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Interview with Larry Achiampong

Ph03nix Rising Still Variant small

Larry Achiampong, ‘Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project’ Live Performance (2016-2017). Image courtesy of the artist.

An Interview by Something Human.

In advance of ‘History Lessons: Fluid Records’ event at South London Gallery, Something Human interviewed participating artist Larry Achiampong.

Something Human: For History Lessons: Fluid Records you will present your audio-visual work Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project, which builds on your previous projects Meh Mogya and More Mogya where you explored your aural heritage and Ghana’s socio-political context. Considering your previous projects, how does this new adaptation further your enquiry into notions of class, cross-cultural and post-digital identity?

Larry Achiampong: Ph03nix Rising: The Mogya Project as a performance and as a project overall is doing a lot of things at the same time. There is the concept of time travel, from a cultural, technological and sociological point of view. For example, the (remixing and) presentation of audios from communities throughout West Africa, that date back as far as the early 1900s and have a colonial taint to the context/s in which they were recorded (and found their way to the British Library). There’s the visual component of the work, which focuses on hacked visuals from a Nintendo videogame (Xenoblade Chronicles X), which take place in a futuristic, Sci-Fi (but also colonial-like) atmosphere that involves discovery, battle and pillaging. And then there is the presence of the problematic alternate identity the Slave to The Rhythm that I perform as, whom is wearing a spit-sock-hood and a disposable boiler suit (items used throughout the West in law-enforcement situations). I have a personal connection with that identity as my (black) body has been and continues to be, a target for police. I have been stopped-and-searched as well as arrested based on the (black) colour of my skin. The Slave to The Rhythm is kind of the glue for all of these situations that are being played out within a live moment, bringing together audio, visuals and vox pops that highlight interconnected issues (from the past, through to the present). Finally, I devised this work to enable it to be performed and accessed anywhere; I was never really bothered with a white cube or gallery-based environment, but more so, presenting this work in spaces other than the usual, exclusive, bourgeois context – I knew that it might then have a stronger resonance class-wise.

Something Human: In your practice sound plays a significant role in the way you bring together different communities and contexts. Could you please expand on how you obtain and select your audio samples, and how your re-presentation utilizes these recordings to reveal the socio-political contradictions in our contemporary society?

Larry Achiampong: As an artist, I think where and how I grew up plays a significant role to how I work with sound. My father played in the church band and my mother sang in the congregation. I went to church every Sunday and there was a relationship with sound in a very live, tactile sense. My uncle was also one of the only DJs in the 80s (and early 90s) that was mixing Ghanaian Highlife with Hip-Hop and R&B, so seeing him crafting mixtapes and practicing sets was a special thing. I grew up mostly in Bethnal Green from a working class background; during this time Garage music was hot and this thing called Grime was slowly pushing through and friends or people I knew had bedroom-studios. I’d see people making incredible things from literally nothing. Of course, listening to soundtracks whether from films or videogames also helped. Each of the above experiences influences how I think of sound, on multiple levels. I work from all kinds of sources sample-wise tapes; vinyl and collected field recordings….I also compose my own pieces and my studio-based approach is one that mirrors the route of the bedroom musician. One of my first audio-based works Meh Mogya was made entirely using samples from my parent’s vinyl collection, whereas some of my recent works on the Finding Fanon project and the Sunday’s Best/Untitled works are compositions built from the ground up with sounds from my personal archive. You can achieve quite a lot with very little and I’m proud of that. The idea of contradiction within my work comes from using (for example) an audio sample that existed historically as something else – with enough change of time or context, this sample can be used to either expand upon the space from whence it came, or can be transformed to take on a completely different form.

Something Human: In your body of work you demonstrate an ongoing interest in science fiction, video games and new technologies as artistic strategies to uncover new and/or alternative truths in the relations between digital and real life. Could you please share more about why these fields hold particular potency as an artistic resource for you in driving current and future projects?

Larry Achiampong: It’s probably a lot to do with the times that I grew up in and the type of culture I was surrounded by. Videogames are now the biggest form of entertainment in the world and generate more revenue than any other forms. I got into gaming during the NES/Mastersystem era and videogames were not seen in the same light as they are today. For me they represented a new way of thinking about how stories, messages and ideas are shared. Games like Metal Gear Solid displayed such ideas, that for me transcended the medium from just being a type of entertainment, to one that brought together complex ideas relating globalization; warfare; technology and memes. I didn’t read as many books as I did comics as a kid (this still holds true today), so comic runs like Black Panther or the X-Men would always create ‘what if’ questions as to how the world works. The social and political in the directorial work of the likes of George A. Romero and John Carpenter (not to mention the memorable soundtracks) add heavily to this mix of experiences that still influence my work to date. I don’t come from a background where art in its traditional sense was accessible for someone like me, I had to find the art elsewhere…

Larry Achiampong (b. 1984, UK) completed a BA in Mixed Media Fine Art at University of Westminster (2005) and an MA in Sculpture at Slade School of Fine Art (2008). Achiampong’s solo and collaborative projects employ imagery, aural and visual archives, live performance and sound to explore ideas surrounding class, cross-cultural and post-digital identity – in particular, dichotomies found within a world dominated by social media and digital frameworks. Achiampong has exhibited, performed and presented projects within the UK and abroad including Tate Britain/Modern, London; dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel; The Institute For Creative Arts, Cape Town; The British Film Institute, London; Modern Art Oxford, Oxford; David Roberts Art Foundation, London; SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin; Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation, Accra; The Mistake Room, Los Angeles; and Logan Center Exhibitions, Chicago. Achiampong is currently exhibiting artwork in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, and is displaying his flag commission atop of Somerset House until late January 2018. He lives and works in London.
Something Human is an independent curatorial 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.