A Discourse Concerning the Practice of Art
Allan deSouza talks to Chris Kubick & Anne Walsh of ARCHI VE
Allan deSouza’s photographic and sculptural works examine issues of architecture, the body, dislocation, landscape, memory, vision, and the formation of racial, sexual, and colonial identities. His artwork has been exhibited internationally, and his fiction and critical writings have appeared in various journals and anthologies. Artists Chris Kubick and Anne Walsh work together collaboratively under the name ARCHIVE utilizing a variety of formats and tools including performance lectures, spoken-word CDs, video games, exhibitions, and works on paper. Their projects have been exhibited (and broadcast) throughout the world.
Allan deSouza: I’ve just completed a text piece for an exhibition in Toronto. It’s written in graphite directly on a 9 x 20-foot wall. It suggests newspaper columns, landscapes, seascapes, buildings, and also the Union Jack. It includes three intersecting narratives about a historical character, Sidi Mubarak Bombay, or just Bombay, who was a guide for British explorers such as Richard Burton, John Speke, David Livingstone, and others. Two other narratives are fictional accounts of my father’s migration from Bombay—now known as Mumbai—(the city) to East Africa, and my migration from East Africa to England—”the masters’ home” that Bombay (the man) desired to visit but died before he could. Although there is logic to my sequencing of the text panels, there are a number of possible ways the viewer can navigate them, each way producing a different narrative sequence in terms of historical time. In that description/recall of a figure from the past, and intertwining it with more familial histories (though there is no claim made by me to truth), I wonder what overlaps there are with your projects? I can think of many, but wonder what your thoughts are.
Anne Walsh: Some of what echoes through your work and ours is the tension between an abundance of description in the face of an absent referent. What would one see if one could see the thing that’s missing? Or hear if one could hear it? Or what would one hear if one were never to have read the words describing the sound? What is the shape of absence?
You mention a “description/recall of a figure from the past, and intertwining it with more familial histories” as something we’ve both worked at, in different ways. I agree, although I think the family part hasn’t been present in my work with Chris so much as it has in my video work. I’m so interested in what sort of physical vocabularies families produce as part of their communication habits. How the particular production of meaningful albeit nonverbal language, or “expression” (which is related closely to body language), is passed along through families, sometimes even genetically, but also between families and other institutions, such as television, movies, schools, even the state. Working with Chris, we’ve been recording our encounters with figures of the historical past that are present in some mediated form—a statue, a professional reenactor, a spirit invoked by a spirit medium…
Recently we were invited by the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia to participate in an exhibition titled 21st Century Abe, in celebration of Lincoln’s bicentennial this year, and with the goal of showing the Lincoln collections of the museum to an audience of young people from the late teens to twenties. So we’ve embarked on a series of short videos that begin at the monuments to Lincoln in Mexico, and the monuments to Benito Juarez that are here in this country. (These monuments were all swaps between the two countries in the 1960s—seemingly an effect of the cold war, the emerging Organization of American States [OAS], and the two countries’ desires to prop up each other’s capitalist identities.)
AD: Considering the idea of “the shape of absence,” I can’t help going back to my own photographs of airports from the Threshold series (in itself, a compulsive restaging or a return of sorts to a “first encounter”). The photographs depict empty or perhaps emptied spaces. The absence here, as also in your work, is of the human body. Or rather its “absence” is waiting; being brought back into visibility and hearing. It never went away, only merged into the walls.
AW: This reminds me of one understanding of the “ghost” that Chris and I arrived at through our work with spirit mediums, asking them to provide us access to the spirits of certain dead artists so we could speak with them. The spirit seemed to us like a kind of text that mediums were particularly sensitive to reading and speaking. We concluded that the professional medium’s spoken word performances had to be understood as an allegory for history as a narrative form. It seemed like there were so many parallels between these narrative forms: revelation and secrecy; discovery and covering up; inventing and reinventing. There is still so much to figure out about this though—I’m still really unsure what kind of voice it is that produces those texts: What is the spirit voice?
Chris Kubick: The interesting thing is that we’re all dealing with decentered narratives, in our own ways. We’re hinting at narratives and in fact phenomenological aspects of reality with our texts, but ultimately filtering them all through what is in some ways a very wide and fractured lens, this idea of an archive or a collection, which provides a subtext, and also turns each line of text into an example or perhaps even a specimen. Because of this, each text provokes questions not only about the relation of the text to a sound or experience, but also about the relationship between that specimen and the larger collection. Who made these collections, and why? What do these sound effect titles mean when taken together? Allan’s decentering is similar but a little different, in that there are distant modes of discourse at play in the writing, for example, artist, historian, and colonist. Are these unique voices or just unique foci?