Vincent Meessen’s Ultramarine (2018) is shown as part of the 12th Shanghai Biennale curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina
10/11/2018 – 10/03/2019
Blue is the chromatic, historical and discursive filter through which a performance by African-American poet Kain unfolds. The famed precursor of hip-hop in the late 1960s delivers his “spoken word” as the Belgian percussionist Lander Gyselinck improvises to the flow of his utterances. Throughout the performance various museum objects— funeral figurines, automaton, astrolabe, mappa mundi, textiles —are juxtaposed to Kain’s own props. They invoke affective retrospections on exile and belonging, slave routes and colonial trade.
“So far, all that has given color to existence still lacks a history”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Ultramarine, refering to a deep blue pigment but also to overseas regions, is a visual poem constructed from locally chosen historical objects. The project has been commissioned by the Printemps de septembre (Toulouse, France) and the installation version has been premiered in september 2018 in this city historically connected both to ‘pastel’ blue pigment and to the ‘Gay Science’ of the troubadours. The installation travels for two upcoming solo shows in Montreal (Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, 2019) and Toronto (The Power Plant, 2020).
Disrupting the Eurocentric written logic of historiography as well as that of museum classifications, Ultramarine sets a constellation of objects moving and enable them to expose their intertwined histories. The immersive experience of colour, a living, textured, spectral and polymorphic substance is here rendered inseparable from its political component and from cinema as magical practice. The film is conceived as a kind of “narrated exhibition” featuring Kain The Poet – the afro-american poet and performer, part of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) at the end of the sixties and creator of the mythic 1970 album Blue Guerilla. He colors history through spoken word, alluding to his own exile blues in Amsterdam. The music is improvised by drummer Lander Gyselinck.
Ultramarine is composed like a spectrum: it unfolds and intertwines fragments of meaning. This narrative form creates the possibility of connecting Kain’s poetic to a larger frame of investigation: museum objects and artworks stored in various Toulouse museum and in collections of the Occitan region. These objects, connected with the double sense of ‘ultramarine’ (both a color and a colonial reference) are put in dialogue with stage props and reproductions of art works that surround Kain in his Amsterdam exile since the 1980s.