Constellation no.1: Optical Alignment
Constellation no.1: Optical Alignment is an event curated by Ulrika Flink and Rado Ištok.
Optical Alignment is a constellation of two performances, a screening with a performative lecture, and artist conversations unfolding over three evenings. A performance by Paul Maheke, Nkisi and Ariel Efraim Ashbel, and a performance by Natália Rebelo will take place at MDT, followed on one of the evenings by a conversation with the artists in collaboration with the discursive platform Spaces of Care, Disobedience and Desire. A screening and a lecture performance by Ali Cherri, followed by a conversation with the artist, will take place at Moderna Museet within the programme of the Film Club. Optical alignment is a mechanical technique which enables a failing optical system to be corrected by establishing a new reference line of sight. The optical system, or, if you will, the gaze that we all live under, is integral to all systems of power, mirrored in an unaligned relationship between the self, the body and the social world. As stated by the intersectional feminist writer and activist bell hooks, “By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: ‘Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality.’ Even in, the worse circumstances of domination, the ability to manipulate one’s gaze in the face of structures of domination that would contain it, opens up the possibility of agency.” The human eye as an optical system can thus also be a site for resistance and agency of the marginalised and the oppressed. Establishing an eye contact in the presented works acknowledges the presence of the audience and makes them aware of their own role as spectators in the performance apparatus. It thus operates a shift in the power dynamic between the performers and the audience. In different ways, the works are trying to establish a new reference line of sight, a new aligned framework that questions the mechanisms of differential privileging of dominant knowledge systems and regimes of visibility within performance, visual arts, and society at large.
Moderna Museet, 6 November:
18:00–20.00 Ali Cherri: Somniculus
MDT, 8–9 December:
18:00–19:00 Paul Maheke, Nkisi and Ariel Efraim Ashbel: Sènsa
19:30–20:15 Natália Rebelo: speed ruin
20:30–21:15 Conversation with the artists (8 December only)
- Paul Maheke, Nkisi and Ariel Efraim Ashbel: Sènsa
Combining sound, light, and movement, Sènsa – Paul Maheke, Nkisi, and Ariel Efraim Ashbel’s most recent collaboration – traverses diasporic geographies and ancestral knowledge. Playing with motifs of presence and withdrawal, the performance insists on the sensorial. A blurring of the field of vision is at the heart of Sènsa, a Bantu word that translates as “coming to visibility,” “to appear from far away,” or “to reveal itself.” Informed by Dr. Kimbwandènde Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau’s 1991 book African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo: Principles of Life and Living , Sènsa positions the cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo as a point of entry which grounds the performance in a diasporic imaginary; one that is “in-between.” Sènsa brings to the fore voices often marginalized in Western-dominated history.
The performance oscillates between visibility and erasure with a lighting system conceived by Ariel Efraim Ashbel while Nkisi’s music alternates between atmospheric waves and forceful musical spasms to create a disorienting sonic environment generated and treated live by sound captors installed on the theatre’s walls and floor. Ghostly shadows appear and disappear, mumbled words akin to spells are being cast, and echoes of the building’s vibrations serve as strategies to build an intoxicating performance.
Concept: Nkisi and Ariel Efraim Ashbel. Music: Nkisi. Lights: Ariel Efraim Ashbel. Choreography: Paul Maheke. Costume: Firpal Jawanda Stylist: Curtly Thomas. Sènsa was co-commissioned with Abrons Arts Center and Red Bull Arts for the Performa 19 Biennial in New York.
- Natália Rebelo: speed ruin
“speed ruin” commits to being unwise in public, being seen, performing shyness and distress of being looked at while at the same time controlling what is being revealed. Moving across the space, the performer seeks hints of control through her gaze towards the audience. Her moves are shifts between surveillance and demand for attention. She is told she has been sold out, she can’t take it. “It’s not easy,” she says, as she looks back and seeks more hints of control and attention. Never tiring. And what not. She seeks a minimal-effort company, with a distance. She wishes you wished. She wonders if you do. The music keeps coming like a second try. Something from a distance that needs to be said. How does it feel to be ruining in full speed in public?
Originally conceived site-specifically for the Royal Academy’s Assembly hall and in dialogue with the historic artworks displayed there, the performance is a reworked and extended version of Natália Rebelo’s piece first performed at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm as a part of the 2019 MA graduation show of the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm.
Concept and choreography: Natália Rebelo. Performance: Ruby Nilsson. Music: Kablam and Nev Lilit
MDT, 8–9 December 19:30
- Conversation between Paul Maheke, Nkisi, Ariel Efraim Ashbel and Natália Rebelo, moderated by Ulrika Flink and Rado Ištok
Following the two performances, there will be a conversation between the artists in collaboration with the discursive research platform Spaces of Care, Disobedience and Desire. Tactics of Minority Space-Making, a collaborative project initiated by Rado Ištok, Marie-Louise Richards and Natália Rebelo and supported by the artistic research and development funding of the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. The public is encouraged to enter the conversation with their own question and reflections on the performed works.
MDT, 8 December 20:30
- About Ulrika Flink and Rado Ištok
Rado Ištok (b. 1989, Slovakia) is a curator, writer and editor based in Stockholm. He is the curator of the European Cooperation Project 4Cs: From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture at Nida Art Colony of Vilnius Academy of Arts, within which he curated artist residencies leading to the exhibition The Spectral Forest (2020) and the workshop Dwelling on the Threshold (2019). Recent exhibitions include Black Atlas (2019) at the Július Koller Society in Bratislava, Slovakia; Liquid Horizons (2019) at tranzit.sk in Bratislava, Slovakia. He is a project leader of Spaces of Care, Disobedience and Desire (2018-2020), a discursive research platform in collaboration with Marie-Louise Richards and Natália Rebelo, supported by the artistic research funding of the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. In 2020 he was awarded research scholarships from the Helge Ax:son Johnson Foundation and the Slovak Arts Council.
Ulrika Flink is a curator based in Stockholm, Sweden, currently working as artistic director at Konsthall C as well holding a post as curator at SETTINGS and Konstfrämjandet Stockholm. She completed the MA Curating Contemporary Art (CCA) program at the Royal College of Art in London and has also held roles as curator of Momentum 9 – Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, Moss, Norway, and producer at Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm. She is the co-founder of the curatorial collective Parallelogram.
- About Paul Maheke, Nkisi and Ariel Efraim Ashbel
Paul Maheke lives and works in London. In 2011 he completed a MA in Art Practice at l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy and in 2015 a programme of study at Open School East, London. His practice is grounded in emancipatory and decolonial thought with an emphasis on cultural identities and new subjectivities. His current research focuses – through video, installation, sculpture and furtive interventions – on the body as both an archive and a territory, as a utopia to be reimagined through different strategies of resistance. His recent projects include: Performa 19, Abrons Art Center, New York and ‘Elements of Vogue!’, Chopo Museum, Mexico City, ‘OOLOI', Triangle France-Astérides, Marseille, 'The Distance is Nowhere' (in collab. with Sophie Mallett), ICA Miami, Miami (2019), ‘Sènsa', (in collab. with Nkisi), Blockuniverse, London, (2019), Meetings on Art, performance art program at 58th Venice Biennale, ‘Letter to a Barn Owl’, Kevin Space, Vienna (2018, solo); ‘A cris ouverts’, Biennale de Rennes (2018). ‘Give Up the Ghost’, Baltic Triennial 13, Tallinn (2018); ‘Move’, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018); ‘A fire circle for a public hearing’, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2018, solo show).
Melika Ngombe Kolongo, AKA Nkisi, lives and works in London. Nkisi was born in Kinshasa but grew up in Belgium and studied at Narafi Arts Schools in Brussels and Birkbeck University in London. Over the years, Nkisi has championed exploring music and sound within a decolonial context. As cofounder of NON Worldwide, whose raison d’etre is described as “a collective of African artists and of the diaspora, using sound as their primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power”, Nkisi’s ethos and music is imbued with a certain punk sensibility along with a political push back against conformity. A recent example is Nkisi’s night of concerts and DJ sets titled “Same Same Night II” that she organized at Kunstencentrum Vooruit in Gent, a festival that examined Belgium’s history and its contemporary inscription within a global postcolonial network. Nkisi’s debut EP, Kill (2017) received critical acclaim from Pitchfork, Tiny Mixtapes, and FACT. Her latest solo album, 7 Directions, was released in January 2019.
Ariel Efraim Ashbel lives and works in Berlin. He is a graduate of the school of visual theater Jerusalem (2006) and holds a BA in philosophy and history from Tel Aviv University (2011). Weaving together a wide array of historical, political, theoretical, and pop culture references, his pieces are interdisciplinary compositions at the intersection of theater, dance, music, and installation. He also collaborates as a performer, dramaturg and light designer with friends such as visual artist Alona Rodeh, choreographers Ligia Lewis and Constanza Macras, performance collectives Showcase Beat Le Mot and Apparatus, composer Wojtek Blecharz and more. Ashbel lives and works in Berlin where he regularly collaborates with HAU Hebbel am Ufer, as well as other institutions and festivals around Germany and internationally.
- About Natália Rebelo
Natália Rebelo (b. 1987, Brazil) is a visual artist based in Stockholm. She works in various media including performance, sculpture, text and moving image. Her work has been shown at Galleri Mejan, Uttran, Mossutställningar, and Index Foundation, all in Stockholm; Nya Småland, Tranås; Z/KU (Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik), Berlin; Chart Emerging, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Work hard! Play hard!, Minsk; W139, Amsterdam; and Biquini Wax EPS, Mexico City. Recent residencies include Fondazione Ratti in Italy, Biquini Wax EPS in Mexico and Brucebo in Gotland. She holds a BFA from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and MFA from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. She was the 2019 recipient of the Brucebo Stipend.
Constellation no.1: Optical Alignment is an inaugural event in the Constellation series curated by Ulrika Flink and Rado Ištok. The series aims to bring together visual and performing artists to address issues of visibility and agency in an intersectional way. With the support of the City of Stockholm. The events takes place in collaboration with MDT, Moderna Museet, and Spaces of Care, Disobedience and Desire. Tactics of Minority Space-Making, a research project supported by the artistic research and development funding of the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm.