About Tony Cokes

Imagination without image

The strong presence of text as a subject matter in Tony Cokes’s films, though it may be considered as simply hyper-valuing words as a tool of deconstruction, seems to be much more indicative of an attempt to dismantle the continuity between image and truth and, ultimately, free the imagination from its captivity in contemporary visual culture.

However, it is not just the domain of images that Cokes’s body of work seeks to destabilize, but also that of music, particularly pop music and the traditions of techno music. Films like Mikrohaus, or the black atlantic? (2006-08) and Evil.16: Torture Musik (2011) more objectively discuss the relationship between music and power, both from the point of view of techno-house subcultures (Mikrohaus) and their elements of appropriation and re-articulation of the black sonic tradition, as well as from the point of view of the pop mega-industry (Torture Musik), in a brutal inventory of the uses of US popular music as a torture tool in contexts such as the US Military Prison in Guantánamo. The interference of popular music and texts popularized through music is inescapable in practically all the films presented.

In Black Celebration (1988), for example, by replacing the voiceovers of the news coverage he appropriates (mostly recordings of black rebellions in Watts, Boston, Newark and Detroit in August 1965) with a selection of songs by Canadian band Skinny Puppy, Cokes both interferes in the official narrative about the rebellions (represented hegemonically as “criminal and irrational” by mass media) with industrial music, as well as shifts the pop phenomenon itself, understood as an emblem of the culture of a commodity against which the rebellions of 1965 operate, subverting their mode of inclusion in the cultural industry through a critical repositioning.

Finally, recognizing the impossibility of covering, in such a short text, the conceptual and contextual density of Cokes’s selection of films for BB10, as well as the intensity of the somatic-political effects that the arrangement proposed by the curators creates, I insist only on incorporating, as a critical position and ethical horizon, the same willingness as the artist to push the social field of representation to the limit, continually reassessing its sonic, imagery and textual devices in order to distort the languages of power in favor of imagination, revolt and the continuity of our struggles for liberation.

Jota Mombaça is a non-binary bicha, born and raised in the northeast of Brazil, who writes, performs and academically studies on the relations between monstruosity and humanity, kuir studies, de-colonial turns, political intersectionality, anti-colonial justice, redistribution of violence, visionary fictions, the end of the world and tensions among ethics, aesthetics, art and politics in the knowledge productions of the global south-of-the-south.

Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry.