For Libita Clayton’s first UK solo show the artist presents ‘Quantum Ghost’, an interlinked two-part encounter with the politics inherent to her familial heritage and the journey it took to give agency to its legacy.
Upon entering the window-less enclave of Gasworks we are met with several photograms, dark and pensive lightbox photos which seemingly glow, hovering from their wall mounted positions. Each photogram details the residual effect of minerals and personal objects pressed against light-sensitive paper. The resulting close environment of the space coupled with the white light creates a swelling which enables the viewer to feel beneath or within the installation from the outset. As such the narrative presents itself as a halfway house between comfort and suffocation. From afar, these works display a rough and abstracted landscape, part sky at night, part geological deep dive. The request is to observe these remnants as spaces for human preservation. The effect reminds us that we are derivative of our environment but also dependent on it to tell our stories and bind us to our identities.
Clayton’s grasp on the physical environment stems from the project’s main ambition to research and explore the life of her late father, a member of SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) - the key political mass movement which fought for Namibia’s liberation from Apartheid South Africa. Exiled in the early 1980s, Clayton’s father took to Cornwall where he studied mining engineering. Clayton places importance on geology - the study of rocks is not to be undervalued. Here we see the work acting as a poignant lament to the loss of her father. The emotional labour encountered by the artist is a method to restore his memory and position as a person displaced.
The show’s curation reenacts Walter Benjamin’s encounter with Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus: ‘the storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm’. We enter a cave-like structure as though through a trance. Having witnessed the past our bodies push towards the future or present-day stanza of Clayton’s negotiation with memory. Requesting of the viewer to encounter the space through a winding tunnel structure built from cob - a rough mixture of clay, sand and straw - we tread uneasily on glistening gravel into a red sub-level.
Here lies the apex of Clayton’s investigation; several speakers project on repeat a 21-minute sonic play, enveloping the space with layered texture. The work is a collaboration between Clayton and the artists and musicians Demelza Toy Toy, Joi Thomson and Hannah Catherine Jones, featuring contributions from Perivi Katjavivi and Memory Biwa. It has been crafted from hours spent researching her family history in public archives such as the Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and Liberation Struggle (AACRLS) held at the National Archives, Namibia, alongside field recordings on site down tin and uranium mines in Cornwall and Walvis Bay, Namibia. The collaborative notion of the work is evident through not just its encompassing dimension but its vast complexity.
The result is a wall of sound in which history becomes an intangible audio landscape, circumnavigating our existence in the space but also passing through us as we silently bear witness to the sound of Clayton negotiating and building a relationship with it. For a lone individual (my hands re-adjusting as the gravel crumb kneads my palm) it is hard not to feel ill at ease with the environment. The darkened corners lure the mind to attempt to fill blanks and residual gaps where knowledge has not been retrieved through this journey. The ability for this work to both move and haunt the viewer proves the nuance of the weight borne not just by Clayton and her family but by a greater movement of individuals whose voices have been lost in the transaction played out between sites of colonial excavation and diasporic migration. As such Clayton proves the potency of history lies not just in the navigation of the past but its proximity to the present.