An exhibition exploring notions of rhythm through visual arts, poetry, sound, music and dance. With Larry Achiampong, Younès Baba-Ali, Julien Bayle, John Cage, Ayoka Chenzira, Em’Kal Eyongakpa, Jon Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Evan Ifekoya, Zak Ové, Michel Paysant, Anna Raimondo, Robin Rhode, David Shrigley and William Titley. Curated by Christine Eyene.
In an anecdote relating how he became a poet as a pupil – a discipline requiring a sense of rhythm – Harlem Renaissance legend Langston Hughes (1902-1967) explained that he was the subject of the stereotypical idea that all black people have a sense of rhythm. Drawing from Hughes’ remark on the assumption that “all of us had a sense of rhythm”, this exhibition presents an original research into rhythmic sources in performative, material, and immaterial productions within African traditional and contemporary cultures, and extends this assertion to the field of contemporary art; opening up the “us”, referring to black people, to a cross-cultural and multidisciplinary engagement with notions of rhythm. The project takes its cue from Senegalese philosopher Léopold Sédar Senghor’s reflection on African rhythms and their correlation with sculpture in his essay “Ce que l’homme noir apporte” (1939). It is also informed by the cultural heritage of Bikutsi (‘Beat the Earth’ or ‘Smash the Ground’ in Ewondo, Cameroon) a fast paced percussive genre using balafons (African xylophones) that emerged in Cameroon in the 1940s.
All of us have a sense of rhythm takes the 1940s as a decade marked by significant shifts in rhythmic perception both in Africa and the West and traces the integration of African rhythms in twentieth century artistic practices. Composer John Cage’s often overlooked collaborations with African-American choreographers and dancers during the development of his iconic ‘prepared piano’ include Bacchanale (1940), written for dancer Syvilla Fort, the subject of Ayoka Chenzira’s film Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum (1979). Cage also composed Primitive (1942) for Wilson Williams, and Our Spring Will Come (1943) for Trinidad-born dancer Pearl Primus whose choreography was based on Langston Hughes’ poem Our Spring (1933), voicing the racial politics and discrimination underlying the era of American modernism. The presence of black rhythms in the twentieth century also spanned popular music subcultures: William Titley’s Northern Souls: The Sound of an Underground (2014), documenting a genre that emerged in Northern England in the 1960s, is a recording taken beneath the dance floor of a Northern Soul all-nighter at Victoria Baths, Manchester. The piece captures the unique sounds of the floor creaking under the weight of the dancers rhythmic movements. Evan Ifekoya looks at cross-cultural translation, through Drum’n’Bass and African dance moves, in her video performance Nature/Nurture Sketch (2013).
Against this backdrop of cultural assimilation by the Western avant-garde, several recent works in the exhibition see a reclaiming of their African heritage by contemporary diaspora artists. A selection from Larry Achiampong’s collection of Ghanaian Highlife vinyl records, and his sampling and re-presenting of this musical legacy in Meh Mogya (2011) and More Mogya (2012-13), are included alongside Zak Ové’s hybrid pieces blending hi-fi and African sculpture. Robin Rhode’s photographic series Wheel of Steel (2006) shows sequences of a vinyl playing on a chalk drawn turntable, with the tone arm shifts suggesting the record’s rotation. Video works by Younès Baba-Ali and Anna Raimondo explore non-musical rhythmic patterns using repetitive gesture and voice. David Shrigley’s tragicomic Headless Drummer punctuates the exhibition with his lively beat. Julien Bayle’s visualisations of rhythmic compositions derive from methods of encoding and algorithm. The music video of Vessel by Jon Hopkins remixed by Four Tet, directed by Bison, combines the glitchy syncopated electronic track with a rhythmic editing of fractal anaglyphic images of dancer Claire Meehan’s movements.
Commissions for this exhibition include Michel Paysant’s VOX SILENTII (Eye Composing), a series of scores created with an eye tracker, a co-production with the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco; and a new piece by Em’Kal Eyongakpa using sound material from recent field recordings in Cameroon.
Alongside the exhibition is planned a programme of live music performances, talks, and an online resource with texts and a mapping of the sound behind the project.
A PDF version of All Of Us Have A Sense Of Rhythm exhibition brochure with the curator’s essay, artists biographies and illustrations is available on request..
Curators’ Series # 8: All Of Us Have A Sense Of Rhythm
5 June – 1 Aug 2015
David Roberts Art Foundation
London NW1 7JE
T: +44 020 7383 3004
Opening Times: Thu—Sat, 12 - 6 pm Tue—Wed by Appointment
Supported by Arts Council England and The African Arts Trust.
Salomé Voegelin, The Wire – August 2015 (issue 378)
Kelly Berman, Design Indaba, 8 June 2015
Jennifer Sefa-Boakye, okayafrica, 15 June 2015
Yvette Greslé, Art Africa Magazine, 2015
Review of an Evening of Live Music at DRAF on aqnb.com, 15 July 2015
Cover image: Jon Hopkins, Vessel (Four Tet remix) (video still), 2010. Courtesy: Domino Recording, Just Publishing, Bison Productions.