Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Future, Funk, and Cascading Pews

by Salman Hameed

Last Saturday I had a chance to visit Mass-MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). Every time you visit, there is at least one exhibit that blows your mind. This time it was Sanford Biggers' The Cartographer's Conundrum. In some ways it is hard to describe. There is interesting sound, broken mirrors in the shape of 5-pointed stars, a piano to welcome you, a cascading pew, an exploding pulpit containing musical instruments and an upside-down piano surrounded by pipes from a church organ, a floor with a design of platonic solids, some spectacular quilts. The pulpit is either exploding or coming together. Don't ask me about art, but according to the exhibit, it is a metaphor for the African experience in the Diaspora.

Here is a picture of part of the exhibit, but it really doesn't do justice to the installation.

This exhibit is a part of a sub-culture called Afrofuturism:
Afrofuturism was a phrase coined in 1995 by cultural critic Mark Dery in is essay Black to the Future, where he links the African American use of science and technology to an examination of space, time, race and culture. In this text Dery defines afrofuturism as: "Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture - and, more generally, African American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future…" The movement began in earnest in the mid-1950s with musician Sun-Ra, whose music blended science-fiction, mysticism, African culture (with a particular focus on Egypt) and jazz fusion, all of which coalesced in his 1972 film Space in the Place. In 1975 George Clinton formed his bands Parliament and Funkadelic, which took afrofuturism to new and often absurdist heights. Today the movement is still strong, encompassing contemporary musicians like Saul Williams, Janelle Monae, OutKast and DJ Spooky along with writers like Paul Beatty, films like the Matrix, Blade and Chronicles of Riddick and visual artists like Sanford Biggers.
Well, if you get a chance, go see it at Mass-MoCA (and you will also get a chance to see Sol LeWitt wall drawing retrospective. Some of it is quite amazing (and you can even see a timelapse video of how they did these wall drawings).

And as a bonus, here is an earlier installation of Sanford Biggers called Big Ass Bang!:


From the Brooklyn Museum description:
The title of this piece humorously plays on the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. Footprints outlined on the floor and walls of a corner in the gallery suggest exuberant dance steps that would animate the space. A spinning disco ball placed near the floor heightens the sense of dynamic movement as well as suggesting a celestial explosion. Calenda, a form of martial arts practiced in the Caribbean, had its origins in Africa. It is believed by some to have evolved into a dance performed by enslaved Africans in the antebellum South; the various movements might have been used to send coded messages between dancers without their owners’ knowledge. 

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