Undercurrents

Libita Sibungu

Written and performed by Libita Sibungu; Sound design and composition by Felix Taylor; Featuring a guided meditation by Maria Christoforidou. Featuring additional words and vocals by; Kayle Brandon, Edson Burton, Maria Christoforidou, Fozia Ismail, Valda Jackson, Shawn-Napthali Sobers, Felix Taylor, and Imani Mason Jordan. This project has been produced by Prince Taylor and curated by Theresa Bergne, Field Art Projects.

About

Undercurrents has been commissioned by Bristol Beacon, within the public art programme in line with the music venues’ once-in-a-generation transformation. The audio artwork invites audiences to connect with the historical undercurrents of Bristol Beacon’s position to the water, and the reverberations of the transatlantic slave trade imbued within the port city—whilst offering a space for grief and catharsis. This unique soundwork was broadcast simultaneously across radio platforms; BCFM 92.3 (Bristol Community FM), Radio Amnion, and across the Atlantic with Wavefarm & WGXC 90.7, in New York’s Hudson Valley, during the full moon on the 25th January, 2024.

The work takes as its starting point the notion of the 15th century ruttier, a long poem and map, recited and memorised by sailors at sea to guide them as they navigated. Subverted later by the poet Dionne Brand in her poem ‘Ruttier for the Marooned in the Diaspora’ from her (2001) novel ‘A Map to the Door of no Return: Notes to Belonging.’

“Marooned in the mouth where things escape before they are said, are useless before they are given or echo. Marooned in realms of drift, massacres of doubt, implications. Marooned where the body burns with longing for everything and nothing, where it circles unable to escape a single century; tenements and restagings of alien, new landings.” – Brand. D, (2001) pp. 216

Undercurrents is a sonic ruttier (routier), a poem developed in response to field and hydrophone recordings gathered during a series of workshops curated and hosted by Libita Sibungu both inside and outside of the Bristol Beacon.

The workshops reconsidered routes and pathways of remembering, for African Diasporic people living in the city of Bristol in relation to buried and emerging water bodies. Reflective in part of Sibungu’s shifting experience of time, after giving birth just before the (2020) lockdown, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the collective tearing down and dumping of the Colston (slave trader) statue into the murky harbour water. The workshop group included black artists, writers and historians connected to Bristol.

Sibungu describes the artwork as; “not about an end destination, it’s about process and reflection to re-imagine the present, impacted by the ongoing rupture, the afterlives, of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Whilst making way for the flood, grief and rage that comes with that, for any catharsis to happen.”

Sibungu is an interdisciplinary artist who draws on her British-Namibian heritage to make discursive works that explore personal histories and colonial legacies inscribed in the body. Often creating audio-visual outcomes rooted in collage technique, performance and sound ecologies, her work seeks to usher subversive pathways into the present through reimagining materiality, movement and collective healing in relationship to the environment. She is the (2022) recipient of both the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Foundation Future, Awards. Selected exhibitions include: Kunsthall Trondheim, Norway (2023); Sonsbeek, Netherlands, (2021); Spike Island, Gasworks, (UK), Cabaret Voltaire, Switzerland (2019); 57th Venice Biennale (2017).

Workshops

The workshops were facilitated over three days in 2022, with a group of Black artists, writers and historians; Edson Burton, Maria Christoforidou, Fozia Ismail, Valda Jackson, Shawn-Napthali Sobers, Felix Taylor, Kayle Brandon, and Imani Mason Jordan, co-facilitated by Sibungu.

Day 1 was led by curator and performer, Imani Mason Jordan; with collective reading exercises, drawing on texts from; ‘Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging’ by Dionne Brand, (2001) and ‘The Matrix Poems: 1960-1970’, by N.H.Pritchard (1970).

Day 2 was led by artist and water activist, Kayle Brandon; in an embodied journey with water, moving through the city on Canadian canoes, along the River Avon. Whilst inviting multiple ways of seeing— through hydrophone recordings and deep listening exercises, which underpinned the journey. Including mapped moments such as a talk by plant spirit herbalist, Ann Freeman; who campaigned for the release and acknowledgement of St.Edith’s Well, Castle Park, and an introduction to dowsing with Paul Syrett at the Bristol Beacon. The day finished with body printing and banner making using silt from the river Avon.

Day 3 was led by composer and sound artist, Felix Taylor; with experimentations in creating a group ruttier. Culminating in a live immersive soundscape made from the group’s voice notes and hydrophone recordings. The day was also guided with a sound bath by Monika Kralj and a meditation offered by Maria Christoforidou.

Special Thanks

SJ Blackmore, Kathy Hinde, Dr Evan Jones, Monika Kralj, Michal Kucerak, Fiona Middleton, Abiola Olaitan, Owen Parry, Sarah Robertson, Marcus Smith, Jol Thoms, Todd Wills, Tereza Valentová, The Harbour Masters Office Bristol, Bristol Canoe Club, The Forge, Latent Pictures, Pervasive Media Studio, Jerwood Newlyn residency, and all of the artists and producers involved in the project.

Re-Source

Books
A.P.Gumb, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, (AK Press, 2020)
A.P.Gumb, Dub: Finding Ceremony, (Duke, 2020)
T.L.King. The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies, (Duke, 2019)
O.Bishop, The Seventh Shrine: Meditations on the African Spiritual Journey,from the Middle Passage to the Mountaintop, (Lindisfarne Books, 2017)
C.Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, (Duke, 2016)
Chen.Macleod.Neimanis, Thinking with Water, (MQUP, 2013)
M.NourbeSe Philip, Zong!, (Wesleyan, 2008)
Emoto.M, The Miracle of Water, (Atria, 2007)
Pepetela, The Return Of The Water Spirit, (African Writer series, 2002)
D.Brand, Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, (Vintage Canada, 2001)
M.P.Somé, Of Water And The Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, (Tarcher Perigee,1994)
N.H.Pritchard, The Matrix Poems:1960-1970, (Primary Information and Ugly Duckling Presse,1970)
D.W.Waters, The Rutters ofthe Sea: The SailingDirections of Pierre Garcie, (Yale,1967)


Articles
B,Alagraa, And the Last Shall be First: On the (Im)possibility of Revenge, (Social Text Journal, 2022)
H.Scales, Drexciya: How Afrofuturism is inspiring calls for an ocean memorialto slavery, (The Guardian, 2021)
D.Brand, Maps, (e-flux journal, Issue #105, 2019)
H.Black, New World Disorder, (Artforum, 2017)


More
P.Insole, Bristol’s Second River: Scroll Down the Frome, (2022)
H.C.Jones, The Opera Show with Rebecca Ubuntu, (NTS, 2022)
A Map to the Door of No Return at 20: A Gathering, (Youtube, 2021)
P.Hemphill, Hope Questioning and being Lost, with Bayo Akomolafe, (Finding Our Way, S2E3, 2021)
M.Diop, Atlantiques, (Film, 2019)
J.Dash, Daughters of the Dust, (Film,1991)


Broadcast Partners
Radio Amnion
Ocean Comm/uni/ty
Wavefarm & WGXC 90.7
BCFM 93.2

Commissioned by Bristol Beacon