In Formation III


Emoji summary: 🌷 👀 🔧



As a first dip into the thick wedge of programme for In Formation III at the ICA, I went along to Khairani Barokka’s performance ‘Annah: Nomenclature’. From what I’ve heard from the ICA themselves, In Formation is a palette cleanse, a readdressing of the way they as an institution work (by following the thread back to how they think). It’s like blue sky, helicopter thinking; if we could be rly good, how would we be? what does it look like n how do we get there? I can’t tell u how well they do that, whether this is just a programme flex or if this has affect, not yet at least. But I can say that it feels good to speculate n gesture. According to the ICA website, In Formation is “a discursive platform emphasising collective production and learning, and forms of sociality”, which i guess goes to explain why this programme isn’t really exhibition based - the valve is open on the steam cooker in that sense, the pressure is released so shit can come out. Lots of talks, performances, discussions and readings;;; the platforming of loud, public thinking. Bc by thinking publicly, we r held to account, and if we r held to account then we must either defend or change that publicly uttered thought. It is held up and examined. Good - - - - Action. While I wana write a bit about In Formation III specifically in this iteration as a cloud or a container in and of itself, i think maybe this is too early, too soon to pin it all down in words; so for this week’s review i wana zoom in tight to the performance and my thoughts around it.

Annah: Nomenclature was a performance in an installation, around the subject of Paul Gaugin’s painting ‘Annah the Javanese’. Annah was a 13? 14? year old that Gaugin painted, reclining nude; widely described by art historians n categorisations as Gaugin’s domestic worker/mistress. Like, skimming over the presumption that those are categories that can subsume or occlude each other.?.?.??. Consent is absent as Annah is discussed as if Annah’s body isn’t present or inhabited. Barokka’s performance presented us with a lecture/monologue in soliloquy (a word I learned age 15 while studying Macbeth n haven’t used since UNTIL this very moment) an advocation for Annah, addressed to Annah, summoning Annah - I couldn’t quite tell, but I’m also not sure it matters. It was a non-linear, scattered and heavy.

A projection on the back wall of the stage-set-up, a presentation, literally like a lecture. Opening with the painting by Gaugin, of Annah, and then moving on to photographs, to articles and title cards. I think it’s helpful and a type of generosity, the way artists sometimes leave these lil breadcrumbs for u, audience, to follow and eat and fill ur belly with. This lecture-set-up maybe, maybe, for me, a bit, makes me feel settled on what’s about to happen, on the mode of address (didacticism is such a good colour) and what to do with what I receive (put it in my mouth and chew). On the floor, another projection, That Painting of Annah, but with a distorted white outline. Barokka spends almost the entire performance sat in Annah’s outline, she takes breaks in her sermon to intermittently trace and scratch in the white outline from the projection in real on the gallery floor w a stick of chalk. It felt violent, but not to Annah, a violence of inscribing Annah’s literal shape on an Art Institution (albeit an institution that has welcomed this work as a transformative one). The performance meanders, darts from point to point, and i feel like it was a collection of thoughts that feel Well Travelled in their distance, but when u zoom back out w some space to think about it all, it makes sense. the thoughts have joined up & curled round on themselves. From Annah, the image of Annah, Annah as Gaugin’s domestic worker/maid/mistress (n then the parallel of this as a reality now, the violence inflicted upon domestic workers, as a category of labour that is entirely undermined), Annah as a child tbh, a person capable of feeling, of love, sadness, of violence and revenge. It didn’t so much ask ‘Who was Annah?’ in a genteel toned supplication, but more asked ‘What the fUCK happened there?’ and picked away at the painting and painter like a dry scab. It was work with a Position, n in its position I was happy, bc I am complicit and lumpen in the artist’s political agenda. I think these things are important to declare, bc if i was a white male critic writing for the Times, or the Guardian, perhaps I’d feel justified writing the words self-indulgent or inwards, something stupid like that. But where this work could feel to others like diatribe or tirade, where Anger could be misconstrued for anger; i felt like this was a radical readdress, Good, cleansing fire. I have never actually admitted so much in words here, (strange that i feel i have to?) but ofc I am comfortable in this identity politicking n reclamation. I am parallel to the transformation I saw unfolding, I understand that Anger has a format, sits in a category. i know deeply that Anger is subversive, productive, and that when we chose to hold people n contempt for their Anger, it is inherently political.

There was some soggy middle ground I cannot reconcile though. After the performance, there was a Q&A with the artist, and as the curator stood up to introduce her, she said something about the performance being a good call to do better, to remember better. idk if it was. It felt more like a whole circle, chewing and cleansing. It was swallowing, digesting, and shitting. It didn’t feel like teaching, I think it was laughing, mocking. Good. A manhandling of canon, like the canon has been manhandled before, this is not any different, not the first time, just a different kind of manhandling. But as i say that, I also honestly don’t know who that is for —- is it for subject: Annah, for her to have a space for her subjectivity to rest in””? But is it also for posterity? To close up n twist the hose, stop the bleeding, for audience n artist both? Does this question even matter tbh? in this soggy middle ground of Anger and reclamation, identity politicking as a verb, and action,,,,,/ When i say Anger is productive,,, where does that leave that action? what has actually happened? I think that maybe, the way I’ve described this performance throughout this text: as verb, production, performative utterance that affects, changes;;; is that a problem w criticism? Do we expect art that functions as verb to be transformative immediately, to produce something immediately? I think maybe. I have been guilty before and may be guilty again of expecting the didactic to transform, resurface. I think this performance felt like a sphincter, bc I realised that transformation can be slight, small, and durational. It is, it will be enough to change the language we use, shift the way we speak about Subject. All throughout, Barokka would occasionally turn to the side and call out to Annah by name; address sentences directly to Annah. In the Q&A she spoke about cripping and queering the subject: Annah. That we assume so much about Subjects like Annah - that they are able-bodied, heterosexual, cis, and CONSENTING. This sphincter of a performance was an exorcism i think. A small, non-spectacular one; just one where the demon is shaken out through the foot, by changing the way weight is carried. Like a tape-worm being pulled, stretched out, Annah’s body exists only in our imagination now. Arguably, the painting since it was made, made Annah’s body imaginary (what happens if we as viewers stop nodding along w the imaginary of a body that the white male painter shows us, and we reimagine outside of that) (what does that do to subject) (what does that do to Annah) (is that production)??

In formation III

we've been commissioned to write about n review events in this In formation III series at the ICA, by invitation of curator Carey Robinson. we are also using the texts to engage the ICA's Social Creative Network, and all payment amounts are on our accounts page​ as ever if u are interested. also important: we r totally allowed to write what we want, otherwise we wouldn't do it.

a meme of beyonce at an information desk with the words okay ladies now let’s get information, as per her song formation
a performer sits in the shadows below a projection that has the words ANNAH: nomenclature in handwriting

performer is still below the projection, but now there’s a painting of a nude brown woman sitting with her arms either side of her on a bright blue chair

a closeup of the projection shows it the painting at the subject of an article titled Gaugin’s Faithless Javanese