Ahead of In The Absence Of Ruins There Will Be Innovation, a spoken word performance event, Daisy and Sam from the Arnolfini Programming team talked to artist and co-producer Libita Clayton about her practice and the ideas behind the event.
Sam Francis: Could you start by talking a bit about your practice as an artist, what you have been working on recently and what are some of the subjects that inform your work?
Libita Clayton: Sure. I basically see something that blows my mind - I store it, sit on it for a couple of years and then when the idea has turned into a beautiful golden egg I show it! (laughs). That is true… but on a more serious and specific note: I am drawn to cycles in history and iconic moments, ceremony and ritual, land ownership, marginalised voices and subcultures.
Daisy Moon: What can audiences expect from the event?
LC: A flow of feelings.
That is honestly is the best way to describe it: this project is trying to frame and reflect ideas of black humanity and spirituality. But it is ultimately about personal expression, all of these artists are established and professional. So, without a doubt there will be amazing performances! I mean we have a gospel choir singing, surely that’s enough isn’t it?!
Everyone can expect a wave of colourful creativity and expression. From hard-hitting spoken word and innovative dance to epic monologue, personal storytelling and surreal soundscapes. The content is so varied and complex, we’ve made the setting as simple and immersive as possible with sound and lighting. Moussah will be playing the beautiful kora, Ralph will be responding to Tropikos with an epic performance so there will be a lot of innovation on the day. I don’t really do formal, so it will be a relaxed environment, heavily inspired by poetry-slam competitions and the DIY spoken word scene.
SF: What made you want to work with those particular artists and why?
LC: A lot of the people I have worked with have come out of the Southwest Speakeasy forum: that network has been fundamental in this project. Solomon O.B is someone I have heard of, but didn’t actually know creatively - so he has blown my mind. Edson & Valda have been instrumental in mentoring and supporting me. Cleo has become a friend and someone I admire. Everyone involved are total masters and professionals in their respected fields, and they are all people I look up to.
Awkward & Benjamin One of Universal Magnetic, are people that I have wanted to collaborate with musically for a long, long time, so it is great to be starting that process.
The list goes on… I am a big believer in chance experiences and going with the flow, so that has been a major factor in how we as a group have come together.
DM: Your recent Live Transmission event at BEEF (Bristol Experimental Expanded Film) was a panel discussion around the narrative of Black History Month. How did this inform your current practice?
LC: This event (full title: BS2; RESIST & REVOLT-BLACK HISTORY, LIVE TRANSMISSION) used my personal studio at BEEF to broadcast within the wider public network of the Bristol & Bath Art Weekender and Black History Month. It explored the history of our studios at 25 Portland Square: previously home to Galaxy Radio - this tapped into a whole discovery of the Bristol Pirate radio scene. Deli G, of B.A.D radio and OG Bristol DJ royalty became my very own pirate radio historian which was amazing.
Live Transmission dealt with collective black identity: it was a play on contextualising and conceptualising a framework, within a framework and so on… It was also a very practical way of bringing in an ethnically-diverse audience. You don’t want to be talking about black people and black history and not have black people doing the talking. The same way you don’t want Women’s Hour to be presented by men. I wanted to make what was absent present and more importantly bring in people who knew about the history of St Pauls.
This work has really shifted my artistic role from catalyst and creator to facilitator and Master of Ceremony. I have 4 hours of recorded audio from Live Transmission to play with - Awkward & Benjamin One are collaborating with me on a 15 minute piece to play on Sunday which is very exciting.
SF: Could you talk a bit more about the ‘Absent Ruins’ element of the event and how audiences can contribute ?
LC: I really wanted to respond to the fact that //A/RTW/I is part of the live public programme, and an extension of the current exhibition at Arnolfini, Vertigo Sea. Through my research into John Akomfrah, and the Black Audio Film Collective - I was struck by their collective innovation, and approach to the archive as material.
I am intrigued by the notion that the archive is futuristic and we are archiving the now for tomorrow. Also, the idea that what is left out, is significant and indicative of a time. So, I became focused on the absence within the archive, as well as the presence. If you think about absent ruins you can conjure up an imagined history for yourself and a new undiscovered civilization: I like the freedom that offers you.
At its core, this is a collaborative event, and I wanted to carry that through into the legacy of the work. Twitter is a ready-made global archiving system, so we are using #AbsentRuins to document and aggregate the performances throughout the day. Nocturnal Magazine, a youth-led media platform are leading on bringing this to life. Gal-Dem, Ujima and Come The Revolution are also going to be contributing to this on the day. There will be a Speakeasy Corner set up during the interval, so we encourage personal live reflections from the 'public' - which is all of us.