Wysing Arts Centre is presenting the twelfth edition of their Polyphonic annual music and sound festival, Under Ether. The event is scheduled to take place online and live at The Centre during September, 2021.
Under Ether speculates on esoteric and magical futures, comrpised of three rituals hosted across Wysing Arts Centre’s phyiscal and digitial sites. Curated by Anne Duffau, the programme includes a necw live outdoor stage with musicians FAUZIA, CAMPerVan, YA YA Bones, and other acts exploring sonic forms of optimism and resistance. UK sound artist and DJ, Ain Bailey will host a closed door workshop on shared healing, which aims to connect themes from Wysing’s summer exhibition, Version. New Art City will hold the final ritual online at WysingBroadcasts.art, reiterating the recordings from the September 4 live event into digital space.
In Steven Spielberg and Ian Watson’s 2001 film, A.I.Artificial Intelligence, the maltreatment of ‘Mecha’ child robot, David, represents a dilemma over humanity at odds with its technological mirror image. Abandoned by his adoptive parents when their biological son awakens from a coma, he’s captured by a bounty hunter and tortured for public entertainment. Georgina Tyson and Ashleigh Williams’ collaborative Babeworld project encompasses a variety of catchy millennial adages, resource guides on structural inequality, and an art practice that concerns social identities, the internet, and new models for inclusivity. As sex workers, Williams and Tyson frequently take stances on the topic, with their own Hollywood-referencing film AI: Artificial Intimacy on disembodied selves and dehumanization in online performance settings. The video captures a humanoid sex robot slowly deviating away from its creator’s intended design.
For Spielberg’s AI, the crowd is spurred by anxiety and over-speculation to protest David’s plight, booing and throwing trash at his captors in demand of his release. “He looks like a boy!” shouts a woman from the rafters, to which a bounty man counters, “We are only demolishing artificiality!” This psychological haywire comes out of friction between humanity and its artificial Self—a paradox wherein the reflection remains constant, while simultaneously re-charting. Babeworld seeks to address this tension.
For Czech curatorial platform PAF’s London festival curated by Anne Duffau on November 29, the duo contributed Rise of the Babeworldians, an autobiographical moving image piece on a incorporeal species crash-landing into capitalist society.
**How did Babeworld come about, was there a particular reason you started collaborating?
Babeworld: It began as a single project that we worked on together, just for fun, in the living room of our shared house on a pink velvet Habitat couch Ashleigh found on Gumtree. The two of us had been living together for a while. As we got to know more about each other in the little downtime we had between university and work, we recognised similarities in our experiences of class, sex work and art education. Both somewhat stagnant in our respective practices, we created this space to make, write, and share. It was a pairing that happened naturally, as we both bring different skills, and yet share the same ideals and goals.
**Your contribution to PAF London concerns corporeality in that the Babeworldians are without bodies. How does that relate to the ideas of sex and technology within your previous works?
Bw: I don’t think it does. In previous works concerning sex and technology, there’s always an emphasis on the physicality, like very visceral sounds of bodily functions, extreme close ups of usually sexualised body parts, and crudely detailed descriptions of sexual acts. The main concern when discussing sex in conjunction with technology is desensitisation. When we discuss our own experiences in this context, we rely heavily on the physical to evoke and humanise. Specifically, in regards to sex work, where 90 percent of client-provider interactions are online, which enables clients to separate the persona they are communicating with from the people we are—thereby dehumanising.
The Babeworldians, however, came from something else, probably the normative expectation of showing up physically that we feel should change. Working in most industries during a worldwide pandemic has disembodied a large portion of the world’s population. Something we have learned from this is how we have always had the resources to accommodate things—like working from home or hosting art events online.
At Babeworld, we have been utilising social media and technology to create work, share work, and network in an effort to make our art and our platform accessible. What we wanted to express through the Babeworldians was that the community and space we had procured had been an alien concept before the pandemic forced traditionalist art institutions to embrace it. We are just two millennials that grew up with the internet and had our finger on the digitally-coded pulse. So, technology is always a motif, aesthetic and reference point for anything we make.
**Is that influenced at all by your understanding of ‘post-internet species’? What does that mean exactly?
Bw: Rise of the Babeworldians is semi autobiographical, so in reality, we are post-internet artists who make work that mainly exists online. However, in this imagined reality, we are a post-internet species where our connection to and advocacy of online communities is taken so far to the extreme we cease to function as anything other than an online presence. It expresses our appreciation for the opportunities the internet has afforded us while also raising concerns about the dark side of the internet—as it still exists heavily interfered with (and influenced by) capitalism and colonialism.
**The social media performance site OnlyFans saw upwards of 200,000 users joining every day in May. Are platforms like this similar to the sex robots you discuss in your whorling.net piece? Are they manufacturing something?
Bw: Platforms like OnlyFans had existed and been used by sex workers long before. These clip-selling sites had already been using features like direct messaging. Purchasing sexual services (whether digital or IRL) have always needed a way to be customisable per client. Personas of sex workers providing services are malleable—constantly in flux, depending on a client’s wants and needs, within reason and limits, of course. It’s a personalised experience where the provider’s main goal in the client’s satisfaction, which can take many forms. This could be a scripted video, where the client is the scriptwriter, a phone call where the provider takes the role of someone the client desires, a physical meeting where the client decides on the provider’s overall appearance.
Usually the client is leading and taking an active role in constructing the fantasy, and is aware that it wouldn’t be happening if there was no financial transaction. However, sex work doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Intimacy is complicated, and lines can blur, as described in the piece, AI: Artificial Intimacy. To believe that the popularisation of OnlyFans* is driving us down a path that ultimately ends in artificial intimacy and progressing past the need for genuine and physical connection would be erasing the work and impact full-service sex workers, without whom OnlyFans wouldn’t even exist. Not to mention that transactional and artificial intimacy has been a massive part of society since the dawn of time. It has and will continue to take on many forms.
It’s important to note that sex workers use OnlyFans, and sex workers popularized it, but the platform itself doesn’t support sex workers. It has demonstrated recently with the Bella Thorne situation, and it demonstrates it daily with over-the-top censorship and the removal of sex workers from the website. It is also important to note that the increase in users joining came from full-service sex workers who lost their jobs during lockdown. They were disproportionately affected by the government’s lack of financial assistance, with the only aid coming from sex work charities and community-driven fundraising. As it entered the mainstream, the celebrities treating it like a cash grab, disregarding how sex workers are affected by their presence on the site, had people believe it was an easy way for people to make money, which inflated user sign ups.
**Community seems to be a focal point of Babeworld, can you talk about that? What defines your community?
Bw: We had both been feeling disconnected from the art world that was sold to us in art education. We had both experienced a lack of diversity in our peers and the teaching staff, which led to isolation and feeling misunderstood. Through discussing these feelings together and then sharing these thoughts online, we were connected with other people that felt the same way. The majority of our projects over the last couple of years have included members of our communities, as we believe it’s important to extend any platform we are given to other marginalised people. This gives us the opportunity to exercise accessibility within the institutions and art world we once felt disenfranchised from; to set an example of how resources should be used and how accessible creating accessibility is.
**Back to your PAF London presentation, how is community different than the corporatist society the Babeworldians are corrupting?
Bw: Community is inclusion and togetherness—a space where differences aren’t barely tolerated but accepted or even celebrated. Diversity in all sectors is necessary to ensure systems and processes that keep society functioning fairly and ethically have everyone’s best interests. The Babeworldians role and goal in this particular story are to aid the disadvantaged and oppressed in connecting with each other again so that they can form communities based on their own needs and desires. Rather than the needs and desires of a biased and influenced corporatist society.
**Last question—where did the Babeworldians come from?
Bw: The planet Babeworld is not unlike this version of Earth the Babeworldians crash landed on—existing in a neighbouring reality where their technological advancements are only marginally more progressed due to a major event that took the planet on a different course to this new planet. It was 2018, and the 10th season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race was recording its fifth episode. Fabrics were laid out—differing prints in muted tones reflective of the country theme of this week’s runway. Monique Heart’s hand hovers over a white print with small, brown, angular spots until her attention is caught by another fabric in her periphery. The brown spots were larger and less severe—rounded at the edges like the patterned flesh of a brown cow. ‘Stunning’, she thought to herself.**
The sculptural installation was activated by a choreographed performance that took place on January 24, which included an accompanying sound piece (featuring poetry spoken in both English and Portuguese against the backdrop of the birimbau – an instrument played in the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira). The poems were also written onto the wall of the space, with an excerpt that reads:
By internal waterfalls I move I consume I am consumed
Solid liquids Intense flows Stuburn hopes Motion emotions Water in the stone
In collaboration with choreographer Mary Feliciano, the performance acts an extension of the object-based works which were produced during her time at Ox-Bow Residency, as well as recent editions made specifically for the space. Drawing from her “ongoing research on cultural identities through body language, spoken words and improvisation,” the Brazil born and raised, London-based artist also looks to her own lived experience as a way to explore a more embodied approach to the theory of movement and migration.
In a short Q+A about the recent work, da Silva speaks with us about the wider context of borders and nationality and the complex terrain of tradition that happens at the intersection of culture and identity.
** Your work has a bright aesethetic, and a vibrance to it – maybe you disagree, but is ‘joy’ something you’re interested in and is this a political act of resistance for you?
Vanessa da Silva: I am from South America and I believe growing up in Brazil will always influence my work and my aesthetics – the colours, the way I work with materials, my rhythm. Through my work I’m interested in exploring histories that are not necessarily related to joy but perhaps with the hope to inspire some kind of positivity through it.
** When static objects and a room are being activated through performance, are there certain narratives you are trying to play out – are characters being anthropomorphized and made into a bodily presence or is it more about abstracting and moving away from the ‘body’ as we understand it
VdS: I see the performance aspect of my work as a continuation of the static work – I use it as a way to investigate and explore further elements of my research – I have presented two performance pieces up to now and in both of them I worked with a narrative but also with an interest to investigate the body as an extension of the sculptures – with an intention for the body to continue the sculpture and vice versa.
** What is your process of translation and ’translating political resistance’ – does your choreography and exploration of movement come from a memory, something abstract, somatic or from a specific time/place/person(s)?
VdS: The exploration of movement is very much related to my research, and how I started thinking of the work as a way of political resistance or the body as a political tool. I have been specifically interested in the practice of Afro/Brazilian martial art capoeira which at the time of Brazil’s colonisation was practiced by the African slaves – as a way to keep their traditions and resist the coloniser. I believe that through my performances I’m able to give a ‘body narrative’ or tell a story that comprises more than just the physical/ material aspect of my practice.
** It’s hard not to think about exhaustion, energy and resilience when thinking about (political) resistance – are these states something you think about or translate in the work, the state/movement of emotion?
VdS: I think a lot about movement within my practice – that be my interest in the movement of cultures and traditions, the movement of people/ immigration histories. When it comes to making the work I specifically choose materials that can somehow ‘hold’ movement or a material that can translate ideas of movement – which I am interested in continuing through the body when it comes to the performance. In my 2017 performance ‘Resistance’ I was specifically exploring the flow of the body and thinking of it as a political tool through the mix of contemporary dance/capoeira choreography and engagement with the sculptures.
** What does a new geography look like for you, is it a place, an imaginary space, art?
VdS: For now, a new geography for me is still a utopian space, a more positive space where geographies mix and meet and where borders disappear.**
Chooc Ly Tan is presenting a new video installation ‘Disobey to the Dance of Time’ at London’s StudioRCA Riverlight, opening September 14 and running to November 1.
The London-based, French-born artist and DJ’s video work features an Akira Phase music visualizer moving to a 148 bpm-trance track, Terbium Energy Catalyst by Goch, “a 3D representation of Africa hovering in space-time, and the artist dancing to a hidden track coming from deep space”.
The installation —that carries on Tan’s practice which seeks to understand and subvert the logic of the world through its systems and tools in an effort to realise alternative realities— opens with an evening of performance at Battersea Barge next to Studio RCA. Live acts include Alexis Milne, back to back DJ set by Tan’s Spacer Woman project and Evan Ifekoya, who also features as part of the Dusk programme with ‘Okun Song‘ in May, along with Rehana Zaman, Daniel Shanken and Benjamin Orlow.
Oracles of Humankind is the final show in the current series, ‘Rise Up & Envision’ held in Dyson Gallery, and will be presented by curatorial platform, A- – -Z, who recently organised the premiere of Evan Ifekoya‘s video ‘Okun Song‘, which runs in an exhibition until May 31.
According to the press release, Blandy’s ‘Hercules: Rough Cut’ (2015) is a four screen installation that layers archival political imagery with “pulsing poetic rap (that) narrates an alternative history of the City of London”, taking heed from “language, style and cadence of Roman declamations, Thomas More, Samuel Johnson, William Blake, 1950s Beat poets and contemporary street talk”.
Skobeeva will present both ‘The Horrors of Archiving’ (2015) and ‘Lewis Carroll meets Godzilla’ (2016), the latter of which also takes and constructs content from across a vast timeline including “quotes from St Augustine, Hussels, Lewis Carroll, contemporary theatre productions, songs and conversations”. Apparently “the work needs to be watched at least 50 times”.
The London-based artist’s new commission is the second in the Dusk Exhibition Series at the Royal College of Art (RCA)-run “test-bed and exhibition space”, which shows work that becomes fully visible in the dark hours, to be experienced from outside the gallery.
Ifekoya’s piece explores “identification across mixed realities”, inspired by artist Lubaina Himid, music from British band Eurythmics and the Yoruba myth of the Olokun. This follows Dusk#1, which was shown at the RCA Dyson Gallery in January, a video installation by Zina Saro-Wiwa curated by Zoe Whitley.
The series is one concerned with “trans-gender, Science Fiction and Post-Human” ideas, that in turn builds on the RCA’s ‘Rise Up & Envision*‘ 2015 lectures. Works by Daniel Shanken and Rehana Zaman are to follow in the coming months