An Interview by Something Human.
In advance of ‘History Lessons: Fluid Records’ event at South London Gallery, Something Human interviewed participating artist Libita Clayton.
Something Human: Your work UP – RISING – UP / Typical Political– a domestic riot is currently installed in the Diaspora Pavilion in Venice. For this performance you’ve envisaged taking a part of the installed work out onto the streets of Venice? What prompted the urge to activate the installation in this way?
Libita Clayton: The idea when making the work was always to reference its potential to perform. By this I mean move, migrate, float, bounce – those sorts of properties. I made these sculptures that look similar to a rock you might sit on, or a post, or a lump of coal, but gloopy – seeping ectoplasmic substance. Gungy.
Made of polystyrene, expanding foam, liquid rubber latex, they are protected, insulated, and lightweight. Youtube talked me through DIY techniques designing rocks and boulders for film. A hobbyist’s approach to creating the impression of something ‘real’. They are backdrops to the big event, and act as types of debris, grounding objects to give sense of place.
I grew up by the sea, and massive chunks of granite are used to denote boundary; car park, walking areas, a seat. It’s kind of comical – you see these clumsy rocks plopped in a park or street for humans to read as something; prohibited or inviting. Modern Stonehenge’s installed by the council. They end up as landmarks for folklore, social hangouts, and unintentional sites of unrest.
I wanted to play with the objects’ deviance a little more. In my mind they are disobedient, and in search of something, they are heading towards consciousness. This is the first attempt to activate that part of their awakening. There’s something of life I’ve imparted onto the objects. In the installation they are heavy-looking, weighty background oddities. Overseeing the other materials, a failing parental substitute. Paired with operatic trills and spills from singers of the black British classical foundation. Leftovers from a recording session constructed around an original score based on riot and order.
So, sound and sculpture share the same values and are of each other, blood relatives – in a Frankenstein kind of way. Phantom sound, rubber rocks – represent a type of bodily system – deep breathing – inhaling exhaling – limbs – sexual organs – scarred but strong. Symbolic of a metabolizing organism.
There is a personal relationship, a memory of territory in the form of a rock. Then there is bodily constellation; political, group, feminist, abused, oppressed, leading to an uprising. A rupture. The pressure of non-action and ability to suppress is alleviated the moment the rock leaves itself, it is lifted up and able to see, and be seen. A moment of entitlement, pride and revenge – subjective justice.
Something Human: For the performative intervention, you’ve chosen to begin in the early hours around 6am and to carry the fabricated rock around various locations till the city begins to wake for its trade. Why have you chosen this particular period in the day? Who might be the audience intended for this work?
Libita Clayton: Ok, when planning this uprising, or resurrection-style moment – lifting and carrying the rock through the city. I wanted to embed it within structures of labour, work and trade. Very tangible narratives, hands-on moments of economy, transaction and survival. The solidarity of a work force, and system of hierarchy within that. A city built on water makes things seem more weighty somehow. Stone becomes older – heavier and water becomes more like a layer or thick, gelatinous membrane. There’s a forced reality of load baring (literally) when you look around and watch. This made everything, in my eyes – seem slower, harder to navigate, as if an age-old struggle.
There’s a resonance in the landscape between bodily resistance and architecture. I wanted to warm up and wake up with the city, to move with an indigenous component – to stretch with it. In conversation with an everyday ritual, based on chance encounter and predictive mapping of space over time, sunrise and transport.
Embedded in the flow of the public, an intervention, imagined procession, and at times an improvised dance.
Something Human: In your work, it would appear you explore textures, surfaces and skin, while referencing how these are emphasized and enhanced in popular music video culture. How do you take on this exploration onto your performative body?
Libita Clayton: So there are a couple of different points here. The installed work which is sculptural, and the performance which happens outside of the Diaspora Pavilion. A staged and non-staged environment. Both arenas become spaces of survival, in the gallery the materials degrade and get walked on – they alter as oxygen heats moisture and weight forces a transformation. And in the public space my body weakens, sweats, and becomes soiled with various applications of gunk.
I binged on YouTube music videos that somehow encapsulate an element of gunge, blackness, femme fatale, power, shine, latex and othering. Striding between memory and algorithm.
For the performance (in and between place and home) I wanted to channel the spirit of these women I remembered. Their states of defiance and projected selves as something from the future.
I’m into this performative happening of transformation, unpacking and measuring the life span of empowerment. Conflating and expanding – lifting and dropping it.
In the Pavilion planes of black underpin (subliminally) multiple sites, re-enacting a suppressed memory – seeping through, slipping out of. Greasy. I began to call them synthetic skins. Something about layering on top of an original and suffocating/preserving until the skin becomes an impostor – an amped up version of what was.
Erotic – fetish.
Its language and uniformity is pinned down by feminine and masculine role play, dominant and submissive attributes. From walking over rubber to catching glimpse of slicked up latex pressed into silt (river mud). There’s an implied sexuality that is brutally corrupted by either feet, dirt, blade, grease, sludge. A muddying of beauty toward dystopia, that on the surface is seductive but practically (beneath) pulsating, bubbling, blistering, ageing.
The many of alter ego – doubling of self is present in both stages of the work. One is born out of the other. Each time a skin is shed, I step further away from a figure of this world.
Libita Clayton has a collaborative practice that plays with potential political and physical collapse. She proposes ‘a way out’ with D.I.Y performance. Recent projects include: bland choreography, (CLAY- TON – RAW- SON), New Year/New Noise 4, Arnolfini (2017), RESIST FLOW, (Gal-Dem) Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2016), 1,2,1,2, //// black- voices – opera, (Black British Classical Foundation), Jamaican Pulse, Royal West Academy of England, Bristol (2016), FORGET THAT GUY (message from a freedom fighter), Beyond Words, Book Works, Hull Freedom Festival & James Rickett trust commission (2016), In the Absence of Ruins there Will be Innovation, (Speakeasy Southwest Network), (public programme) Vertigo Sea, Arnolfini, Bristol (2016), BS2; RESIST & REVOLT, BLACK HISTORY – LIVE TRANSMISSION, BEEF, Art Weekender Bristol & Bath, Black History Month, Bristol (2015). Clayton graduated from Wimbledon College of Art with a BA (Hons.) in Print and Digital Media in 2009.
Something Human is an independent curator initiative interested in exploring movement and relationships across boundaries, through our shared multidisciplinary interests in architecture, design, sculpture, mixed media, photography, moving image and performance. We actively seek collaborations with artists, makers and producers from different cultural and socio-political backgrounds, for exchange and dialogue with an aim to create new, exciting performative-driven works. Something Human is a collaboration between Alessandra Cianetti and Annie Jael Kwan.