The hallway is the heart of my flat. It’s smaller than usual for a Glasgow tenement, but still avoids any corridors running through its architecture. It pulses its presence to every room in the apartment, which feels paradoxical for a space in which we spend so little time. Alway passing, flowing by.
I’d watched Specialised Technique a couple of years back at Tramway, followed by a Q&A with Onyeka. I pressed play imaging an enjoyable familiarity. The looping sound, cycling through: alarm bells; alien invasions*; and archival rhythms, beat through the flat, blood-loud, with a distilled intensity that caught me off guard.
*Counting clockwise, the living room is the third door off the hall. My partner and I sit in dim winter light which our two lampshades do little to combat. C tells me he has been listening to a podcast about UFOs, covering historical sightings and the latest spate of footage released by the US Pentagon. I frown in dismissal, but he says, this is serious, aliens are back. I chip in, tentatively saying I have noticed a surge in alien related plot lines in recent radio dramas. He pushes on, bringing up a youtube talk by Terrence McKenna. It frames UFO sightings through Jung’s collective unconscious as a desire to breach our current neoliberal reality. I find the concept alluring, refreshing in its move beyond the pairing of alien and other. If this is a cyclical spike, I ask, what historical loop are we playing out? What will be different this time as we try to smooth out the pandemic’s very real rip into our perceived normality?
Rewinding back to the cinema screening, I recollect Onyeka discussing how hard it had been to edit these images sourced from colonial archives. Imagine here, the archetypal black and white celluloid, fixed-shot, ethnographic film volumes reporting back to Europe on its West African colonies and subjects. A hallway archive, through which we enter the western cultural imagining of black bodies.
In the vulnerable safety of my home, I grasp my numbness to the images when I first encountered them in the context of an art institution. The extent to which I had been prepared for their alarming violence in surroundings, that for me, have always felt awash with a gloss-over affect. Or more bluntly, a hypocrisy highlighted by Morgan Quaintance’s 2017 essay, The New Conservatism, that “largely goes unchecked, because to the cursory eye most progressive, politicised, altruistic or critically engaged attitudes within the art world may seem to be adopted without contradiction. But by taking a closer look at public** procedures, […] it is possible to uncover evidence of professional practices that undermine progression, or benefit from the same oppressive structures and exploitative logics that many artists, arts professionals, and a large proportion of the general public are either fighting against, or oppressed by.”
**The front door is the hall’s door, holding inside
and outside apart with a porosity that makes it
feel impossible to talk about Onyeka’s film
without bringing in this summer’s global Black
Lives Matter protests, sparked by the murder of
George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. This
feeling comes with the full complexities of
understanding oneself in relationship to the
silence that generates and maintains structural
racism within western culture.
I have both profited by and struggled with this
silence, negotiating a mixed brazilian-british
identity lived out in mirroring halves between the
Global South and the UK. I present as white and
play into its cultural advantage, whilst also
having experienced my mother’s claim to it lapse
since our move here. For a long time I felt my
inability to coherently articulate the complexities
of whiteness as a system of privilege rather than
biological fact, and its intricate link to histories of
empire as a personal inadequacy, instead of the
precise mechanics of this system. I came to
Onyeka’s screening that night looking for insight
into how to articulate the reality of brutal colonial
histories and race relations that have built the UK
yet are denied by it.
Hips clad in an 80s vintage leather skirt, the type you might wear on a night out, flash on screen patterned with the projection of dancing bodies. They sway, gyrate and pulse together. An embodying of the archive that transfers agency from the stilled white hands operating the camera to the dancing bodies in its frame and the dancing body that supports them. It is a wordless conversation, loud with the volume of movement. It pushes at the limits of language, answering back with joyous defiance to a culture where those othered are refused signification and denied the ability to articulate their experiences of exclusion.
†words borrowed from voice over of ‘Specialised Technique’, by Onyeka Igwe.
Text by Maria de Lima in response to living with
‘Specialised Technique’, by Onyeka Igwe
HD video, 7 mins,
‘Living With’ was produced during lockdown 2020 and sought to reflect on the conditions we found ourselves in. A circular exchange of artworks was set up between artists Kira Freije, Onyeka Igwe, Maria de Lima, Nicole Morris, Alicia Reyes McNamara and Katie Schwab. Each artist was invited to exhibit in an assigned room of another artist’s home, in turn sharing images of the artworks installed in their own home alongside their response to living with this work.
‘Living With’ was the third iteration of the self-initiated project INGEST/DIGEST/EXCRETE, which was established in 2018 by Maria de Lima and Nicole Morris. Taking multiple formats including, exhibition, residency, publication, radio broadcast and symposium, the project considered collaboration and how a network of friendship can create spaces for shared dialogue, exchange and production. Over the past three years we have explored the home as a context for this project, which has housed the conversations, material explorations and social encounters that we have archived here.