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Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking Yvette Greslé // 29 March 2015

Nastivicious, Acts (2012).

 

Acts

 

Nástio Mosquito takes a bow, and then another, appearing as a figure in silhouette in a virtual space of colour (I see shades of blue and lilac). He takes a step forward, an ordinary, casual gesture. The minutiae of body, clothing and face are obscured, and he could, in fact, be any man. The colour of the screen shifts to shades of lilac-pink, and Mosquito begins to sing, the familiar refrain of Prince’s Purple Rain, as digital renderings of rain fall. His singing becomes exaggerated, he begins to growl the words, he drops his body forward, and I hear "SHIT", and then he begins to talk in Portuguese, as the colour of the screen changes once more. Mosquito’s body, digitally transformed, splits and becomes two, a cyborg with the capacity to morph and transform. The two figures, mirror each other. They face one another, they face me, they talk, they gesture, and they move through each other from one side of the virtual space they occupy to another. Gestures performed are ordinary, part of everyday conversation, observed and enacted by the artist, so that we begin to think about their meaning in social life. Then the figure of Mosquito becomes three figures singing Purple Rain as if one. The virtual space of colour imagines the materiality of a fluid substance, hands disappear and reappear. In Act No. 1, the artist’s silhouetted form appears malleable with fuzzy and luminous edges, almost disappearing, in this manifestation his body does not replicate itself. In Act No. 2, his figure appears as if liquid transforming into figures and shapes that are recognisably human and then alien. Finally, in Act No. 4, the artist’s body is transformed into multiple male figures, who appear and disappear, and sing and dance as if in unison.

Stuart Whipps/Ikon Gallery, Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking installation documentation (2015).

 

I am standing in front of a monumental projection by Mosquito at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. The installation titled Acts (2012) is composed of four parts, Act No. 1 through to Act No. 4. As a whole Acts is experienced through the visual, sonic and spatial experience it stages, at the centre of which is the performance of Mosquito himself. I hear sounds manufactured by technology or derived from multiple sources recorded and recast. I register multiple sonic sources, juxtapositions and overlays and imagine science fiction soundtracks, and experimental forms of electronic music and improvisation. Mosquito explores the capacities of his own voice, and the possibilities of the sounds that he can make, crooning and growling, sometimes I can hear the lyrics and at other times they are obscured in sounds that resist language as an empirical form with its own particular map of words and grammatical constructions. The sounds, as I hear them, are both familiar and unfamiliar, at times they appear deliberately jarring. I hear sounds relishing in the pleasure of a song and sounds of conversation, argument and frustration. Each act focuses on a different refrain from a song, which the artist sings: Ritchie Valens’ Oh Donna (Act No. 1); Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff (Act No. 2); Prince’s Purple Rain (Act No. 3); and Tabanka Djazz’s Tira a mao da minh xuxa (Act No. 4).

Stuart Whipps/Ikon Gallery, Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking installation documentation (2015).

 

Colour shifts both within the works themselves, and across all four acts each of which is branded with its own particular spectrum of colour and tone. The optical device of the various colours, produce visual sensations that are seductive, in the way that advertisements or music videos selling brands with their associated fantasies understand. Colour is open to multiple significations encompassing political iconographies and narratives. But it also carries personal significance, and functions in ways that are sensate and affective. In this sense, colour need not be translated into empirical thought and language. Colour appears to be something to which Mosquito is particularly attentive, and it also functions humorously in his work. In the video 3 Continents (Europe, America, Africa), produced in 2010, child-like plasticine colours and forms represent Europe and America, pale yellow and pink respectively. The colour Mosquito chooses for the African continent is black.

Nástio Mosquito, 3 Continents (Europe, America, Africa) (2010).

 

Performance

 

Nástio Mosquito was born in Angola in 1981. Previously a Portuguese colony, Angola’s War of Independence lasted from 1961 to 1975. Independence was declared in 1975, the same year that a brutal civil war erupted, ending in 2002. It is ordinary to speak of war. Images are transmitted to us every day, at every second of the day or night, technologies of communication ensure this. And yet as ubiquitous as images and narratives of war are they are somewhat opaque, marked by erasure, contradictions, traumatic gaps and silences.1

I search for a visual point of entry, setting out to shape responses, interpretations and critiques through processes of describing what it is I see, and hear. I am attentive to how I see and how it is I listen, wary of overly prescribing an artist’s practice. How it is I look and what it is I see, how it is I hear and what it is I hear, is always subjective and contingent upon where it is I am intellectually, politically and personally at any given time.2 This impetus in my writing about art is underpinned by my personal relationship to South Africa, and the extremity of its historical violence, its practice of labelling, categorising and separating its subjects, sedimenting racially charged power relations, hierarchies and social, political and economic disconnection. To demarcate a historical boundary between past, present and future is entirely arbitrary, memories that surface in dialogue with experiences of authoritarianism and political violence exert an affective power. Experiences that look and sound like the past have a habit of re-inscribing themselves in the present. In my work I set out to resist the prescription and objectification of those I write about. I have encountered perspectives on artists, who have a historical relationship to the African continent, which reinscribes assumptions and projections that have become so sedimented, so embedded in the fabric of language and vision, that the artist and the work is nowhere to be seen.3

Stuart Whipps/Ikon Gallery, Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking installation documentation (2015).

 

The South African curator, writer and artist Gabi Ngcobo titles her essay accompanying Mosquito’s exhibition at Ikon ‘Now you see, me now you do’.4 She articulates a sense of the experience of Mosquito’s work, his performances of characters and roles that appear simultaneously legible and opaque: ‘Writing about Nástio Mosquito can prove to be an impossible task because often it is the writer’s words against the artist’s many articulations embodied in his dialogical practice, his slippery character and his ‘I don’t give a fuck-isms’.5 Ngcobo draws attention to how others have wrestled with this apparent slipperiness. The curator Elvira Dyangani Ose described Mosquito’s work as ‘indescribable’ in a video for the project Across the Board: Politics of Representation (2012).6 Ngcobo interprets Ose’s response to Mosquito as a strategy for ‘passing the baton back to the artist to speak to his own practice […] for where does one begin describing a practice that has developed through embodied refusals, contradictions and complex existential questions?’.7

Nástio Mosquito, Nástia’s Manifesto (2008).

 

Mosquito’s moving image works invite a self-reflexive style of art writing. His practice mobilises strategies located in performance and critical humour (irony, parody).8 I recognise forms of humour that simultaneously reference, displace and exaggerate provoking laughter but also critical thought. This is not benign humour, there is a politics and an ethics to it. Mosquito embodies the idea of performance not only in his practice but also in how it is he relates to those of us interested in writing and talking about his work.9 I think of the critical and political possibilities of performance, of how historically, in art practices attentive to what it means to have experienced social and political violence, it opens up spaces for critique, displacement, affect and self-reflection. Artists who think about what it means to be called a man, a woman, straight, queer, black, white, African, European and so forth deploy performance to disrupt, unravel, obscure, confront, displace and render ambiguous. Mosquito performs multiple masculinities and alter-egos which speak to various signs which I read as artist, actor, musician, politician, revolutionary and businessman. There are numerous references to alter egos, which include Nástia, Nasty-O, dZzzz and Cucumber Slice.10 His work is also collaborative, and Acts was produced with the Spanish artist Vic Pereiró: as the alter ego Nastivicious.11 Delinda Collier notes the significance of Mosquito’s collaboration with Pereiró who ‘acts as art director for many of Mosquito’s websites, films and apps.12

Stuart Whipps/Ikon Gallery, Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking installation documentation (2015).

 

Mosquito’s performances and moving image installations bring into view the seductive power of politics and commodity culture, of revolutionaries, celebrities and brands, as it displaces and subverts them through devices such as performance, critical humour, and the overlay and juxtaposition of competing images and sounds. The politics of the Cold War as it played out within the African continent (Angola is especially prominent in Mosquito’s work) and contemporary formations of power are threaded across works such as Frozen War (2010), 3 Continents (Europe, America, Africa) and Fuck Africa Remix (2015, with Pereiró). In the entanglements of images, sounds and misplaced desires, dubious ethics and politically-economically complicitous relationships are imagined. In 3 Continents (Europe, America, Africa) the artist stages a simultaneously ludicrous and critical performance of power and capital within an obscure ordinary setting replete with the props of maps which are both simultaneously recognisable and obscure. The identity of the ‘I’, who ‘bought Europe’ and ‘the US of A’, is not necessarily determinable, both the artist who stamps his thumbprint on his map-like constructions and an unknowable protagonist. The script narrated with performed confidence in relation to Europe and America falters at Africa: ‘Africa [pause] I’ve [pause … laughs] Fuck Africa Man’. Our protagonist/Mosquito walks away. We, as viewers, can only subjectively project what it is the artist wishes to stage by this performance, which thwarts empirical, objective meaning, and can only be engaged conceptually, performatively and theoretically. I am reminded of Achille Mbembe’s introduction to his book On the Postcolony (2001) and his critique of the historical-discursive idea of Africa in western discourse: ‘It is for all the world as if the most radical critique of the most obtuse and cynical prejudices about Africa were being made against the background of an impossibility, the impossibility of getting over and done “with something without running the risk of repeating it and perpetuating it under some other guise”. What is going on?’.13

Stuart Whipps/Ikon Gallery, Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking installation documentation (2015).

 

Capitalism/Violence

 

The video I am Naked (2005), small and deceptively innocuous in scale, is placed in proximity to the seductive visual monumentality of Acts. Documentary in style, and filmed in the dark, a soliloquy, which brings race and historical violence into focus, is performed - 'They can come to me and say: “you’re Negro”. Are you the one walking down the river you bitch Negro. This is no fucking fairy-tale. This is it. This is no fairy-tale’. The work is intimate, and invites an immediacy between the figure who performs, and the viewer who observes. It demands of me that I reflect on my own situated historical, social, economic, and political relationship to the man who shifts in and out of focus, and then moves up close to the lens of the camera. His narrative, which is theatrical and poetic in form, returns repeatedly to the refrain ‘I am Naked’. I recognise historical, social, political and existential anger in his words. I hear:

You come to me. You come to me. Looking in my eye. Looking in my eye. And you can ask me: "Do you make love or do you limit yourself to fornicate". I am saying please confess. I am saying: "Motherfucker please confess" […] I have no time to distinguish between making love, fornicating or just fucking your arse up. This is no fairy-tale reality and I’m naked.

I am Naked presents, in my critical imagination, a conceptual departure point for the exhibition Daily Lovemaking. Through language an idealised notion of ‘lovemaking’ is exploded to encompass ‘fornicating’ and ‘fucking’, which I relate, in Mosquito’s work, to corruption and violence in a political, social, economic and historical sense. Sara Ahmed has, for example, theorised notions of love in relation to the political, white supremacy and nation beginning with the question: ‘How has politics become a struggle over who has the right to name as acting out of love? What does it mean to stand for love by standing alongside some others and against other others?’.14

Stuart Whipps/Ikon Gallery, Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking installation documentation (2015).

 

Mosquito’s practice crosses genres and disciplines: performance art and moving image, music and sound, and installation. There is a pulsating, urgent performative energy to his work, to his envisioning of the relationships between body, sound and the moving image, and to his border crossing (whether between personas or alter egos, disciplines or genres). This multiplicity, the capacity to recognise the existence of contingent, multiple selves, embodied also in the fabric of Mosquito’s work, appears as a critical and political strategy, attentive to the reductions and limitations inherent in fixing and flattening out identity, whether social, political or cultural. In a recent interview Mosquito was asked: ‘You also have a background in theatre. How did you move on to performance?', to which he replied: ‘I was too undisciplined to be an actor, too impatient to be a musician, and too angry to be anything else … I did not know performance as such existed! I am very grateful for the possibility to do what I do without having to invent a name for it'.15

The exhibition is on until Apil 19th. Ikon Gallery is located at 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS. Free admission.

 

Yvette Greslé is an independent art historian and art writer. She recently submitted her PhD dissertation to University College London (History of Art). Yvette is a London-based Research Associate at the University of Johannesburg.

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Notes

1 I explored the idea of trauma and opacity in my PhD dissertation titled Video Art, Traumatic Memory and the Historical Event in the Work of Four South African Women Artists (Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Berni Searle, Minnette Vári). I am also thinking here of the perspectives of Afonso Dias Ramos who is working on photography in Lusophone Africa for his PhD. Both these PhDs are based at University College London (History of Art) and supervised by Professor Tamar Garb.

2 This perspective underpinned my PhD dissertation and Griselda Pollock’s work on trauma was a significant theoretical source. See: Griselda Pollock., After-affects/After-Images: Trauma and aesthetic transformation in the virtual feminist museum (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013).

3 For instance, see my review of Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art at Tate Modern: Yvette Greslé, 'Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary African Art', in Writing in Relation (Published 27/12/13, Accessed 18/3/15, https://writinginrelation.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/meschac-gaba-museum-of-contemporary-african-art).

4 Gabi Ngcobo, ‘Now you see, me now you do’, in Jonathan Watkins ed., Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking (Birmingham: Ikon Gallery, 2015).

5 Ibid, n.p.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Refer to the classic study of parody in art: Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (Great Britain: Methuen, 1985). See also: Sharlene Khan, Postcolonial Masquerading: A Critical Analysis of Masquerading Strategies in the Works of South African Artists Anton Kannemeyer, Tracey Rose, Mary Sibande, Nandipha Mntambo and Senzeni Marasela (London: PhD dissertation, Goldsmiths, 2014).

9 Ngcobo, n.p. See also: Walker Art Center, 'Nástio Mosquito answers Ryan Bartholomew', in YouTube (Published 13/3/14, Accessed 18/3/15, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV4AHhjKQEM).

10 Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking Exhibition Guide (Birmingham: Ikon Gallery, 2015), n.p.

11 See: Delinda Collier, ‘All I am is a son of the Cold War: Nástio Mosquito’s Embedded Videos’, in Art South Africa (2011), pp.32-33. See also Nástio Mosquito: Daily Lovemaking Exhibition Guide.

12 Collier, p.32.

13 Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2001), p.1.

14 Sara Ahmed, ‘In the Name of Love’, in Borderlands, Volume 2, Number 3 (Published 12/03, Accessed 18/3/15, http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol2no3_2003/ahmed_love.htm).

15 '"Inspiration is a Bitchy Muse": An Interview with Angolan Artist Nástio Mosquito’, in Contemporary And (Published n.d., Accessed 18/3/15, http://www.contemporaryand.com/blog/magazines/music-is-a-bitchy-muse-an-interview-with-angolan-artist-nastio-mosquito).

 

 

 

 

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