JJJJJerome Ellis and Will Rawls – RisePEI

The final ten years have seen a return to the written phrase throughout visible, sculptural, and time-based media. Specifically, Black artists and poets have investigated the unruliness of language, its slip-ups, evolutions, and equivocations. Although many Black conceptual artists, resembling Adrian Piper and Carrie Mae Weems, turned to language through the Seventies by way of Nineteen Nineties, these choosing up the thread in the present day are notably attuned to vernacular or fractured types. Dave McKenzie’s 2012 performative video work Wilfred and Me exhibits the artist in profile repeating the sentence “Magic Johnson has AIDS.” Because the rhythmic pulse of the recited phrase wears on, the phrases register extra as sounds and the artist’s richly textured voice grows more and more hoarse and dry, ultimately being lowered to an arid rasp. A. H. Jerriod Avant’s 2017 poem “Felonious States of Adjectival Extra That includes Comparative and Superlative Types” is an ode to Black idioms, which have traditionally been categorized as grammatically incorrect (“my mo’ favoriter and mo’ higher is my most favoritest”). Steffani Jemison’s gestural ciphers—in drawings, work, and newer sculptures involving bodily erosion—lean away from signification solely, in favor of opacity and friction.

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A perseon in jeans and converse

A vertical work on a pink background shows abstracted letters drawn in black paint with purplish and bluish hues on top.

Steffani Jemison, ABOVE OR BENEATH, 2020, acrylic and dye sublimation print on artificial velvet, 244 by 43 inches.
Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

In the course of the Sixties, Conceptualism launched textual content in its place medium to portray, sculpture, and images, one tied equally to narrative, sound, picture, and—per the title of the motion—concept. For some, the expanded position of the idea in artwork allowed for a brand new objectivity: artwork may very well be disentangled from emotional expression or the artist’s hand, and textual content provided an excellent container for these theoretical proposals. Nevertheless, situating textual content at a take away from subjectivity ran the chance of additional dampening the voices of individuals with marginalized identities, who had been solely simply beginning to declare social and political leverage. Some artists, together with Piper and Lorraine O’Grady, emphasised that the “dematerialization” of artwork didn’t necessitate the erasure of the physique, nor of the indexical hint. It may very well be an invite to motion or gesture that required quite than eliminated the artist’s physique.

Returning to that rigidity between dematerialization and depersonalization, and effacing language’s veneer of universality, many modern practitioners use marginalized or “damaged” varieties of speech. Lately, exhibitions and books resembling “Speech/Acts” on the Institute of Up to date Artwork in Philadelphia and Adam Pendleton’s Black Dada Reader (each 2017) have explored these reconsiderations of and disengagements from the written phrase. Many of those endeavors lengthen the vital, philosophical, or poetic writings of thinkers together with Édouard Glissant, bell hooks, Fred Moten, and Hortense Spillers. A central concern for these artists, writers, and curators is the illustration of Blackness, which typically entails eluding textual seize.

An installation view of a gallery depicts, along two adjacent walls, white fragments of text and outlines of pages against a black background.

View of “Speech/Acts,” 2017, on the Institute of Up to date Artwork, College of Pennsylvania, exhibiting Kameelah Janan Rasheed, A Supple Perimeter (activation ii), 2017.
Photograph Constance Mensh

Whereas many of those dissections of language have been realized in visible codecs—specializing in the formal look of letters or phrases—extra artists are turning to aural experiments, indicating how speech tends to be extra legibly tied to class and race than writing. Characterizing language within the Caribbean in “Cross-Cultural Poetics,” Glissant wrote: “the phrase is at the beginning sound. Noise is important to speech. Din is discourse.” Extra particularly, by studying textual content throughout the context of efficiency and sound artwork, artists reinsert the physique into communication, exhibiting how the specificity of a talking physique modifications our understanding of that means. A few of the many artists working with language in time-based media embody Tony Cokes, James Allister Sprang, and Pamela Z. Of explicit curiosity are those that translate from speech to textual content and again once more. JJJJJerome Ellis and Will Rawls accomplish that whereas additionally taking part in with silence and abstraction to contest the disembodiment of textual content and, at occasions, bother legibility.

THE SONG OPENS with the heart beat of piano notes: ascending triplets that create a way of stasis, like an ellipsis, awaiting decision. Ellis’s even voice enters this soundscape—titled “Dysfluent Waters,” from his 2021 album The Clearing—by prompting his listener with a query, even because the triplets fracture and are outmoded by a meandering melodic line: “How can desirous about water assist us take into consideration … dysfluencies, blacknesses, and musics … collectively?” Whereas delivering this question, Ellis pauses twice, as an orator may do for impact. These interludes lengthen longer than anticipated, Ellis’s thought placed on maintain for a second earlier than choosing up expressively the place it left off. All the composition is punctuated by such gaps, breaks attributable to Ellis’s stutter, a incapacity that has grow to be central to his poetic and performative observe. Whereas most individuals consider a stutter as streams of repeated sound, disfluency can even manifest as elongations or blocks, and Ellis’s personal speech is interspersed with poignant silences.

An open book with a blue cover shows two pages where letters are loosely arranged across the page in something resembling concrete poetry.

Unfold from JJJJJerome Ellis’s publication The Clearing, 2021, printed by Wendy’s Subway.
Photograph Justin Lubliner

Ellis’s album takes its group from his present writing. The tracks on The Clearing originated as an essay titled “The clearing: Music, disfluency, Blackness, and time” that Ellis wrote for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Research in 2020. Discussing data of slave house owners’ brutal enforcement of working hours by way of bells, horns, and—if neither had been obeyed—whips, Ellis’s essay maps out historic relationships amongst Blackness, music, disfluency, and temporal regulation, and envisions practices that would “open time,” or interrupt the rhythm of clock time. Abridged and browse aloud, the textual content defines the temporal and rhythmic parameters of the music that adorns Ellis’s narratives. The recording was launched as each a ebook (printed by Wendy’s Subway) and a double set of LPs (co-produced by the Poetry Mission and Northern Spy/NNA Tapes). The publication transforms Ellis’s silent blocks into fragments of language that bathe the web page, disrupting its ordinary linear order like concrete poetry, and drawing consideration to the methods wherein Ellis’s voice alters the temporality of recording and textual content alike.

A Black man stands in front of a microphone holding a printed page and a saxophone, with his right hand held up in an orator's gesture.

JJJJJerome Ellis, The Clearing, 2021, at Concern Mission Room and the Poetry Mission at St. Mark’s Church, New York.
Courtesy Concern Mission Room

Within the audio recording, Ellis’s stops enter the stream of his speech as an alternate and unpredictable rhythm of lone phonemes, stray letters or sounds, that bubble into enunciation. Virtually inaudible, these “clearings,” as Ellis phrases them, insist on our endurance and invite a deeper type of listening. In her 2017 ebook Listening to Photos, cultural theorist Tina Campt writes about types of nonverbal articulation, resembling buzzing, describing a “sublimely expressive unsayability that exceeds each phrases, in addition to what we affiliate with sound and utterance.” We will find a few of that expressivity throughout the nonverbal in a number of renditions of Ellis’s piece—the publication or the efficiency video launched by NNA Tapes—that reveal his vocal pauses to be not silent in any respect, however teeming with exercise, the identical letters or phonemes studiously repeated as Ellis strikes by way of his block: “dddddddddddddddddddddd” or “glglglglglglglglglgl.” Reflecting on his stutter in “Dysfluent Waters,” Ellis tells the listener that his blocks are like vibrating moments of expectation, trembles earlier than the completion of the thought: “I noticed the phrase’s journey, its not having arrived.” Likewise, the listener experiences these interludes not as absence however as anticipation. We shift temporalities from the dynamic tempo set by Ellis’s talking voice to the suspended imminence of his block. In one other track, “Loops of Retreat,” Ellis attracts a parallel between the repeated syllables of his personal verbal breaks and the iterative loops of Black music, a sound of “countless restlessness.” Ellis characterizes his stutter as a “temporal escape,” an expansive insertion that, as his essay signifies, fractures the orderliness and linearity of clock time, textual content, and music alike. Ellis’s speech refuses effectivity, rebuts definition, and even resists his personal management.

WHEN ELLIS’S ALBUM was launched in November 2021, it dropped at thoughts choreographer Will Rawls’s “Cursor” mission, developed throughout his 2018 residency at ISSUE Mission Room in Brooklyn. For the primary of three showings, Rawls carried out from a console positioned behind the viewers, writing in a sparsely populated textual content doc that was projected on the entrance of the area for viewers to see. Phrases, typos, a garbled vocabulary, and free-floating syllables stuffed the web page because the sound of typing echoed by way of ISSUE’s efficiency corridor. The clatter of fingers on the keyboard was paralleled by Rawls’s amplified articulation of the fragmented expressions.

In a darkened room, a person sits in front of a computer screen in the foreground. In the background, a projected screen shows garbled text on a white page.

Will Rawls, Cursor 1: Phrase Lists, 2018, at ISSUE Mission Room, New York.
Photograph Jason Isolini/Courtesy ISSUE Mission Room

This doc—in some sections vacant and awaiting activation, in others already populated with phrases to be edited or rearranged—operated concurrently as a rating and a panorama. From his place in the back of the room, Rawls navigated the doc together with his cursor, which moved by way of the textual content as a black determine set in opposition to a white floor. In his introduction in this system notes, the artist launched his viewers to the cursor as a blinking silhouette that would stand in for the expertise of Black embodiment. “[Cursors] are our bodies motivated by language, by customers, by others. They transfer by way of area. They blink in tempo and race the hours. They communicate in lots of tongues. They pause and backtrack. They search and destroy. They’re black. They’re fugitive. They dance.”

Although the cursor was the one determine that moved by way of area throughout Rawls’s efficiency, the choreographer asserted his presence within the act of translation from visualized textual content to vocalized sound. Studying these jumbled phrases and characters aloud, Rawls repeated strains, sounding out completely different pronunciations and emphases, reworking an obvious collage of sounds into humorous and even earnest expressions: “UYHRIERJE RSSDDDSP PO” turns into “WHO ERASED THE POPE.” Excavating language from summary accumulations of noise by way of the method of articulation, Rawls’s efficiency emphasised that the physique, as a lot because the thoughts, is the lens that encounters, constructs, and interprets that means. Conversely, Rawls additionally evacuated that means from phrases already inscribed on the digital web page, turning the acquainted absurd with various pronunciations, repeating “I don’t trouble with” till it blurred right into a rhythmic beat. Writing concerning the piece within the October 2018 difficulty of Artforum, Rawls commented, “My physique is each chief and follower,” and mirrored on how his bodily presence formed sound—by way of articulation and the typed phrases—and, conversely, on the emotions that these sounds produced in him as he gave them voice.

A Black man sits at a table speaking into a microphone while typing on a laptop.

Will Rawls, Cursor 1: Phrase Lists, 2018, at ISSUE Mission Room, New York.
Photograph Jason Isolini/Courtesy ISSUE Mission Room

In his progressions from noise to phrases and vice versa, Rawls’s fragmentation and reconstruction of written and spoken language highlighted the stress between illustration and abstraction. Enunciating jumbles of letters that may sooner be interpreted as reflecting a temper than a sound—image the pissed off slam of fingers in opposition to a keyboard in “FPISANF A[FPN”—Rawls exaggerated the communicative means of the alphabet whereas de-emphasizing the meaningfulness of phrases. However his experiments additionally drew consideration to the formal qualities of letters, to their shapes and arbitrary relationships to phonetic sound.

These flights into abstraction additionally stemmed from Rawls’s scrutiny of illustration, particularly its failures and its tendency to perpetuate historic types of violence. Cursor remembers one other work by Rawls, Uncle Rebus (2018), wherein performers constructed sentences from Brer Rabbit folktales, trickster narratives that enslaved peoples introduced from Africa to the Americas as oral tales. He equipped performers with two units of the usual English alphabet, along with symbols resembling an asterisk and an exclamation mark. Because the performers tried to spell out phrases with these insufficient means, they resorted to symbols to perform as letters, and started willfully to decide on unconventional orthography: “WE R*ORGAN!SE.” In his Artforum piece, Rawls described the performers in Uncle Rebus as “spelling out one thing that has been traditionally categorized as a dialectical, minor English. The general public additionally sees three black individuals laboring within the solar. To attempt to management that perspective, it’s a must to race in opposition to an extended historical past of the dangers of illustration.” In Caribbean Discourse, Glissant describes Haitian Creole as an intentional mockery of the simplified and command-based language imposed by colonizers upon indigenous or diasporic populations. By selecting to make use of such fractured types of language, Rawls and his performers interact with this longer historical past of linguistic rise up. Nevertheless, Rawls can also be cautious of turning away solely from illustration. As he famous in the identical interview, “The danger of a staging with out phrases is that if the cursor capabilities as an incarnation of blackness, and if narrative falls away solely, then the totally abstracted physique might really feel ahistorical.” In Cursor, Rawls expressed this ambivalence about language—with its seemingly antithetical capacities for seize and political manifestation—by transferring backwards and forwards between representational and nonrepresentational modes.

In 1971, poet Adrienne Wealthy wrote, “that is the oppressor’s language / but I would like it to speak to you.” Later, theorist bell hooks, in her 1994 ebook Instructing to Transgress, recalled her preliminary rejection of Wealthy’s characterization of the English language, holding on to this mode of expression for “these of us… who’re simply studying to say language as a spot the place we make ourselves topic.” Concurrently, hooks understood that English “is the language of conquest and domination; in the US, it’s the masks which hides the lack of so many tongues.”

Ellis’s and Rawls’s makes use of of language counsel a twinned want to flee from and into phrases. Rawls’s willful typos and variable pronunciations mine that means from summary textual content. Ellis’s work inscribes his disfluency into the conventions of textual and aural area, whereas prompting us to hear for the efficiency of the pause. What look like glitches in Ellis’s and Rawls’s mode of interacting with textual content in actual fact expose the physique’s enunciations as websites of linguistic evolution: Ellis asks how textual content could make room for the particularities of his voice, and Rawls checks how his voice can create or destroy that means. Within the fracture between written and spoken language, the physique enters and finds novel methods of expressing itself, whether or not in grammatical subversions or the evasion of language altogether.


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