a social critique of the built environment. He works across lens-based media, texts, sculpture, installation, sound and performance.
Akínwándé co-curated the inaugural 2017 Lagos Biennial. His works and art writings have been featured in publications around the world. In 2019, he presented solo exhibitions in Nigeria, Scotland, and Cuba for the 13th Bienal De La Habana.
Akínwándé is a recipient of the 2020 Edith-Russ-Haus Media Art Award, and the 2019 Place Publique prize by the Fonderie Darling, Montréal.