C&: Considering that perspective, the absence of yourself or a physical body in The Desire Project (2016) is quite interesting.
GK: There is indeed an absence of physical bodies. I wanted to subvert the artistic practices and find a language that emphasizes the desire of this project: “coming to voice.” That’s why I wanted to work with video but not use any imagery besides the text itself. I think the visualization of text announces its urgency; the audience is invited to look at the text, read it, and see it. It becomes prominent. And because the installation I created has three channels, you feel surrounded by stories.
At the same time, I wanted to have music as the only sound. Instead of having the usual voiceover, I wanted to work with drumming as a form of narrative and remember the African tradition of storytelling, which involves so many different layers of knowledge production, including music. I worked on this with Moses Leo for several weeks until he composed the final music for the entire text, then I changed the text as many times as possible and edited the video countless times until the music and text became one, like a breathing body.
It was very important to me to have music, to remember the many physical spaces Black people cannot enter, to come to voice. But music enters those spaces. That’s why music has been used so centrally by many communities and people in the Diaspora. Music is something you cannot filter; it crosses time and space. You can exclude a person from a physical space, but you will hear the music this person plays outside. People in the African Diaspora have occupied many spaces through music. I see music as a form of political resistance, and I wanted to include it as such. In my work, music is like the direct translation of what you see.
C&: What do you mean by “performing knowledge”?
GK: I first came to this title, Performing Knowledge, when I developed a series of seminars to my students in 2010–15, and later this concept became the title of a book that I am now finishing. During my work in academia, I often felt incomplete. In academia, we produce knowledge by producing answers. And in the arts, we produce knowledge by producing questions. I am mostly interested in raising questions. I find this to be a strong force for transformation. So I became very passionate about this idea of bringing text into performance, of giving voice, body, and movement to knowledge – and of placing it in a more futuristic context.
I often feel that we are interrupted by the past, and that many spaces show a serious inadequacy to arrive in the present and to acknowledge the postcolonial condition. It seems we produce futuristic works in a present-day frame that actually belongs to the past. It seems we are always trapped in those three dimensions of time. In my installation The Desire Project, which I first presented at last year’s São Paulo Biennale, I recreate this sense of timelessness: you have to pass a shrine installation, worshiping Escrava Anastácia, before you enter the digital space of the videos. To understand what is inside the digital videos, you must understand the outside, the shrine installation. You cannot get into the video installation without acknowledging this story of the past.