As a result of my Arts Foundation fellowship in Live Art, awarded in 2017 I have been able to expand the limits of my practice beyond what I thought possible. Putting together my proposal was an opportunity to reflect on my practice to date for the first time. I observed two distinct phases – ‘ETV’ and ‘A Score, A Groove, A Phantom’, both having an overarching concern with the generative space of listening.
In my original proposal I stated that I wanted to take some time away from production to develop my writing and research and take a trip to Tokyo. The trip to Japan didn’t happen, not because I didn’t want to but because a natural opportunity to go did not present itself. I pursued a couple of leads but neither of them materialised, so I came to the conclusion that the timing wasn’t right.
During the course of the fellowship, my priorities shifted but some things remained the same.
I began taking driving lessons in February 2017, something I had long been wanting to do but due to the costs involved had not been able to begin. I managed to pass my theory test first time in April 2018 and am currently close to taking my practical test, with a provisional date of February 2019.
In the first half of 2017, I was offered the opportunity to do a number of small scale solo exhibitions in London. None felt quite right, for a number of reasons – minimal budgets, short time frames, so I didn’t take up any of the offers. The fellowship put me in the frame of mind to not rush things, to take my time and instead focus on developing a new strand of practice.
Instead I was able to develop a body of research related to black queer sound in collaboration with a researcher at Kings College London, Madison Moore. It was at this point that I began to manifest the idea of a black queer sound system in London.
In June 2017 I was offered a studio at Gasworks London and soon after put some of the funds towards creating a small soundproofed area for vocal recording. This enabled me to explore and develop a vocal craft that has contributed greatly to much of the sound work I’ve produced since. That same month I spray painted the words ‘Where is your sense of urgency?’ onto one of my studio walls. This allows me to re-orientate and ask questions of myself and my practice every day. This process of reorientation has led me to pursue sound more deeply, and so far for the past two years I’ve not made any video work instead focusing on the dialogue that sound can have with space.
I did take up DJing again, as I stated I would in my proposal. I’ve taken on the pseudonym Government DJ, where I present DJ sets in clubs but also hybrid performance lecture/DJ sets or sound essays in contexts such as Cafe Oto and University of Reading. This has allowed me to take on a more experimental approach to the presentation of work. I’m excited by the potential of the club space – for feelings of belonging, connectedness and joy but also aware of its potential for violence. The hybrid space of the lecture/dj set allows for a conversation around all of these ideas to exist simultaneously.
In November 2017 I posted a photo from the award night on my instagram with the caption ‘It’s been nearly a year since I was awarded the Arts Foundation Fellowship, what a game changer it’s been #stayblessed’. I regularly check back in with myself about that evening, it’s a good reminder and confidence booster when I’m feeling the strain of putting work out there and navigating institutions.
In July 2018 I presented my first major solo exhibition in London at Gasworks. The show comprised of a six hour sound work and installation, including a bespoke sound system. The sound work was made possible, in part, due to equipment and resources I was able to buy and develop my knowledge in over the year previous. The vocal techniques I’d been working on played a big part in the work and continue to do so in works I’ve presented since. The exhibition was positively and widely reviewed – in Frieze, Flash Art, Time Out and Mousse Magazine.
As a result of the show the sound system I’d been dreaming of also came into existence.
Collaborating with a group of London based peers, we constructed a high-fidelity sound system, enabling a diverse group of participants the opportunity to develop the technical skills necessary to build and maintain their own system. This sound system was a sculptural and sonic element within the Gasworks exhibition. The sound system, which has now been named Black Obsidian Sound System (BOSS) has it’s own email address and instagram and is well on its way to becoming a community resource. We already have bookings for community events in London, including a QTIPOC (queer, trans, intersex people of colour) fundraiser as well as within gallery contexts.
Since the show at Gasworks I’ve been invited to present my work in a number of international contexts with a new sound piece recently included in a group show in New York called ‘Journeys with the initiated’ curated by Yesomi Omolu and a solo exhibition opening at De Appel Amsterdam in January, as well as presenting some of the work from the show in Madrid as part of a major group exhibition called ‘Drowning in a sea of data’. I am currently developing a new moving image work as part of a commission with Tyneside cinema to launch in February 2019 and am also in conversation about a number of high profile exhibitions scheduled for the end of 2019 and 2020.
I’ve also been fortunate to have earlier video works made during the ETV phase included in high profile publications including ‘Queer!? Beeldende kunst in Europa 1969-2019’, published by Waanders and ‘The Political Possibility of Sound’ by Salomé Voegelin, published by Bloomsbury. I’m slowly starting to feel myself become part of the art canon!
Feeling grounded in the practice has left me feeling more in control of my output – the kinds of opportunities I take on and what the right context for my work is. The fellowship has been invaluable to me as an artist, as a way of reflecting on the value of the work I’ve already done, to think about the legacy of my practice and the role it plays in wider arts discourse.