Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom works across multimedia installation and performance, combining found objects with his own work to highlight cultural collisions. He frequently incorporates snippets of film footage and fragments of sound into his work, as well as collaborating with musicians for live improvisations.

Selected for this year’s Jerwood Solo Presentations, Boakye-Yiadom’s current show at Jerwood Space, London continues his series ‘Baste in Narration’ (2014 -). Now in its third iteration, the series draws heavily on two references: Russ Meyer’s sexploitation film Up! (1976) and Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1505).

Most elements in the show have a functional as well as aesthetic presence. Sound panels, saturated in colours found in Bosch’s work, contain the raw recordings of improvised drum sequences which intermittently flood the space. These are played through speakers which sit atop a shelf supported by a dissembled drum kit and a TV. Another screen, embedded high into a wall, repeats a short clip from Up! 

Through this economical composition, Boakye-Yiadom wants to illuminate multiple, shifting understandings of culture, while destabilising any singular notions of ‘truth’.

“I think sometimes people want particular aspects of culture to remain rooted and still; there’s this idea of a linear trajectory,” he says. “But for me, nothing really works that way: culturally, things are always intersecting. I don’t think that interconnected idea of culture is depicted enough and that’s what I want to illustrate in my work.”

The Jerwood presentation is part of your ‘Baste on Narration’ series, which you’ve been working on since 2014. What are some of the ongoing themes in the series?
The starting point of the series were these nine colours from The Garden of Earthly Delights alongside this footage I had from Russ Meyer’s film Up! Some of the ongoing themes are around performance alongside this exoticism or fetishisation of bodies in a space.

Can you talk more about these references? What keeps you revisiting them?
In the shot I’m using [from Up!] this lady is unzipping something; you’re actually seeing her unzipping the camera and there’s this intrigue, something you’re compelled to. She’s been exoticised or fetishized, but the change of [the camera] angle means she switches this because she’s looking at the viewer, and that shifts the bodily dynamic. In some way, you’ve become the image that she’s unzipping.

Of course, I hadn’t seen it like that. This film was originally made for cinema viewers, but whenever I initially view these things it’s always on a monitor in some domestic setting. So I was also thinking about it in terms of how things are never really used in the way they were intended to be, especially when we’re talking about technology. You think about the technological shift that the porn or other industries started. They reinvent technology to make certain things available; the shift to VHS was very heavily pushed through because of [the porn] industry. Or you think of something like the electronic use of sound, and how that’s pushed certain areas of technology forward. So it’s this idea that things are never used for their intended use; they evolve through people’s interactions with them.

So they might be for a little while initially, but then they’re taken out of their original technological context and that changes people’s relationship with them?
Yeah, absolutely. The Garden of Earthly Delights is the sort of artwork that you rarely see. If you think of images from 400 years ago that include anybody that’s non-white, it always has this hierarchy. Other cultures, or cultures that are less represented in some way, can be looked at with expectation of some kind, stereotypical maybe, which I consider to be a level of performance. Whereas in that painting you’ve got people from various cultures within it and they’re all in some way, on the surface level, on an equal playing field: everybody’s naked. It’s this amalgamation of this orgy of people.

In order to make the palette [for the painting] there’d have been some cultural interaction: to make certain pigments, you needed to gather materials from all over the world… But if you remove these understandings [of the artwork] – if the heralded artist is seen as more important than the things that go behind it and these things carry on being understood in a singular way – then you understand progress to be centered around one element instead of an intercollision of elements.

You use found objects in your practice – often samples or fragments of archive footage and music – and combine these with objects you make yourself. What possibilities does this approach lend to the materials you’re working with?
The use of the readymade is acknowledging that things that have gone on before me and will continue after me. I want to remove the isolation of creation that tends to happen. If something is very heavily created by me, it would be more within my level of control, my stamp. Sometimes people make things and it’s like a need to have some say in this madness, whereas I quite like the idea that I’m being resourceful. I’m not trying to show myself as the heralded artist, I’m just not for that.

The materials that I use tend to be stuff that I’m compelled to, or have questions that I’m asking of them: a certain level of intrigue, a certain level of me trying to understand or align myself with them. It’s also a way of stopping me isolating ‘art’ as a creative field. That’s always kind of bugged me: when things like ‘fine art’ or ‘opera’ try to hold onto the fact that they’re on their own, they’re doing something very refined. Whereas I think I’m moving a step away from that.

I like the fact that when you don’t concentrate on the genius, you’re driven by a collective energy, and that’s what I want from people: this collective energy. That’s why I’m particularly interested in using sound. I can’t really think of using readymade objects and not think of the sampling of music: like hip-hop using samples, people covering tracks. Sound’s the only thing, I think, creatively that really allows that, physically allows that collective energy, where you’re escaping the body and relating to each other. You can’t be impartial to percussion or rhythm either, or it’s very difficult to be impartial. You can either listen to it, or refuse it. I like to think there is some virtue in its repetitiveness. That’s why I concentrate on using drums: because it has a certain type of language that’s moving away from linguistic language.

You’ve talked about how ‘multiplicity’ is integral to how you work as an artist. What does this mean in practice?
There’s often a preoccupation with this idea of what’s true, what’s authentic. When you’re not the indigenous person within the culture you live in, if you always have that [idea of what’s true] as a prominent force, there’s always room for some level of ignorance. The obvious consequence of this is that it mutes voices who do not understand things in a particular way. That’s why, with the work, I’m trying to move away from it being representative of a finished thing and I think that sometimes people can find that quite scary or misplacing. I think it’s a political stance in some way: it’s how I consider culture to operate, it’s always fluid, always changing. Nothing’s made up of one thing; it’s a make-up of two or many different things. That’s the driving force behind what I’m doing. Obviously it’s an overwhelming task: it’s always easier and requires less work to focus on one idea or understanding. But I think things require continual work; they constantly have to be challenged.

Jerwood Solo Presentations 2019, featuring new works by Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Kitty Clark, and Sofia Mitsola continues at Jerwood Space, London until 10 March 2019.

Boakye-Yiadom presents a live event at Jerwood Space on 22 February 2019, 7-8.30pm

1. Appau Jnr Boakye Yiadom, Jerwood Solo Presentations, 2019, Jerwood Space 3. Photo: © Hydar Dewachi
2. Appau Jnr Boakye Yiadom, Jerwood Solo Presentations 2019, install shot. Photo: Anna Arca
3. Appau Jnr Boakye Yiadom, Jerwood Solo Presentations 2019, install shot. Photo: Anna Arca
4. Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Jerwood Solo Presentations 2019, Jerwood Space 4. Photo: © Hydar Dewachi
5. Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Before: Adaptive Rhythm, Installation View, 7.1 sound video installation, size variable, 2018. Photo: Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom
6. Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, P.Y.T, 2009, penny loafers, ribbon, latex ballons, size variable, Photo: Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom

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