29.04 - 26.06.2021
How do we reconfigure and reconceive the ‘place’ (or placelessness?) of Africa(ns) in the world? How do we build a sustainable continental solidarity in a world that feels no moral or ethical obligation to recognize Africa(ns)? Or worse, how do we commemorate and/or remember the displaced (or expelled?) when (1) the absolute violence that displaced them is today as pervasive as the sea and (2) when they are only available (conceptually so) to the world as things fit to suffer? Further, how do we sit and wallow, productively, with the realisation and tension and contradiction that the conceptual parameters of what we know as the Citizen are not universal? That is to say, these parameters are not elastic enough to be stretched and to incorporate everyone, and like the Human, are not guaranteed and universally accessible. And more debilitating even, they require ‘an ocean of violence’ to construct and require ‘an ocean of violence’ to maintain. How do we sit with this?
Meschac Gaba, through Détresse (2017), a kind of vibrational center of his solo exhibition ‘Citoyen du Monde’, articulates a state of emergency, an urgency, by way of a multi-sensory gesture that beeps and flashes (in alarming reds and oranges) sounds of distress in (crisis prone?) Africa. The pendant shaped installation holds the show without shocking, ‘speaks’ without sensationalising. Seen spread across the floor, you would be excused for thinking about it as waste material dumped somewhere (it is no secret that Africa is the world’s dumping site, often a rendezvous for ecologically ruinous practices by Western countries, a shit hole at every level of abstraction), but I’m also interested in the piece as something to be actively listened to, like artist Samson Young’s sonic explorations that denote distress or panic.
It is through this work that we might hear what the rest of the show is saying. The ominous effect of Détresse permits us to test the limits of our (political) imagination, and where they might clash with the possible conceptual limitations and possibilities of this body of work. What could you possibly hear in African Unity (2018) as it pulls you in, drags you kicking and screaming into its sharp center, the belly of its abyss, with a noisy, forceful and arresting vertigo? The effect is dizzying, the center holds. The arrangement of the flags, the artist seems to suggest, is nothing but an arrangement of identities as they collapse into each other (or are swallowed up by one another). But the flags (presented without their traditional sonic accompaniments, i.e national anthems) don’t necessarily melt into each but furiously rush to the center. It is this rush that is the object’s (flag’s) phonomateriality.
Globalloon (2013), a nylon balloon noticeable for the way it exposes the gallery’s structural incapacity to hold it, hinting at its ‘volatility’ (for lack of a better word), some apocalyptic shit waiting to hit the fan (considering that we are invited to read the piece as a globe); this constellation of nation states under conditions of globalization can never be sustainable.
Project Voyage (2012) is a staging of an encounter between what Meschac Gaba describes as “countries and confederations that have worldwide influence”; each flag is wrapped on a bundle and is tied to a wooden cane. These items and symbols of global power are arranged in a set of six wooden pallets. The artist tells us the canes signify passports and thus asking us to think about this connection between documentation (intricately entangled with racist bureaucracy) and (colonial) borders, as well as a problematic tradition of demarcation of space. But the word Voyage begs for a deeper reading (if not a radical listening). Could the six pallets be boats on an active (colonial) expedition, a condition of possibility for conquest and expansion, the canes as paddles sailing against the tide bearing trouble, also-known-as colonization? This listening (to the tides and the violence of Discovery, if not of History) raises the stakes higher, compelling us to think a few levels of abstraction higher than is conventionally acceptable. I mean, what do we make of Memorial for Drowned Refugees (2016); where do we begin to wrap our heads around an ocean of violence so terrifying that it makes such calamities possible? Put differently, what do we do with a paradigm so violent so as to give a metaphor, ocean of violence, concrete form?
Gaba’s ‘Citoyen du Monde’ is an impressive sequel to his ‘Money, Money, Money’ show even though his current exhibition is not as voluminous. Thematically, there are generative continuities between the two shows with a remarkable conceptual integrity, opening themselves up as a study on globalisation, nation states, citizenship and identity.