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 ’60s 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, referring 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 will be premiered in September, 2018 in this city historically connected both to 'pastel' blue pigment and to the 'Gay Science' of the troubadours. As Blues Klair, it is touring Canada with two solo shows: Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University), Montreal, 2018, and The Power Plant, Toronto, 2019-2020.
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 museums 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.
Like the shifting layers of blue in the film's 35 mm cinematic image, as well as the surround soundscape, the exhibition display – a modular textile display designed in collaboration with textile designer Diane Steverlynck and scenographer Emilie Lecouturier – offers an immersive experience to the visitor.
HD Video, 42', 35mm, sound & colour, 2018
Directed & produced by Vincent Meessen
Jesus Wept (The Journey of K)
Abridged version, written and performed by Kain The Poet
Music improvised by Lander Gyselinck
With guest appearances by:
Serge Nicolo & Germain Berdie
Executive producer: Inneke Van Waeyenberghe
Director of photography: Vincent Pinckaers
Sound recording: Laszlo Umbreit, Rémi Gérard, Frédéric Alstadt
Image editing: Inneke Van Waeyenberghe
Sound editing: Laszlo Umbreit
Sound mixing: Rémi Gérard
Color grading: Miléna Trivier
Textile Installation: Diane Steverlynck in collaboration with Émilie Lecouturier
First camera assistant: Artur Castro Freire
Second camera assistant: Lucy Mallet-Jemmings
Subtitles: Erik Lambert
Typefaces: Titra, Belgika
Produced by Jubilee, in collaboration with:
Le Printemps de septembre, Toulouse
Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal
The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto
With the support from:
Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds (VAF)
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco
Dialogue Award at the European Media Art Forum (EMAF), Osnabrück 2019
The jury called Ultramarine a "powerful and complex constellation of different positions, references and contexts that unfold in a variety of ways - as performance, music, poetry, text, museum and archive. Vincent Meessen explores the interweaving of social and aesthetic interests, transcending the boundaries of various artistic practices. The work combines history and culture to give a voice to the visible and the invisible".
Ammodo Tiger Short Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019
“Rarely has the relevance of film to performance been so clear. The role of cinema here stunningly enforces the rhythm, vision, and urgency of the poet’s delivery. The film is precisely structured in a way that allows us to see the images the poet conjures, to sonorise the beat at which he speaks and to feel what is so radical in his utterance. The jury was utterly convinced.”
Members of the jury: Nguyen Trinh Thi, John Canciani, Lawrence Abu Hamdan
presentations to date:
Blues Klair, solo exhibition by Vincent Meessen at The Power Plant, Toronto (2019-2020)
The Image and Its Image, a series of screenings curated by George Clark for the annual NFKS Film Festival, Kabelvåg (Norway, 2019)
FID 2019, 30th International Film Festival Marseille (2019)
An evening of Award-Winning Films from EMAF 2019, Kunsthalle Osnabrück (Germany, 2019)
Unfolding the Past, International Competition Videoex Festival, Zurich (2019)
European Media Art Festival (EMAF) No. 32, Osnabrück (Germany, 2019)
Courtisane Festival 2019, Ghent (2019)
IFFR - International Film Festival Rotterdam (2019)
Blues Klair, solo exhibition at Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal (2018)
12th Shanghai Biennale, curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina (2018)
Read more on Ultramarine at Printemps de septembre (21/09 - 21/10/2018) here
Read more on the exhibition Blues Klair at Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (17/11/2018 - 23/02/2019) here
Read more on the exhibition Blues Klair at The Power Plant (21/09/2019 - 05/01/2020) here