Between Listening
and Address

Detail from ‘Eargasm’ (1976) by Johnnie Taylor

Detail from ‘Eargasm’ (1976) by Johnnie Taylor

FSince last we wrote, quite a lot has been happening, in the world and in our programme. A new year has started. Even as the inequities and loss intensified by the pandemic continue to make themselves chillingly known, mass general strikes and important legal victories remind us of the power of human resilience. For us, listening – to both the suffering and the joy – has, in particular, come to fore in the past months, in the projects of our artist and research commissions, as well in our own curatorial efforts and institutional vision.

Just before the winter break, If I Can’t Dance 2019–20 Performance in Residence researcher Derrais Carter began airing his Black Revelry Quiet Storm a three-part radio broadcast celebrating Black sociality and pleasure. Created in Carter’s home with his family record collection between December 2020 and February 2021, the two-hour late-night time blocks unfolded the (imagined) grooves moving and moving through the figures in Ernie Barnes’s iconic 1976 Sugar Shack. The radio shows ricocheted across time zones and locations – from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and back to Berlin – opening up space for experimentation with different affective modes of storytelling and, at the same time, different ways of technologically connecting to one another bypassing the visuality of the screen. The first show took up ‘Gathering’ as its thematic, inviting listeners to gather from whatever big or small distances might be between us. After this coming together, Carter next presented ‘Dispersal’, a playlist built around ‘the stretch’ of time, of energy and, most basically, of song length. Once so distributed, the final broadcast brought us back together, if not in gathering per se than with a reminder of the power of ‘Frequency’, or those songs and rhythms in the body that just keep coming back. Drawing from Kevin Quashie’s The Sovereignty of Quiet (2012) Carter closed the Black Revelry Quiet Storm with a proposition that seemed to also reverberate with his own words written in ‘Sent’, a short text published in 2020 just before the premiere of shows in which he wrote through his method as one that is ‘a nostalgia that is and is not [his] own’. This ‘is’ and ‘is not’, this ‘sovereignty of quiet’, the R&B, jazz and soul music of Black Revelry Quiet Storm, all brought us back to the seeming unimaginability of a ‘black revelry’ within the boundaries of what ‘revelry’ is understood to mean. For two hours each month, this ‘unimaginable’ became sensible through sounds big and small.

Elsewhere If I Can’t Dance 2019–2020 artist commission MPA also took to the airwaves, broadcasting her Address from the Zurich-based festival El Caldo/the Broth just a few weeks ago. One element from within her larger Fire for Water (2020–22) performance project produced with If I Can’t Dance – itself a rumination on violence and spirituality – Unknown Address appeared as a fifteen-minute NASA-like radio signal detection. In it, as with much of MPA’s work, the lines between art, science and spirituality are blurred: the auditory experience of reverberation and noise comes from the broken radio communiqué as much as from experimental music traditions; the metaphysical propositions return us to / remind us of the spiritual dimensions of our scientific discourses. Where the El Caldo oration spoke to the sonic possibility of being unknown but addressed, her PRIVATE EYE study in the has since December taken up this contradictory condition from the perspective of the visual and, specifically, of visual surveillance. A small Google Nest recording device, PRIVATE EYE has for the last months been installed in our Westerdok office where, in the hands of our collaborators Naomi Collier Broms and Amalia Calderón, it became a non-human assistant, observing the re-making of the If I Can’t Dance Library. In the recordings accumulated in the studio, as well as in other moments not recorded, it entered our archive boxes, cohabited with vegetation, embodied non-human animals’ points of view and simply sat alone at the dining table. PRIVATE EYE’s presence generated discomfort among our team, but it also exercised a certain attraction in its difficulty – performing the labour of a performance institution became quite a complex negotiation. Did we perform well? What would ‘well’ even mean in this context? What would disrupting this ‘well’ mean? We will never quite know… while we wait for a new type of EYE being delivered to us from MPA’s base in Los Angeles, PRIVATE EYE is now en route to Mexico where the surveillance (with its difficulties and potential disruptions) continues – the small camera moving in ways we simply cannot.

With both Carter and MPA’s projects, our temporalities of production, of presentation, of rehearsal, of the ‘tech check’, have all been thought and re-thought. Along with our artists and researchers, we continue to learn as we go, and, in the process, our Edition VIII – Ritual and Display continues to be transmitted in forms responsive to and reflective on our current moment. In the coming weeks, our negotiations with the restraints of our times will make themselves manifest again, this time in an exhibition. This week our 2019–2020 commissioned artist Sands Murray-Wassink will open his In Good Company (Horsepower): Materials from the Gift Science Archive, 1993–present, which, when regulations allow, will invite visitors in for one-on-one haptic encounters with the working and archiving processes operative in his ‘monumental’ eighteen-month performance. Here too storytelling – and the listening involved therein – comes to the fore as Murray-Wassink and his collaborators experiment with alternative modes of knowledge production and transmission.

Our programme is thus resolutely pushing ahead on its own dispersed timelines and in its own registers of resilience. In parallel, we, as an organisation that takes its name from the words of an anarchist activist, are remaining committed to bearing witness (as we wrote last April) to our current moment and to staying attentive to the present as it takes stock of the past with the aim of building together towards another kind of future.

Team If I Can’t Dance

Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé

First published: Friday 5 March 2021