ARTHUR JAFA @ 180 THE STRAND & SERPENTINE SACKLER
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ok, so. I’m being cheeky here. I’m only rly writing about this film (‘Love is the Message, The Message is Death’) by Arthur Jafa @ 180 The Strand bc i saw his show at Serpentine Sackler (‘A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions’) on the very last day when it was closing. I wasn’t there long enough to place what i felt truly; and even if i was able to it always feels cruel and pointless, like name dropping, to write about a show that’s closed by the time we press publish.
But, here i still am, thinking about that show at the Serp and thinking about it with this other film. I need to explain properly to before i launch into it. So the Film: Love is the Message, The Message is Death. The shows seem to kinda be in partnership with each other, one leading onto the other, bc the film that’s @ 180 The Strand is on the Serpentine website as like a NB: did u like this show? are u sad it’s closed? go see this. we’re not done yet!
The show at the Serp was full and whole. I felt emotional and overwhelmed walking round. You could pick up a pair of wireless headphones by the entrance and there were 3 channels playing on them for you to pick from,,,, the gallery was zoned. Zone 1; channel 1; instrumental, heavy bass like a Boiler Room set (i don’t think i’ve ever been anywhere near Boiler Room lol) but that vibe, music made by ppl who are well dressed. There were wall mounted pieces, an all-black Confederate flag. A weight dropped in my stomach as again again again my mind thought about how the US is so different, so alien and far, but also, so not. Zone 2; channel 2; large video in the middle room, a couple are in the kitchen joke arguing. it looked like a youtube prank video, n then it switches,,,, a film about rodeo, black n white,,, all these things loop and i never have time to stay and watch them all. Zone 3; channel 3; a long wall at the back with heavy pocket folders lined up,,, all this stuff, like an archive, but of photocopied magazine clippings,,, like the same as that Wolfgang Tillmans feeling at the Tate earlier this year, but this time i wonder where it all went, i can’t see any evidence of any of them. A large film plays in the corner, archival footage, spanning decades. I crouch down low against the wall n ppl walk past me but block my view, legs shifting. Jimi Hendrix shredding some song, i don’t know, but i left it on that channel for a while. I used to have a Jimi Hendrix poster in my room when i was 15. idk why, i never really listened to him. i think i just liked what he represented. bc rock n roll felt so white so overwhelmingly white even tho it was stolen from black ppl, the same way everything else that feels revolutionary is. But Jimi was a legend that couldn’t be robbed, almost. They couldn’t quite erase him, idk why. He’s still up there as one of the Old Greats, despite that force, that pressure, he’s still remembered. This show felt like remembering,,,, i was so far underneath it all, diving low, skimming the sea bed, sand running thru my fingers. i didn’t wana come up for air, bc it was so watery n emotional. I wanted to keep the headphones on, it felt important n i wished i’d seen it like 8 years ago, when i needed it, when i needed a reminder of the presence of ppl like me, ppl i stand in solidarity with. When i felt like i was getting crushed by a wave, rather than riding the crest. Arthur, this show at the Serp felt amazing, it touched me on a level that made me put it up there with Primitive 2009, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s show in the Tanks @ Tate n Dayanita Singh n Ana Mendieta’s show at Hayward in 2014; shows i carry round with me always always, things that made me emotional n filled me up to the top, things i went home n told my mum about.
This film at the top of 180 the Strand did not make me feel like this, i think. N not just bc it was a snippet only, not the whole room, rather one object-ish. It made me so sad, and, Dear Reader, i will tell you why. The film was about 15 mins long, stretched out with Kanye’s Ultralight Beam as the soundtrack. You wind ur way up to the roof of this large empty office building, all concrete and beams. I didn’t look properly at all the other art that was there, i ran up to the roof, emerged at the top where there was a large black tent with a long screen. At first it was clips of Biggie at 17 freestylin on the streets of Bedstuy, Malcom X black and while only a glimpse, Jimi again, Nina, Assata and Angela;;; it felt like a highlights reel of Black excellence. N then,,, it turns; that clip of cops dragging a girl in a bikini by her hair, that video from that pool party i think it was 2 years ago (god that fucking shook me), patrol car dash cam footage of mums getting stopped and pulled out of their cars in front of their kids, their kids following them with their hands on their heads, backing slowly;;; the LA riots, Rodney King, my hands were against my face n i was rapt,,,, like this film was amazing, it feels like all these snippets u see on twitter surfacing and sinking, emerging n retreating;; it felt like all of them all at once. It was intensely emotional, a raw nerve feeling, i was rolling with these punches of excellence and pain, true pain, n the viral. The part where Chance spits out “this is my part nobody else speak” n then repeats it quickly in a softer whisper almost; that moment was so still and perfect and it hit me, my god it hit me and brought tears to my fucking eyes when it hit me in the fucking chest u kno.
This was sad bc of where it was. I was uncomfortable bc of the ppl sat around me, the number of white ppl laughing at black people that went viral like Sweet Brown, like that beginning intro of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is rly fucked up, it’s not funny, the whole intro is a joke at the expense of the black body and the tropes of speech that white society has marked as laughable. They were laughing at these bits that weren’t for them to laugh at, without reflection on their position as an audience, the fact they were laughing felt grotesque like, it wasn’t there for it to be funny, it was there as part of the stuff, the stuff popping up with all the other,, it made me tense. it felt violent n i haven’t rly got words to explain it very well [i feel like Aria Dean explains the feeling and more better in Poor Meme, Rich Meme; but also this essay on Black Trauma & the viral video from Buzzfeed] it was like… ok so this happened; i was sat behind two like hype beast skate bros wearing busted vans and dead Supreme caps n like… there was a moment in the film when Earl Sweatshirt pops up n they like elbowed each other got all gassed that they recognised him;;; but there was no like irony for them that 2 minutes before there was a clip of Amandla Stenberg saying “what if white america loved black people as much as it loves consuming black culture”. It felt all at once, simultaneously too much;; like both irresponsible and immediately radical to dump this raw and vulnerable film, this footage, this black twitter as archive, all this in the film there in that setting with no cushion. At the top of a London building on the Strand that had been transformed into like a Lisson Gallery greatest hits album underneath us. No explanation, no address really. It felt violent that certain ppl could potentially walk away having had that laugh, n nothing else. No really emotional connect, not feeling like a freshly picked scab// like i did. Not to say, ‘i had the right reaction, lol at these white plebs’;;; but like… if u don’t get it, maybe it isn’t for u? isn’t it radical and irresponsible also to speak in specificities, to be both marginalised and not try and speak to a majority, how beautiful, to revel in that complexity! It made me sad bc the people around me didn’t get it. i know they didn’t get it, fuck me, white ppl never do. it made me sad bc this film made me feel so fucking much, but tbh i shouldn’t feel sad. I had a beautiful, specific reaction even though this film wasn’t actually really for me either. I wish those 2 white skaters had like a primer course on how to not be a fucking asshole before they came in.
Love is the Message, the Message is Death will be @ 180 the Strand till 10th of December. There's also another show with like Lisson Gallery on in the building, but it's shit n i do not recommend. However, there's a rly good Indian restaurant on the strand like a 3 min walk down the road. It's called the India Club n it makes u feel like ur back in a canteen in the motherland. Probably go there instead :)