an artist statement

Wednesday, 8 May 2024

Following an inner demand for the fusion of my body’s song and me,[2] my poetic practice is strategic and political, fed by historical memory. Being black in the heart of US Empire (in a rather literal sense for me, having recently moved to the capital region of New York, i.e., the Empire State) means contending with willed and unwilled forgetting, a desire to not tell—to not know ourselves and the catastrophe this world has become by way of centuries of conquest, colonization, settlement and enslavement. One of the most insidious features of this Euro-colonial world order is how it demands us to think hierarchically and deterministically about ourselves and each other. The naturalization and normalization of the Euro-colonial sensibility is psycho-linguistic warfare. 

I arm myself with poetry, not to expose structures of domination since they are already barefaced, but to free the narrative we call “reality” from the white West’s grip. Poetry can puncture binaries. Poetry is what ruptures dichotomies: solid and liquid, light and dark, good and evil. Poetry permits the union of inner and outer worlds.

When I learn, from Mark Buchanan’s (2017) thesis in Nature Physics, that the fundamental difference between liquids and solids isn’t structural, but dynamic, already I am changed, since I left off being myself in that moment to follow Buchanan’s directive—to notice that liquids can flow, and solids cannot. In a technical sense, the difference lies in the response to shear stress. Liquids deform continuously when stress is applied, and while solids may deform elastically, they ultimately stand up to the stress.[1] This insight, far more subtle than it first appears, led me to think that maybe the fundamental difference between one person and another is also dynamic, not structural, i.e., a matter of responding to stress. My poetic sensibility dissolves the false dilemma of solid/liquid. Borderline cases such as thixotropic materials also speak to this common fallacy.

At times the only thing I have is this insufficient language. At times the only thing I can offer is my desperate notation. When I learn that I do want to be part of this world, I realize the significance of flowing between states (mental, emotional or otherwise), that is, embracing interstitiality and counter-investing in the body as a legitimate source of knowledge. To do this, you must be willing to let it take you apart. Let it wash you away. Let it change you. Already, you are changed.[3] This crossing from one mode of mattering to another—between knowing and not knowing—may involve leaving behind breadcrumbs, practicing augury and haruspicy, or making maps to a proud consciousness of being oneself, and performing what I call null landings.

I join my voice with the black poets and writers who destroy the myth of neutral language. More specifically still, I call attention to the equation of value[4] that such language demands. In doing so I make my body my medium: I strive to grow the genealogy of my spirit and attend to its painful genesis.[5] It catalyzes my hopes and disappointment with this world and a sense of belonging to the mother continent, Africa, allowing me to begin answering the question: how can I be who I am?[6] Understanding that “the tongue is a bridge between knowing others and becoming known,”[7] my work plots a new communication experience. It tests a more spiritually durable idiom, one that holds til after language, after light.


[1] Mark Buchanan, “A matter of responding to stress.” Nature Phys 13, 620, 2017. Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature.

[2] See Maryemma Graham’s (2013) introduction in Margaret Walker’s This is My Century: New and Collected Poems, Athens & London: University of Georgia Press, 1989, p. xxvi.

[3] Dionne Brand, An Autobiography of The Autobiography of Reading, The University of Alberta Press, Canadian Literature Centre / Centre de littérature canadienne.

[4] Denise Ferreira da Silva, “1 (life) ¸ 0 (blackness) = ¥ - ¥ or ¥ / ¥: On Matter Beyond the Equation of Value.” e-flux journal #79 – February 2017.

[5] Conceição Lima, “Afroinsularidade,” Words Without Borders & the Academy of American Poets, 2021.

[6] June Jordan, "Black Studies: Bringing Back the Person," Civil Wars, Beacon Press, 1969, p. 46.

[7] See Okwui Okpokwasili’s audio feature at SIGHTLINES: On Peace, Power & Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa. Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Past exhibition, September 29 – December 31, 2023. 


an artist statement

Initially posted: July 2020

Updated: Monday, 16 May 2023

What I do is stage thought experiments designed to demonstrate the capacity of blackness to apply stress on our modern (post-Enlightenment) ethical program. When met with stress, language, body, and space must strain to accommodate a change in force. I think by carefully attending to the small dramas of meaning and being, concrete and abstract, life and nonlife, we can trigger a suspension of the assignation of value with/in our current global order.

Let me try putting it a different way. Let stress be understood as how much force an object experiences and howthat force is spread over the object’s area. Different forms of matter have varying strain responses to stress because of their different compositions and physical properties. Strain is a measure of the deformation of a material body, or the amount of displacement experienced by a body in the direction of force applied, divided by the initial dimensions of the body.

My use of jargon borrowed from physics and philosophy may seem counterintuitive, but I think by charming our scientific tendencies with a fuzzier, more loving, slower ontology, we’d find some restorative functionality in these ideas. Perhaps by questioning the trajectories, vectors, and nullities of/in histories of consciousness and philosophies of technoscience, we might loosen the grip of mathematical reasoning and deterministic knowledge on modern thought and existence.

My approach is preoccupied with the Equation of Value[1] and its role in substantiating the ethical indifference with which antiblack violence and ecocide are met. Deploying alternative materialisms in/formed by black life, I perform stunts that attempt to unthink the metaphysics of the present. My writing, performance, and rootwork plays with scale, measurement, and incalculability in an effort to disfigure or dislocate the demands of our modern scene of communication, relation, and organization.

A goal of my work is to encourage renovations of the conceptual and gestural arsenal available to us as we are confronted with the ceaseless task of interpretation, sense-making, and decision-forming. It is my hope that through radical and varied/variable approaches to creative and critical practice, we will alter the ways that weare moved by and move through the world.

In physics, the fundamental difference between liquids and solids isn’t structural, but dynamic.[2] In other words, the difference is a matter of responding to stress. If we truly cannot change fate or control truth, the work of response is crucial. By way of repeated rehearsals of the dramatic encounter between the subject and object of thought/reality, I seek to make available and alterable the interlacing of our physical and psychical landscapes—to dwell in the interval between frequent reference to, and intense reverence for black life/aliveness.


references:

[1] Denise Ferreira da Silva, “1(life)  0 (blackness) =  -  or  / : On Matter Beyond the Equation ofValue.” e-flux journal #79 – February 2017.

[2] Buchanan, Mark, “A matter ofresponding to stress.” Nature Physics, Vol. 13, July 2017. MacmillanPublishers Limited, part of Springer Nature.

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