In the introduction to Aria Dean’s essay, commissioned to accompany ‘Wandering/WILDING: Blackness on the Internet’, she initially refers wearily to ‘questions we already know the answer to’. By the conclusion of this first paragraph, however, Dean has asserted her intention to be ‘wildly irresponsible’ in terms of her ideas but also her refusal to ‘assert [her] right-to-flanerie’ by wandering the streets with a notebook. This dichotomy between freedom in ideas but not in body is reasserted throughout ‘Wandering/WILDING’, whereby forthright playfulness and vulnerability is conveyed in the work of Niv Acosta, Hannah Black, Evan Ifekoya, E. Jane, Devin Kenny, Tabita Rezaire and Fannie Sosa, emphasising the fact that it is an unequally distributed privilege to safely enact and embody these important, demonstrative forms of expression in societies that are predicated on white supremacy.
This exhibition and the accompanying programme of discussion and performance is framed explicitly as ‘a call-and-response’ to ‘The Peril of Black Mobility’ by Doreen St. Félix, and as such forms part of an ongoing investigation into the disparity evidenced by the terms ‘wandering’ and ‘wilding’. Furthermore, ‘Wandering/WILDING’ is part of a larger, ongoing project by curator Legacy Russell titled ‘NO ANGEL’, which addresses the lack of PoC leadership within UK cultural institutions, through exhibitions and public programmes that centre perspectives currently crowded out and thus underrepresented. The importance and utility of online spaces in the ongoing realisation of this project is emphasised not only in Russell’s titling, but also through the ways in which the featured artists’ interests and references intersect and come into discourse with each other from geographically disparate points. Here, the internet is presented not as a utopian project, but as a contested tool, most directly in the work of E. Jane whose web-based work ‘Mhysaxembaci-freakinme’ presents an overdetermined Femme aesthetic, with the artists’ alter ego ‘Mhysa’ seeming to reference and counteract the way that white hegemony is deviously upheld through mass-entertainment.
Whilst the two pieces of writing that foreshadow and follow ‘Wandering/WILDING’ deal directly with the danger inherent in moving through public space, the works selected by Russell point to a constellation of embodied experience that is often subversive simply by virtue of its existence in opposition to dominant narratives. Of the seven artists who have work included here, certain pairs or trios exhibit a strong although coincidental affinity, partaking in and pulling from the above-mentioned online discourse. Coinciding interests are palpable in the video works of Rezaire and Sosa, both of whom point to the history of eugenics and human vivisection, particularly in the fields of gynaecology and reproductive health. In Rezaire’s ‘Sugar Walls Teardom (Homage to Dark Labia)’ accessible remedies are shared as possible modes of healing for both personal and hereditary trauma, and Sosa’s film, ‘I Need This In My Life’, similarly offers the possibility of healing deep, generationally embedded wounds, but through sound, specifically bass frequencies. Sosa’s film features a multitude of bodies caught in joyous, sensual movement, positing the orgasm as a form of personal bodily delight beyond its function as sexual.
In line with this emphasis on the importance of sound and senses other than sight, the majority of the works in ‘Wandering/WILDING’ use music or sound collage in conjunction with imagery. Particularly effective is the way that works given headphones are ambiently sound-tracked by others, deploying with purpose the bleeding of sound that is often unintentional in exhibitions of film and sound art. For example, Sosa’s emancipatory film is brought into correspondence with Niv Acosta’s urgent and fast paced ‘CLAPBACK’, which it must be noted is also to be realised as a performance. Elsewhere in the gallery, Rezaire’s work which evokes a gendered understanding of colonialism is faced by Ifekoya’s beautiful and troubling ‘Cowboy, Native, Other Or, How We Mistook The Map For The Territory’, while flanked by Black’s intimate and affecting ‘My Bodies’ and E. Jane’s ‘Mhysaxembaci-freakinme’. As such, the body in this space is regarded from all sides, counteracting the leisurely regard and opportunity for consumption that is usually available to the viewer.
‘Wandering/WILDING’ is an exhibition that addresses urgent, life-threatening issues directly and explicitly but not at the expense of nuance and curiosity. Texture and patterning as a visual device is employed throughout, in some instances reminiscent of the digitally repeated wallpapers found on social platforms, and in others brought jarringly into the physical world. This is effect is notably present as in the shrine-like staging of Ifekoya’s installation and film, where the plastic netting of barriers and building sites is contrasted with the sparkle of a tinsel curtain, in a work that is bittersweet in its poignancy and literal unapproachability. Kenny also creates a disarmingly attractive and painterly effect with ‘Ejovi Run Come Save Me’, where the oily thickness of anti-wall climb paint is applied with a lightness of touch that belies its normal function, and emphasises the practice of subverting and repurposing tools of control. Whilst ‘Wandering/WILDING’ stands well as an exhibition with no accompaniment, what is evoked in the gallery will be augmented through the public programme hosted by the ICA, with events punctuating the exhibition’s run and cultivating an environment for continued discourse.