The Race for Space: On Afrofuturism

23.09.2015 - 10:00 to 12:00
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"Afrofuturism should be unblack unpopular uncultural."
(Kodwo Eshun)

Long before the afro-american black-power mouvement came into action, the composer and jazz musician Duke Ellington intervenes in the cold war battle about the moon with a short and angry text The Race for Space (1957), tracing the American-Russian race for space directly to the „racial problem which has been given top prioritiy“ in the United States. Too much occupied with the policy of exclusion, differentiation and seperation Ellington states „America’s inability“ to win the battle without being able to establish a fundamentally change of working and living together. Only white Americans were allowed to join the group of NASA-scientists and astronauts.

In a parallel universe, twenty years later, the researcher and musician Sun Ra deploys his slogan Space is the Place as a metaphor of exclusion as well as reterritorialization, a metaphor which reclaims the Outside, the Outta Space as a place which can also become of one’s own, binding a revised past to the imagination of the future. A metaphor which could reverse a predominant concept until it represents a dissenting, minoritarian position while the notion of the Outside, of something which exists beyond the margin could become a standard.

Again, twenty years later, the writer and journalist Mark Dery coins of the notion of Afrofuturism taking the vast range of pop-cultural and academic works into account, from rap music to Science-Fiction writings, from cyberculture to African studies, to map a psychogeography of a specific approach towards history. „The notion of Afrofuturism gives rise to a troubling antinomy: Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of it’s history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners, and set designers – white to a man – who have engineered our collective fantasies?“

The term Afrofuturism and its related political tactics, artistic strategies and aesthetics have meanwhile their own history. “The human-machine interface became both the condition and the subject of Afrofuturism” writes the artist and researcher Kodwo Eshun and underlines once more that this cultural movement can’t be seperated from its context, such as cyberculture and postmodern debates linked to „post-human“ and „post-identity“. After its peak in the nineties one could identify in the last ten years an enthusiastic revival of artistic works informed by an afrofuturistic approach, mainly among african artists, not least to get rid of the persistent image of the African continent as one of everlasting misery and war, but also to leave the comfort zone of the victimhood, to turn things upside down, to connect the archives with imagined futures and fine arts with new technologies.

23.9., 14.10., 22.10., 4.11., 11.11.

Learning Outcomes:

An introduction to the evolvement and the context of the concept of Afrofuturism allows a very rich encounter with speculative fiction, popular culture, music and art works, close listenings, close readings and critical viewings which open up to a different political understanding of contemporary art. The course will prepare the ground for the contribution by KIT to the theme "Nice to be in orbit" of Trondheim's Biennale for Art & Technology "Meta.Morf" which will take place from March 10 to May 1, 2016:

Film screenings (more to be confirmed):

Annett Busch: Introduction:
Neil Beloufa: Kempinski, 14 min (2007)
John Akomfrah: The Last Angel of History, 45 min (1994)
Jean-Pierre Bekolo: Les Saignants, 92 min (2009)

Diedrich Diederichsen: On Stockhausen and Sun Ra
The Otolith Group: Hydra-Decapita, 31 min (2010)
Sun Ra: Space is the Place, 85 min (1974)

Literature (to be extended):

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1972)
Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey and the Language of Signifyin(g): Rhetorical Difference and the Orders of Meaning
in: Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey, New York, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Donna Haraway, The Cyborg Manifesto (1985)
John F.Szwed, Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra,
Paul Gilroy: The Black Atlantik, (1993)
Mark Dery, Black to the Future,
in: Flame Wars: The Discours on Cyberculture, Duke University Press, 1994.
Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction,
Quartet Books, London, 1998.
Samuel R. Delany, Neither the First Word nor the Last on Deconstruction, Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and Semiotics for SF Readers (Amherst, 1988)
in: Samuel R. Delany, Shorter Views – Queer Thoughts & The Politics of the Paraliterary, Wesleyan University Press, 1999.
Kodwo Eshun: Further Considerations on Afrofuturism,
in: The New Centennial Review, Volume 3, Number 2, Summer 2003, pp. 287-30

Postal address:
Kunstakademiet i Trondheim
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
N-7491 Trondheim

Visiting address:
Innherredsveien 7 (Industribygget)

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Tel. +47 73 59 79 00
Fax. +47 73 59 79 20