- Ben Redhead
- 24 June 2021
This Glasgow International 'group-show-as-performance', centring around the concept of 'hauntology', is presented by artists Ashanti Harris, Zephyr Liddell and Patricia Panther.
Arts Writers is a new collaborative initiative between Glasgow International, Glasgow School of Art and The List, which sees students from the Glasgow School of Art's Master of Letters in Art Writing programme write features and reviews about works at this year's Glasgow International. The writers and critics will receive mentorship and publication via The List. The next work to be published in this series is Ben Redhead's review of the group show JUMBIES.
Rubbery black sweeps, tarry and thick, printed in circular rings, extend down long patches of white fabric hanging from the ceiling. In the dark of the room they are backlit, shining unnaturally in the space like apparitions. The surface of the fabric seems to offer dense information about their existence, thick with texture, and thick with history. These are the printed textiles of Zephyr Liddell, part of the collaborative 'group-show-as performance' JUMBIES, presented by Liddell, Ashanti Harris, and Patricia Panther. Taking its name from a Caribbean word for ghost, the show draws from Derrida's concept of hauntology, a theory on the re-emergence and return of elements from the past. Particularly, hauntology asks us to recognise how our present, places and objects are haunted by history: not an official 'History', but by what is, by most accounts, dead and gone. An artwork that conjures jumbies, duppies, or banshees is then one of memory and inheritance.
Each artist converges on these themes in their own medium. The sound, by Patricia Panther, weaves in and out of joint with the scene, telling an erratic but capturing story. The voice nervously asks something of the listener, but this intimacy is fractured by the doubling, pitch-shifting and echo that occupies it. At other times there is a blistering and itchy music, skipping like footwork, reminiscent of Jlin's Black Origami LP from 2017, which also used percussion to fold and disrupt our sense of time. Central to JUMBIES' engagement with hauntology seems to be the conversation had between each aspect of the performance: Liddell's textiles and costumes, Panther's sound and Harris' dance; a to and fro across mediums which echo and haunt each other and the space they occupy. How dancing shadows fall across the textile hangings bathed in a deep blue light, backed by the sound of sorrowed violins. How footsteps resound when Harris steps around the floor, yet continue when she stops still and melts into the background, her costume repeating Liddell's designs on the textile behind her.
Outside of any normal sense of time, it's never certain whether a ghost is the return of the past or a glimpse of the future. It was partly for this reason that Derrida declared that 'the future belongs to ghosts'—that the advancing technology of telecommunication (and surveillance) will only increase the power of the ghost, and of haunting. That the room I find myself in, a basketball court in the Pyramid at Anderston, is not where I am in any physical sense, means ghosts are already abounding.
JUMBIES is delivered via a 360° video in which the viewer, holding their device, turns their body to look around the space. When I pivot, the sound pans strangely with me, as if there are stacks of speakers by my either side. On one side of the room Harris is stood in the light; at another, she is sitting down, untying her shoelaces, preparing for the ceremonies. JUMBIES is not officially on the festival's new Digital Programme but its Across the City strand, perhaps because, three years in the making, the show only recently mutated into the digital. But it represents an exceptional use of technology. When, after 18 minutes, the screen on my phone fades to black, I'm faced with the reflection of my own eyes in the glass, staring hard. My pupils flare and then narrow as I pull out of the scene, follow the thread back home, towards the recognition of my own face.
Phone-screen glass, a texture with such high gloss that it refuses any notion of its history. In fact, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes, 'that signifies the willed erasure of its history'. And me, the being that is left after the jumbies have retreated, accidentally staring deep into its own eyes. There's the ghost—the one that is watching; imagining they are in the room; letting another see for them; letting technology live for them.
The associations of textiles with constructions of cultural identity is forefront in Liddell's work in JUMBIES, as it is in another excellent group exhibition at the festival, Fabric of
Society. In their ubiquity through civilisation, fabrics are like archives of memory and local knowledge; kinds of communication technologies. But as Raisa Kabir notes in the essay Craft As Material Strategy, as part of the JUMBIES publication accompanying the exhibition (edited by Panel), global textile production has historically relied on an immense human cost, connecting 'European colonialism, transatlantic slavery, and building Empire'. Fabric then becomes a material and a metaphoric site to 'connect sites of trauma and displacement with racialised labour.' Textile is a technology that offers a unique space for postcolonial reflection, one which often rings out with collective grief – as we also find in the repetitive movement of a ghost dance. It is possible to discern this sense of grief at the edges of this year's postponed Glasgow International, even in its chosen theme of 'attention', which might be worded as the question: 'where to look now?'
Hauntology provides a transformative method of recovery, allowing the past to become present in the present. But it can also be painful, and frightening, to allow the repressed to return; to reveal, for instance, the continuing legacy of slavery. Arising from his thinking on Marx, Derrida argued that there is something in excess of every system or object – the ghost – that not only permits the possibility of that system, but determines how it functions or has come to be. This helps us to make the terrible recognition that the unthinkable excess of loss and pain experienced by enslaved peoples has determined the very possibility of contemporary Western society, yet is irreducible to it, and even incorporable to our histories of the transatlantic slave trade and of colonialism. This is what Harris' movements attest to. Her body speaking like a telephone to the past, where every motion has passed through another body first. A moving archive.
In JUMBIES, the artists have torn a rift between the past and the present, and between the Caribbean and Scotland: a hole shaped like a basketball court in the fabric of what is plainly called 'history'; and Harris performs a ghost dance in the tear.
Find out how to experience JUMBIES, which is part of the Across the City Programme at Glasgow International running from Fri 11 – Sun 27 Jun at glasgowinternational.org .