For 10 weeks, Walker assistant curator Bartholomew Ryan will share “chapters” from his extended keynote essay on the themes and work in 9 Artists, an international, multigenerational group exhibition examining the changing role of the artist in contemporary culture. 9 Artists premiered at the Walker in late 2013 and early 2014, before traveling to the MIT List Center for Visual Arts, where it’ll be on view from May 9 to July 13, 2014. Here is the third installment of this 10-part journey.
II. Our Interdependency Is Not about Love, It’s about Function
The core of artist Nástio Mosquito’s (born 1981 in Angola; lives and works in Luanda) work is an intense commitment to the open-ended potential of language, arrived at through deliberate strategies of reinvention. At stake is a rejection of transparency, of the linear way in which meaning is conferred through politely digestible approaches. Mosquito makes music, performances, objects, and videos, often under a range of monikers such as Saco, Nasty-O, Cucumber Slice, and Zura, Zurara. He has performed and exhibited at various places in Angola, Europe, and elsewhere. Several years ago I came across the artist’s manifesto online (well, the manifesto of Nástia, an alter ego and the feminine form of Nástio in Portuguese). Titled Hypocritical, ironic and do not give a fuck it features seventeen instructions for the good life, delivered in rhythmical succession by the artist in a rich, put-on Russian accent. His face is framed in close-up with a projected screen behind him showing dissociated outtakes, past performances, etc. His pearls of wisdom are also delivered visually, Karaoke-style, line by line in loud, graphic tabloid headlines. The instructions are counterintuitive, crude, and elucidatory, mining various clichés and stolen pastiches. They are a mix of clownish nonchalance, perception, and arrogance. Some advice at random:
Enjoy the process, but
You better deliver
Stand on every
Stop living your dream through other people’s lives.
Fuck you American Idol viewer; good luck for all the contestants,
I hope your dream materializes.1
Running through most of Mosquito’s work is a demand for self-questioning and an imperative for personal growth, though not one that is found through the notions of productivity and success as defined by the oh-so-narrow metrics of capitalist models of the same, but a critical and self-aware engagement with the processes by which we are made, and can make. Mosquito seems to embrace the artist-as-outsider role, a contemporary jester tantalizing with lucidity, deploying simultaneously banal pop-culture tropes and self-important intellectualizations that he rejects even as he is making them. It’s a tricky territory to occupy, and one that he has developed and further problematized in subsequent works. While it’s fair enough to say that an aspect of his practice can best be described as spoken word, it should be distinguished from the mainstream US tradition of same that emanates from a desire to articulate distinct subject positions along lines of class, race, gender, and sexuality. The US version develops out of a faith in the power of positive self-representation, and is attended by self-essentializing positions as a mode of making visible/giving access to/pushing into the public sphere hitherto marginalized identities. Often, and perhaps obviously, this genre cleaves to normative conventions of language, rhyming couplets, narrative progressions, a range of emotions developing over the arc of the performance. Mosquito’s work has little relation to this tradition. In fact, it self-consciously resists, sidesteps, and overturns any idea of a stable subject, not as some point of nihilism (there’s no such thing!) but as a mode of engagement that allows him to be a proactive shaper of identity rather than passive respondent. Like many of the eight artists, all of whom will hate this sentence, he is (within reason) his own institution and plays a part in constructing the vision of what that might mean.
Mosquito occupies a multiplicity of spaces within culture: in Angola he has produced and distributed LPs; he makes music videos with his collaborator, Madrid-based Vic Pereiró; he has an iPhone app on which you can download his latest tracks in Portuguese or English. In 2010 he worked with Barcelona collective Bofa da Cara to produce My African Mind, a stunning video about Western constructions of Africa, with a voiceover by the artist that floats along with a dramatic 1940s Hollywood style soundtrack. It also contains a flowing chronological montage of cutout representations of Africa ranging from early slave trade depictions, Tarzan and Tintin in the Congo comics, and movie ephemera from The African Queen, etc. through the period of decolonization and after. His language is enigmatic, ironic, bitter even:
Healthy black monster
Five finger, with thumb
Useful animal, so minimal
It touches on the ideological construction of race as a justification for colonialist expansion as well as the complications of modernity and the feedback loop between Western aid, the NGO industry, and the continued exploitation of resources (see still below):
Mosquito’s “Planet you” conjures some pan-global audience of viewers, each capable of engagement, albeit on radically different terms. Yet we are all united by the spectacle of Pop civilization, which is impossible to divorce from a history intimately connected to the implicated relationship between representation and power: of representation as an illustration of how power inscribes itself on the world. For better or worse, Mosquito implies, we are all caught up in this mess—yesterday, today— where it is becoming increasingly difficult to trace the tendrils of history back to some definitive moment of “Oh yes! That is it. That is where it all began.” Mosquito sometimes inhabits the role of postcolonial respondent, while mocking the stasis of such an imposed position. In conceiving his participation in this book, for example, he insisted that I send him questions to which he could respond. Now, he knows that I know that he knows that any questions I send him will be turned on their head, reversed to show the inherent ideological workings, the call and response of the US-based curator mounting an exhibition with at least some smatterings of a global mission. He’s played this game before. In his video Nástia Answers Gabi (2009), the artist answers a series of text-based questions from curator and friend Gabi Ngcobo.2 She also proceeds with wariness, engaging the dance, at times using a specialized art language, at times turning the questions in on themselves, aware of their inherent contradictions. The most profound of which is that she, like me, is seeking some moment of insight from someone who has already stated that he does not give a fuck. She addresses them to Nástia of the manifesto. She gets him, but here there is a profound displacement from the previous work. Gone are the digital screens, the rapid succession of mediated images, the verbal efficiency and rapid-fire editing. Instead we get a slow panning shot of a vast, empty, dilapidated warehouse, and the sound of Mosquito’s (Russian-accented) voice, slowly singing a Rolling Stones classic, a cappella, “Time is on our side, yes it is.” Pop civilization has given way to entropy. Asked a question about justice that appears in white text on a screen, the video cuts to an exterior wasteland beside a highway; Nástia is taking a shit in the tall grass, saying, “Now what would be very just is if someone would give me some toilet paper.”
In the final scene, Nástia sits on a chair inside a small room. His expression introspective, in voiceover he addresses the viewer, asking, “What are you going to do with your education? Become part of a structure or build a structure?” Here Nástia is more telling in his engagement; he has established within the video an energy that can’t be mistaken for entrepreneurial exuberance. This is not consultancy-speak, or even life advice from a manifestly plugged-in digital warrior/performer as in the initial manifesto. Nástia’s is a body occupying space that is manifestly nonproductive. His warehouse is not poised for urban renewal, the docks he walks down are deserted, the room he sits in is bare, and paint peels from the wall. Throughout the video he privileges knowledge over information. At one point he says, “I don’t give a fuck about you out there, I only give a fuck about all of you out there.” He clarifies this in the final scene. For Nástia, at least, the question is not one of a cosmopolitan global interconnectivity that can be routed through love of the other: “I don’t love you personally. Accepting our interdependency is not about love, it’s about function.” In other words, like it or not, we need each other, and that acknowledgment might not be a happy one, with all of its implications for compromise and self-sacrifice.
In the video, Nástia has stepped out of a condition of time associated with the endless present tense of digital information flows into a temporality that allows for reflection (history) and projection (the future): knowledge versus information. In dismissing the singular “you” out there, he is refusing your identification with him; unlike the singer, politician, or preacher, he is not speaking to “you,” touching “you” with his words. Yet he obviously validates individuality, the ability and desire to build one’s own structures. And here is the conundrum: in addressing a collective “you” rather than the singular, he is actually emphasizing the importance of individuality, of decoupling the conventional chain of identifications, and creating some autonomy around who you are.
1 See Nástio Mosquito & We Are Here! Films, Nástia’s Manifesto: Hypocritical, Ironic & Do Not Give a Fuck, Vimeo video, posted by “Vic Pereiró” in 2011, http://vimeo.com/21977569.
2 Gabi Ngcobo, a curator and artist based in Cape Town, South Africa, first showed me Mosquito’s manifesto some years ago. See the video Nástia Answers Gabi, http://www.dzzzz.info/gabi.swf, accessed June 10, 2013.
Nástio Mosquito Answers Ryan Bartholomew
Above: This new video work by Nástio Mosquito and his collaborator, Madrid-based designer Vic Pereiró (Nástivicious), debuted at the Walker Art Center in February 2014 as a late addition to the exhibition 9 Artists. In it, Mosquito answers a series of questions posed by exhibition curator Bartholomew Ryan in the context of the 9 Artists catalogue. The artists recorded Ryan via Skype and produced this response, which also mines material from their Walker performance during the show’s opening weekend.
Cusps: A Performance by Nástio Mosquito
Above: Opening day performance by Nástio Mosquito.