The Infinite Mix

Robert Barry looks for the mythic potential in contemporary sonic culture

By Robert Barry

Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013, single-channel video projection with sound. © the artist. Courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York & London; and Victoria Miro, London

The Store, London 9 September – 4 December 

Bom Bom is the dancehall queen of Japan, and as Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea’s new film shows, she can shake her booty with Kingston’s finest. Like a bizarre contemporary take on Alice in Wonderland, Bom Bom’s Dream (2016) follows its eponymous hero on her way to dancehall stardom, seeing her finally win an electric fan for several minutes of grinding in the dust in a rowdy outdoor contest. Along the way we see her whisked into the sky on a gust of wind and swallowed by a giant chameleon, with the aid of some incredibly cheap-looking effects. This is an oddly disjointed work, by turns dreamlike and documentary-style. But in its presentation of Jamaica’s dancehall culture through the awestruck eyes of our outsider-avatar, it succeeds in capturing something of the secular magic of the music scene as modern ritual.

Most of The Infinite Mix’s ten ventures into (as the exhibition subtitle puts it) ‘contemporary sound and image’ might as well be described as artists’ music videos. For Martin Creed’s Work No. 1701 (2013), this means paring the form down to a single gesture: the simple act of crossing the road. Creed’s film, soundtracked by his own song You Return, follows a succession of strollers as they pass from one side of a New York intersection to another, lending their steps a choreographic quality by repeating it and setting it to a beat. For Kahlil Joseph, it means exploding the music of Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city, interweaving its individual stems with Foley field-recordings and footage from the past and present of the rapper’s hometown. Joseph’s m.A.A.d (2014) winds up as a kaleidoscopic vision of Compton, California, which circles around the central trauma of the 1992 LA riots without ever quite touching it, juxtaposing time-stamped home movies from the period with newly shot surreal imagery, like men hanging upside-down from lamp posts or running backwards down nighttime streets, suggesting the hallucinatory displacement of an unspeakable core.

Enjoyable as they are, neither of these two really upsets the dynamic of image and sound as it already stands in contemporary music videos. But Stan Douglas’s Luanda-Kinshasa (2013) activates the music itself into performing its own auto-critique. The film presents a seemingly endless jam by what appears to be the very ideal type of mid-1970s fusion groups, featuring a mix of black and white musicians, Indian tabla, Moog synthesiser, a long-haired hippie guitarist and a conga player in traditional African dress, to evoke the eclectic melange of styles that came together in recording studios at that time. So smoothly is the work put together that only the film’s length – over six hours, during which the players do not get tired, break a sweat, or break for water – gives the lie to its apparent cohesion. In fact, Luanda-Kinshasa is a composite of many different takes featuring musicians in period dress. Its self-conscious fictionality belies at once the supposed spontaneity of the jam session, recorded music’s truth claim as a record of a real event and the quasi-utopian notion underlying ‘fusion’ itself. Alone among the works at The Infinite Mix, which also features pieces by Cyprien Gaillard, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Rachel Rose among others, Douglas’s film works as a critique of music’s self-mythologising. But it’s Bom Bom’s Dream that opens up new kinds of mythic potential, finding a continued place for fantasy in contemporary sonic culture. 

This article appeared in the December 2016 issue of ArtReview