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Alondra Nelson Interview on Afrofuturism

There’s a new Afrofuturism exhibition at Soho Rep. The interview below is with our own Alondra Nelson, explaining the history and tradition of Afrofuturism.

Cycles and Viractuality

With each successive technology I learn, or master it changes how I view the past, present, and the future.

Experiencing virtual 3D space can transcend the material world but it is very much a material experience. Through Alternate Futures I am exploring Afrofuturism and viractuality — a term coined by Joseph Nechtaval who I recently befriended on Facebook after I bought his book, Towards an Immersive Intelligence. This exploration is beyond my imagination.  Lisa Yazsek has been researching Afrofuturism in literature.  She writes,

As an international aesthetic movement concerned with the relations of science, technology, and race, Afrofuturism appropriates the narrative techniques of science fiction to put a black face on the future.

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From the Steampunk Dream installation in Second Life.

Alternate Futures aims to place visitors within a perceptually immersive 3D Afrofuturist construction in Second Life, then subsequently asks them to consider the future of black history and culture. Visitors experience fragments of history, culture, and myth as they explore the simulation. I’ve come to my own realization as I add to this work that my sense of space and time changes. I recognize close connections between form and meaning (in art), as well as history and virtuality or viractuality.

The concept of viractuality begins with the realization that every new technology disrupts previous rhythms of consciousness. Every period in time has it’s own reality — it’s own integrity and uniqueness. ~ Joseph Nechvatal

Having practiced and mastered the art of collage in material space (to some degree) I am discovering that collage in immersive 3D space is entirely unique. A collage (from the word coller, to glue) is a work of visual art made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole. In Second Life collage integrates two, three, and four dimensional forms of art. I am experiencing the overlapping of the visual elements with sound, animation and video in new and exciting ways.

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A work in progress in the Steampunk Dream build.

On a different level I am finding new meaning and connections between the virtual art and existing narratives. Steampunk Dream is my short story about time travel and reconnecting with the past. I am making the story real through the creation of an immersive 3D space that makes it possible to create links to external content such as web sites, online videos and streaming media (radio). For example, visitors can click an image or object to launch a web browser and view segments from LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton, a documentary that draws the connection — a vicious cycle — between poverty and the lack of education opportunity for black people living in the Mississippi Delta, over 150 years after the abolition of slavery.

As I was constructing this part of the installation I remembered this film. It’s another way of looking at Afrofuturism by making reference to how a family tries to end a cycle through self-actualization. Younger members imagine a future where they are no longer tied to their reality. Steampunk Dream is as much about time travel as it is about being virtual as an aspect of reality that is not material, but which is nonetheless real.

[Giles] Deleuze’s concept of the virtual has two aspects: first, we could say that the virtual is a kind of surface effect produced by the actual causal interactions which occur at the material level. When one uses a computer, an image is projected on the monitor screen which depends upon physical interactions going on at the level of hardware. The window is nowhere in actuality, but is nonetheless real and can be interacted with. This example actually leads to the other aspect of the virtual which Deleuze insists upon, which is its generative nature. The virtual is here conceived as a kind of potentiality that becomes fulfilled in the actual. It is still not material, but it is real. ~ wikipedia

As I add to the virtual 3D collage in Steampunk Dream numerous connections are being made visually (ex. clouds are visually similar to cotton), virtually, and socially which is how I was able to make the link to LaLee’s Kin. How I come to the subject and content today is very different than how I might have explored it before I got into the IBM exhibition space in Second Life.

…the opening and closing scenes of Invisible Man hold forth the possibility of a different relationship between technology, race, and art: by hiding out under New York City and stealing electricity to power his turntables, Ellison’s protagonist creates a space outside linear time where he can begin to rewire the relations between past and present and art and technology. In doing so, he becomes, however tentatively, the figurehead for a hopeful new Afrofuture. ~ An Afrofuturist Reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man by Lisa Yazsek.

In Ellison’s novel the narrator introduces himself as an invisible man. He explains that his invisibility owes not to some biochemical accident or supernatural cause but rather to the unwillingness of other people to notice him, as he is black. It is as though other people are sleepwalkers moving through a dream in which he doesn’t appear. Being invisible sometimes makes him doubt whether he really exists. Alternate Futures and more specifically Steampunk Dream make real the reality of worlds (histories, narratives) that often exist in the margins of the mainstream, using new forms of art and technology.

Note: This work is part of my current art exhibition, Alternate Futures, on the IBM exhibition simulation in Second Life.

OPENING: Monday June 21, 6pm SLT (9pm EST)

Future Perfect?

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Reflections External installation in Second Life. Many of these textures are animated.

Afrofuturism is about knowledge. The simplicity of knowing truly, what love is.

Yesterday I woke up thinking about my vision for the future, more specifically what Utopia looks like and nothing specific came to mind except the color blue, a color that is rare in nature.  Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.  Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body.  Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness.  According to the Yoruba if you are one who is aware you are said to possess Itutu, which is almost impossible to translate it into English, but is similar to the concept of cool. It’s a mystical coolness. The color which is associated with Itutu is always blue.

Yoruba head

12th century Yoruba head.

Robert Farris Thompson of Yale asserts that Itutu is the origin of American cool. His 1973 article An Aesthetic of the Cool traces Itutu from the Yoruba to several other African civilizations and finally to the Americas, where the descendants of Africans perpetuate the importance of being cool.

Itutu is part of my Utopia where many of the past and present infrastructures, or social constructs have been destroyed, or have fallen into ruins. The prisons of our present have gone and what is left is vast amounts possibility…for ALL people. Whereas blue signifies consciousness (blackness) or ancestral inheritance I can imagine specific futuristic scenarios in perceptually immersive 3D space and I decided to exploring these ideas via Second Life, a virtual 3D world.

Alternate Futures: Afrofuturist Multiverses and Beyond is a collection of virtual 3D visions that presupposes a sustained black culture — past, present, and future.  It contains fragments of imagery and sounds that are cosmic, utopian, and dystopian.

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Another view of Reflections External.

Twentieth-century identities no longer presuppose continuous cultures or traditions. Everywhere individuals and groups improvise local performances from (re)collected pasts, drawing on foreign media, symbols, and languages. This existence among fragments has often been portrayed as a process of ruin and cultural decay (Clifford 1988: 14). re: The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra

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One fragment is an artist's rendering of Sirius which is where the Dogon people say they come from.

What visitors will see in my Second Life installation, Reflections External, are static and moving fragments from African art, science/technology, history & mythology. From Ndebele-inspired art to binary numbers & cosmic imagery, this installation calls upon a vast collection of images & ideas (knowledge). Each of these elements are not discrete, but are related to many of the other elements from the Afrofuturist aesthetic. It’s not a perfect future but a more inclusive one, indeed.

One part of an equation

Is a blueprint/declaration of the other part

Similar

Yet differentially not. . .

It is nothing

If it is all

Still there are different alls

The end is all

But all is everything

Yet if everything is all/the end

It denies the other side of the end

For some ends

Have many points leading to their respective selves

And there are/is each/their many points

Leading out from their

Respective selves

(Sun Ra 1985).

Note: Alternate Futures will officially open to the public this week on the IBM-sponsored exhibition simulation in Second Life.  Stay tuned!

Teaser for Alternate Futures in Second Life

Thank you Kali for welcoming me into the afrofuturist.net fold.  I’ve been working on an Afrofuturism art simulation on IBM Exhibition A in Second Life, a virtual 3D world.  The official opening is sometime later this week, most likely this Wednesday.  For those who can’t use Second Life I am documenting the work as machinima, or real-time recording of my experience virtual 3D space.  Here’s the trailer (see link below).  More information coming soon!

Alternate Futures Teaser

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