A Review of Wandering/WILDING: Blackness on the Internet at IMT Gallery, London
‘Language is a political instrument, means and proof of power.’ – James Baldwin.
This November, IMT Gallery opened a group exhibition with seven artists engaging in a conversation about race, within the potentially liberating framework of the internet. Each artist inhabits a corner of the split gallery space, with one wall per artist’s work. The works are mostly presented on a screen, with the exception of Devin Kenny, whose captivating ‘anti-climb paint’ mural acts as an ironic passage between the two rooms. Eloquently curated by Legacy Russell, Wandering/WILDING attempts to articulate the space that black artists have created between the polarity of flagrant and flaneur. The artists are responding to this dichotomy by creating works through media, dance and music - online- in an effort to reclaim the space that they might otherwise feel like they have lost.
The significant political back-drop to the exhibition made me consider how successful the internet is as a metropolis for black mobility. Had these sub-domains, where victims of prejudice were able to move unobserved, existed in the physical sphere before the great power of the internet? While Baudeliare’s flaneur was walking the streets of Paris in an opioid daydream, Basquiat in the 1980’s and Baldwin’s fictional Rufus in the 1960’s, were wandering the streets of New York, selling themselves and scoring drugs in a nightmare inversion. This was known as the hustler realm, a place to go un-detected, and so the disharmony of wandering/wilding lives on. The night was a time when wandering souls in search of body could move about in an invisible city within a city, described by Walter Benjamin as a time of day where one could move as freely as in one’s own home. In a modern development of this, the internet in the exhibition is presented as the new frontier, bridging the gap between private and public spaces. These artists experiment with the internet as a platform for full-disclosure and an opportunity to come out of the shadows and onto the scrutiny of the small screen.
After reading Aria Dean’s compelling argument in the accompanying exhibition essay, claiming that black people can’t possibly be the Baudelarian flaneur because of black complicity on the streets and white imposition, I am inclined to disagree. I think that this show proves that there is a third option to the wandering/wilding conflict. With the introduction of the internet, these artists have found a new space of expression for black people where physical intrusion is not readily encountered and there is no risk of ‘stop and frisk’. It enables one to wander without necessarily being haunted by black history and with a choice of which interaction to accept; whether or not to reply or delete a comment and with the option of a ‘like’. I really felt that each artist took advantage of that freedom of ownership; Fannie Sosa recaptures black female sexuality in her video of her dancing, and E. Jane in Freakinme, a presentation of sexualised black women on a webpage. E. Jane has the words: ‘What could be more desirable than me?’ displayed across her screen, not just a question but as a challenge, reclaiming black female sexuality back into her own terms.
I think it is important to recognise that the internet is not presented in the exhibition as utopic. Perhaps the last warning for the modern flaneur is not to get trapped in a digital maze. It is a useful format but one which also has its limitations and should be considered, especially in this time of significant political displacement, as a step rather than an end. This remarkable exhibition however, where the role of each artist has contributed to moving this subject off an iPhone and into a 3D, interactive space, is certainly a step in the right direction.
Written by Tatiana Cheneviere, a contributor to Arteviste.