During the Apartheid 1970s Rose's parents bought a black and white Blaupunkt television, a luxury item at the time, which attracted throngs of neighbours who wanted to see it. As the decades shifted and colour entered the frame, the Rose family maintained their Blaupunkt well into the 1980s.
For Performa 17, Tracey Rose creates her first exhibition in New York City in a decade. The new interdisciplinary work takes the structure of a boxing match, a theme Rose has explored in a previous video self-portrait T.K.O. (2000), framing and using the choreography of the sport to convey combat and competition, as well as trust and affection, and ultimately exhaustion and a sense of the unexpected.
The battle as epic journey is demarcated in the performance’s title, which references the first British slave ship to the Americas on the one hand and the United Negro Improvement Association founder Marcus Garvey’s shipping line on the other, pointing to the complexity of relations and intricacies of identity between those stolen or sent away from Africa and those who remained. For the commission, Rose is working with two collaborators to produce a narrative yet nonlinear script. Her collaborators are an East Coast black American man and a West Coast African man who work with and against the binaries suggested by their pairing. Because of the durational nature of the performance, the dialogue between these two characters and the script arising from it unfolds, as they evolve based on their distinct experiences informed by their continents, cultures, and perceptions.
Experienced in the round, Rose creates a dynamic theatrical installation, comprising and centered around three mesh, free-standing screens in red, black, and green, as well as a central floating black frame as reference to the old TV set and to the colors of the flags for UNIA, Pan African, black American nationalist, and Black Liberation movements. The original Blaupunkt television now fulfills a series of abstract staging tropes, the frames being a visual layering of what Mutabaruka called “The Tell Lie Vision,” and what Gil Scott Heron referred to when he explained why the revolution would not be televised. This abstraction has its aesthetic basis in two of the Performa 17 biennial’s research areas, Dada and Afroglossia, as it relates to the absurdism of language and language as noise, a product of the colonial encounter with Africa, which profoundly influenced Dadaist art. The work moves beyond the literal realm of theatre and toward the abstract nature of a conceptual art history founded / birthed / originating in the so-called developing world.
Rose also incorporates field recordings and video footage of a series of satellite performances enacted and captured around New York City, which are projected onto the screens. Immersed in various landscapes throughout the city, from Central Park, to Lower Manhattan, to Times Square, Rose’s actions and performances are re-enactments of previous works as well as homages to key figures who have influenced her art and this commission, including Vito Acconci, Francis Alÿs, Coco Fusco, David Hammons, Allan Kaprow, Pope.L, Lorraine O’Grady, and Adrian Piper.
Over the course of several days, the performers continually develop and rehearse the script while on the set, the precision and detail of the content changing, evolving, and sometimes falling apart over time. Audience members are able to come and go as they please. The rehearsals crescendo into a daily culminating performances.
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Image credit: Tracey Rose, THE TRACEY ROSE SHOW IN COLLABORATION WITH PERFORMA17 AND AFROGLOSSIA PRESENTS: THE GOOD SHIP JESUS VS THE BLACK STAR LINE HITCHING A RIDE WITH DIE ALIBAMA [WORKING TITLE], 2017. Photos © Paula Court. Courtesy of Performa.
Curated by Adrienne Edwards. Supported by the Ford Foundation, South African Arts Council, Liza Essers/Goodman Gallery, Marlene Dumas, FRAME, the Performa Commissioning Fund and the Performa 17 South African Pavilion Committee, Fundação Sindika Dokolo, Liza Essers - Goodman Gallery, Wendy Fisher and the South African Pavilion Committee, and the Performa Commissioning Fund. Special thanks to Dan Gunn.