In their collaborative installation at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the artists create an “Astral Quilombo” informed by the theories of Abdias do Nascimento, Édouard Glissant, Stuart Hall and Octavia Butler. The installation incorporates objects and poetic actions to talk about opacity, colonialism, climate crises, resistance and Afro-transfeminism.
D’Andrade feat. Walla Capelobo, "A thousand years loving you", mixed media installation, 2023. Photo: Peter Wolff.
The historic quilombos of Latin America were created to offer enslaved Africans an alternative to bondage, where they could create their own societies based on the idea of total democracy on the margins of hegemony. In this sense, today quilombismo, through the philosophy of Abdias do Nascimento, is a concept that alludes to practices that question visibility, as described by Édouard Glissant. These were some of the starting points of the art installation A Thousand Years Loving You, by D’Andrade and Walla Capelobo, currently part of the group show Broken Machines & Wild Imaginings, curated by Clara Herrmann, at Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Germany.
The Berlin-based artists, who first met many years ago while studying in Rio de Janeiro, collaborated to create an installation with several conceptual layers that reproduce a microcosm, an “Astral Quilombo”, where the trans community, digital poetry, artificial intelligence (AI), video games and ceramics converge. “Collaborating is a way of creating worlds,” explains Walla Capelobo, who moved to Berlin on D’Andrade’s invitation. “It’s a way of always trying to imagine how you relate radically to the world. This exchange is what makes me stronger, what makes me creative, makes me move in order to keep going.”
The installation is built as if it were a house, a home, a room with a structure made of wood and chicken wire, a material that makes reference to favelas, chicken coops and quilombos. It is divided into three spaces: the first contains the start of a multimedia project called Ultra-Poesia, soundscapes (cassette, vinyl, and online) recorded by queer and diaspora artists from Latin America, with thoughts and sounds on the specter of colonialism, the climate crisis, resistance and Afro-transfeminism.
“We let it live in chaos, not presenting a linear world, a cohesive experience, but experiencing things through an opacity generated by chaos,” says Capelobo about the sonic qualities of soundscapes that emit abstract sounds. “Glissant makes a very interesting theoretical point, this idea of the right to opacity. What’s important is the idea of the quilombo because everyone, all the quilombo leaders I’ve met, inhabit a cosmology without having much interest in presenting to the world what they’re doing internally. Quilombo activity itself is a great example of this right to opacity, of how it can be revolutionary and a form of political activism, because within their invisibility, they were able to generate a significant amount of movement and really create enormous discomfort within the colonial empire in Brazil.”
The research and development of the theoretical approach for the Ultra-Poesia project are based on oral knowledge and vocal manifestations of culture and narrative. In the same space visitors also find Walla Capelobo’s ceramics, which represent mushrooms and fungi, organisms known to create mycorrhizal networks, which connect individual plants in order to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals.
Left: D’Andrade feat. Walla Capelobo,"Ultrapoetry archive", 12" Vinyl, color print, single copy feat Jenny Granado aka Kebra, 2023. Photo: D'Andrade. Right: D’Andrade feat. Walla Capelobo, "Ultrapoetry archive", 12" Vinyl, color print, single copy feat Eric XD, 2023. Photo: D'Andrade.
The second space contains a live production of a digital space that represents a post-apocalyptic world. Through AI, visitors see images in constant production and reproduction, which indicate the continuing cycle of environmental degradation. It is also an opportunity to watch it happen, which suggests that the individual and the collective have agency in this story.
The third space contains a videogame developed by D’Andrade, set in the same post-apocalyptic landscape. But this time, there’s still life in this world, an Asian brown panda, currently endangered. In the game, buildings are in collapse, overtaken by nature, in a poetic sort of peace. The player can travel with the panda through nature among giant mushrooms. There is no final destination or direction—in this dimension the objective goes against neoliberal forces and simply gives us the opportunity to contemplate. “And you can stay there for as long as you want to interact with that animal, and then you try to think what makes you want to do that,” explains D’Andrade. “So, the installation also works with many questions about desire, about what desire is, the artificial as well. What is it to wish to have artificial things? Why do we want plastic flowers? Or why do you put a flower in a vase and put it inside? Why is the flower not in the garden?” In the same space, there are artificial plants and more ceramics that invoke ultra human beings, influenced by the sci-fi stories of American writer Octavia Butler.
D’Andrade feat. Walla Capelobo, "A thousand years loving you", mixed media installation, ceramics feat Walla Capelobo, 2023. Photo: D'Andrade.
In many ways, the installation embodies the idea, according to Stuart Hall (one of the artists’ references), that the postmodern subject is a fragmented subject, endlessly transformed by the dynamics of cultural systems. In this sense, this work encompasses an infinite and circular temporality using various technologies, an AI video that is in constant production and the omnipresence of a feeling of community, open to configurations that can be reinvented for another five centuries.
“It’s an idea of surviving memory, of surviving practices. Just as the quilombola practice has survived for 500 years,” explains D’Andrade. “But, mainly, this thing about talking about love is very interesting, because it was a matter of breaking down the hard, rational structure of the work a little, into a more poetic structure. So what would it be like to love in half a millennium? If our affective relationships are currently being permeated by technology, telephones, apps, experiences that can be your friends, can they be your lovers? It’s also a devotional issue, the idea that machines today go through the same devotional and, mainly, enslaving process, which Black people experienced at the start of primitive, colonial capitalism.”
The “thousand years” in A Thousand Years Loving You is a reference to a quilombo reconfiguration of time: that modernity did not begin at the end of the colonial invasion, as Western thought suggests, but rather at its beginning. Highlighting that the oppression that defines the present began 500 years ago, but also remembering that where there is oppression, there is resistance, and for resistance to be millenary, there must be community and love.
Broken Machines & Wild Imaginings is at Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Germany until July 9, 2023
Will Furtado is an artist, writer and co-editor of Contemporary And América Latina.