AFROPOLIS 2023. OUT OF THIS WORLD
AFROPOLIS is a hybrid gathering in the middle of nowhere. It seeks to create new processes of antidisciplinary exchange between performance, design, community engagement and digital technology. Our purpose is to generate synergy within a distributed network of creatives, proposing a technocultural approach for future making. Between 11 and 24 September 2023, the Biennial de la danse de Lyon will play host to Afropolis 2023 at the emblematic Usine Fagor, a 29,000 square meter open-plan warehouse, a veritable arena for imagination and experimentation.
The curatorial theme for Afropolis 2023 is "OUT OF THIS WORLD", the exact title of a new work that I will premiere in June at Centre Pompidou in Paris. During the Biennial de Lyon, we are building on this artistic inquiry for a brief moment of suspension, with a loose collective of invited international artistes-diviners, designers, technicians, technologists, and thinkers who are radically pushing the boundaries of a world previously designed on imperialist, white supremacist, sexist, capitalist and warring principles (Bell Hooks). For this third edition of Afropolis, we are primarily concerned with two sides of the same coin; one is the amount of innovation and creativity involved in retreating from the world and metaphorically putting to death what has previously been decreed to be nothing, an empty figure relegated to the outermost fringe of reality. The other is the way these negated subjects - deprived of power or visibility - pushed even further away, to the other side; crafting aesthetics or technologies to prolong their own annihilation (Achille Mbembe).
Afropolis is proposing an antidisciplinary co-laboratory, inside a time-based sonic and scenographic installation, a ghostly space that is acting on us and activated by us. Central to this proposition is The Oraqu, an oracular program we’ve designed based on the ifa divination system of the Yorubas; a standardized binary-based protocol adapted for organizing, processing, and retrieving vast information within a dynamic oral knowledge database of the Yoruba cosmogony (Ojo Oyebisi). The Oraqu is therefore, a self divinatory system by the querent, without recourse to any human agency, an intuitive repository of oral wisdom and sonic beauties, an archive of the ghosts, for seekers who are dissatisfied with easy answers and popular prejudices. It consists of philosophical thinking, scientific fictions, and spirituality; various cosmologies and mythologies; from diverse historical figures and past events; poetry, music, soundscapes, a fine collection of thoughts that collectively offer a doorway for insights into epistemes of otherworlds. The sonic installation will comprise 16 totems, each with a digital touch screen, through which the users will explore the archive.
In association with a core team of collaborators and students of Ensatt - a technical theatre school in Lyon - we shall be imagineering a corresponding set design, a physical manifestation of The Afropolis, inside which we shall curate a fine selection of artists-diviners, technicians, technologists, and thinkers; The Tribe of 2023, with whom we shall occupy this space for two weeks, creatively and collectively responding and adding to both the sonic archive as well as the already established set design, to culminate with a performance weekend experience, that will accomodate the audience as participants. This will present a vast arena for the interplay of thoughts, soundscapes and digital media, a dynamic world of movements in flux, an invitation for these creative misfits to collectively contemplate the present with the audience in real time, and be entangled in a brief moment of what remains a fundamentally unknowable reality. To perceive Time differently makes the future feel uncertain, thereby making the present more immediate, urgent, and constantly unfolding (Neville Goddard). Taking such risks with a live audience, makes them equal stakeholders in the becoming of the event as performance, and can help us think of our role as technology for a broader freedom aesthetics.
Afropolis is interrogating a novel form of processing African oral traditions, as both scientific and artistic methods for time bending, shape shifting, and place making, here we imagine the art space as a civil space, which impacts human social contracts and relationships. The form I am proposing is an incubation space for the cultures to come, a space where we could further ask our public questions that aren’t simply thinking of our audiences as transactional bodies (Marc Bamuthi), but as conduits for whatever social vision or utopic future we want to make together. To engage our partner institution as an incubator, for the nurturing of creativity, experimentation, cultural production and promoting the progress of art in a dying world. And maybe more pertinently, what is the point of culture at this time, if cultural institutions are not asking these kinds of questions along with the artists and their audience? Of what good is a theatre, a museum or a biennial if they are simply citadels for prefabricated cultures that have attained their limits.
The Yoruba worldview conceives of the cosmos as a whole, which consists of two distinct, yet inseparable realms, aye – the visible, material world of the living, and orun – the invisible, mystical realm of the dead, ancestors, deities and spirits (Henry Drewal). Aye equally includes those invisible otherworldly forces that visit frequently and strongly influence human affairs. The importance and omnipresence of the otherworld in this world is expressed in a Yoruba saying: aye l’oja, orun n’ile; this world is a market, the otherworld is home. If we are granted the assumption that this world is indeed a marketplace, the transactional nature of the Capitalocene (Donna Harraway) has made the marketplace the epicentre of attraction, where everything gets a definition, a price, and the home of less significance. We speculate therefore, that the living have been intentionally unaware of the dead, because what possible relationship could humans have with that on which it has not been possible to confer the attributes of humanity (Achille Mbembe), or to which it has been denied? But the dead have always been around, unseen, the dead have been watching the living, for they share the same space at the same time.
The principal interest in journeying Out of This World, is not to seek a moralistic hero journey into the “unknown”, a representation of the non-living, nor are we interested in the anthropo-logical meaning of death through senseless violence, whether the death be suicide, homicide, genocide or the other hundred ways to die. Our curiosity staggers on a purely artistic exploration of the aesthetics of the ghost – that which lives with us but not one of us – what it means to be self-convinced of living in a human world, and to lose that conviction to irrational disorder. Through an oscillating performance of death and reincarnation, dying becomes the purification that purifies the dead from all pains, and all strives, discharges them from all duties in the world of the living, relieves all burdens as they enter into a state of complete austerity and abundant fecundity (Carl Jung). To be completely dead is to be dead in all spheres of existence, but to die in just one dimension is a praxis in self-preservation, a form of healing, or rather a form of cure, a cure for all ailments, a cure which cures the bereft of being without being.
What then are the ways at which the dead copes with living? Overcoming invisibility, violence and neglect. What are the aesthetics of the dead? (Achille Mbembe). How do these invisible otherworldly forces manage to still influence human affairs? The fugitive, evasive and migratory qilombism that the marginalized have created overtime, can now be irrevocably valued as knowledge production, an asset in the face of a dying world. The George Floyd phenomenon that took this world by surprise, wasn’t the first evidence of our current apocalypse of human values, it was the global lockdown perhaps, which opened us all for the monumental turn that the Black Lives Matter movement took, because there exist no Black Live that doesn’t recognize at the basic level that it matters (Bell Hooks). The pains of the lockdown, mixed with the gushing of sounds and images of black bodies in pain that flooded our screens, suddenly solved the equation. (Ben Okri) I Can’t Breathe, in the genius of its truth, managed to present us the code-word to express the fundamental clarity of what happens when people are demonized, their stories excluded, their aesthetics deprived, their epistemology silenced, and irrationally murdered.
When we look back to think about the first days of the pandemic, we will see that art and technology were stabilizing forces when we most needed them, and as they have been such stabilizing force, art, design and technology can also be instructional forces as we code our morals and reimagine ourselves into a new “new”, and this is where systems design, and design thinking becomes crucial. Collective actions and communal engagements can be choreographed, we can design social interactions with the audience in the same way vaccines are engineered. And performance, — because it lives in the place of public conspiracy (to breathe together) and inspiration— is a perfect conduit in order to achieve that end. When a curatorial practice reflects a Yoruba worldview, the program developed is never tranquil but mobile and active. The otherworldly experience we will create in Lyon will draw both our tribe and our audience into a vast arena for the interplay of forces, a dynamic world of movement and of flux. (Chinua Achebe). It is the striving to come to terms with a multitude of forces and demands that gives life its tense and restless dynamism, and it's art an outward, social, political and kinetic quality.