Link to view: Af-fixing Ceremony: Four Movements for Essex, 2015


Artist Statement

The title of the work, Affixing Ceremony: Four Movements for Essex , is derived from the introduction of Essex’s pivotal book Ceremonies called Fixing Ceremonies by Charles Nero. In his introduction for the Cleis re-issue in of Ceremonies in 2001 Dr. Nero writes;

In an insightful reading of Beloved, the black feminist literary critic Barbara Christian praises Morrison for helping us to confront the Middle Passage. Christian asserts that Morrison's Beloved is a "fixing ceremony" whose purpose "is not merely that of remembrance for the sake of remembrance, but remembrance as the only way to begin the process of healing that psychic wound, which continues to have grave effects on the present." Christian identifies Beloved as part of a project of communal healing helping us to make peace with those "Sixty Million and more" so that “Those whose names we can no longer specifically call know that we have not forgotten them, that they are our 'Beloved.” Christian's observations about Morrison's Beloved are relevant to Ceremonies. Much of Ceremonies addresses our queer “beloved" from the life before the AIDS devastation.

With this work, I am affixing this introduction as well as Hemphill’s work by extended it into the online space that Essex refers to in his cyberspace quote. I am also attempting to create a fixing ceremony or ritual presentation of Hemphill’s work that will invoke his spirit within cyberspace. Hemphill’s quote will serve as the foundation or script for this work. I am attempting to answer and explore the questions that Hemphill posed in this quote as it has given me insight into what Hemphill may have been thinking about in regard to how he could see or imagine himself functioning within the internet (cyberspace). Essex Hemphill made this statement and posed these questions at the Black Nations/Queer Nations? conference shortly before his death from complications from HIV/AIDS on November 4, 1995 in Philadelphia, PA. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his transition.

In the creation of Af-fixing Ceremony: Four Movements for Essex, I wanted to bring him into cyberspace- a space of liminality-for him and his work to exist. The work is broken into four movements or parts as I am trying to align this work with a certain function, wherein the work will exist as a performance that requires all the movements be experienced in succession to experience the larger work. This placed the work in a space of ritual or ceremony on the occasion of 2015's Day With(OUT) Art. The initial audience had to complete the performance of the four movements in succession before given access to the Institute of Contemporary Art's website as it was the first thing the encountered when the visited the site on the day on Dec. 1, 2015 website.  

-Tiona Nekkia McClodden, 2015

Movement I: I'm carrying trauma into cyberspace -- violent gestures, a fractured soul, short fuses, dreams of revenge.... My primary public characteristics continue to be defined by dreads of me, myths about me and plain old homegrown contempt. All of this confusion is accompanying me into cyberspace; every indignity and humiliation, every anger and suspicion.


I found a low res online posting of Marlon Riggs’ 1989 "Tongues Untied" film online during a deep online search for images, text, and video of Essex Hemphill’s body of work. I wanted to see what of him and body of work existed online. In this scene, often referred to as of the “Wages of Silence” scene, I created a deeper color reworking of the piece and restructured edits that allow the viewer to see only Essex’s reaction to the voices around him. I ultimately wanted to create a portrait of self-contained conflict and rage that ends with Essex breaking his silence in opposition to the oppressive statements being placed on him at an unexpected moment at the end of the video edit. The first words he speaks are from an excerpt of an Audre Lorde’s essay featured in her Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches work. Hemphill was a staunch feminist and I wanted to highlight this by his association with Lorde’s work.


Essex + Audre, 2015 TRT: 2.17 minutes.

*footage found online comes from a scene in Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs,1989

*the quote Essex performs;

I know the anger lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches



Movement II: Will I be allowed to construct a virtual reality that empowers me?


The idea of constructing a virtual reality is one that I wanted to explore in a more descriptive form in regards to Essex’s body of work. Virtual reality artificially creates sensory experiences, which can include sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, and I’m selecting works of Essex that evoke these senses within my reading of his work. With this movement, I have selected and handwritten excerpts of essays, poems, and phrases that Essex published, wrote, or performed throughout his career that elicit a feeling of virtual reality. Looking at writing as painting images, I am aiming to create a painting with his words, as I wanted to have a physical interaction with his text and explore the concept of writing as reading and as a tool to remember. The excerpts fill the page and the viewer can select individual selections to examine the work closer.

 

featuring excerpts from Essex’s body of written and performed works; Diamonds Was in the Kitty (chatbook), Earth Life, Conditions, Ceremonies, The Brass Rail 



Movement III: Can invisible men see their own reflections?


I have created a new video work that is a meditation on many of the works I’ve read from Essex Hemphill’s body of work as well as conversations that I have had with his closest friends and collaborators. This is an excerpt of a larger video + film work.

Performer + Writer Marcus Borton shared with me some of the inner workings of his identity as a Black gay man living in this day and age of the internet. We spoke of ideas regarding the avatar, online presentation and the partitioning of “selves” in regards to presentation, and the hope for spaces to bring one’s full self, in all the spaces that we inhabit, as I wanted this work serve as a portrait work of Borton as well.

This work features never before heard audio from a session recording of Essex Hemphill, Garth Tate on guitar, with Brother AH on percussion, recorded in 1982 by Grace Cavalieri and given to me for exclusive use within this project.


*introducing Performer + Writer Marcus Borton

The Uncoolness of Grief, 2015 TRT: 1.26 minutes

*Untitled #1 1982 featuring Essex Hemphill with Garth Tate on Guitar + Brother AH on percussion recorded at DC Space courtesy Grace Cavalieri Forest Woods Productions



Movement IV: I was counting T-cells on the shores of cyberspace and feeling some despair.... I have miscegenated and mutated, tolerated and assimilated and yet I remain the same in the eyes of those who would fear and despise me. I stand at the threshold of cyberspace and wonder, is it possible that I am unwelcome here, too?


I felt that the closest way that I could get to Essex, aside from reading through his body of work, would be to talk to his closest friends, collaborators, and peers. I’ve created a sound portrait and a moment for his closest friends and peers to welcome, praise, and remember him as they knew him. Each person has been asked to simply “to tell me what knew of Essex then and what you know of him now”. These audio excerpts are situated next to a rare portrait of Essex taken in 1982 and provided by his close friend and photographer Sharon Farmer to use exclusively for this project. Conversations conducted in person were recorded with in ear microphones to allow the listener to feel as though they are in the room with the person speaking.


*photo of Essex Hemphill courtesy Sharon Farmer, copyright 1982

Featuring excerpts from conversations with;

Charles Nero interviewed in Lewiston, Maine, Barbara Smith in Albany, NY via phone, ABilly S. Jones-Henin in Washington, D.C., Valerie Papaya Mann in Washington, D.C., Ron Simmons in Washington, DC via phone, Wayson Jones in Prince George's County, MD, Michelle Parkerson in Washington, D.C., Sharon Farmer in Washington, D.C.,Joyce Wellman in Washington, D.C., Christopher Prince in Washington, D.C., Grace Cavalieri in Annapolis, MD, E. Ethelbert Miller in Washington, D.C., Christopher Prince in Washington, D.C, Aishah Shahidah Simmons in Philadelphia, PA, Tyrone Smith in Philadelphia, PA, Dorothy Beam (recorded at Essex Hemphill Dec. 95’ Memorial Service in Philadelphia, PA, audio recording courtesy Aishah Shahidah Simmons), 

Additional Audio;

Heavy Corners read by Essex Hemphill, Community Journal Radio Show - Hosted by Denise Jones, March 1995

To Some Supposed Brothers read by Essex Hemphill, Community Journal Radio Show - Hosted by Denise Jones, March 1995

Essex speaks, Community Journal Radio Show - Hosted by Denise Jones, March 1995

Tiona McClodden reading from Vital Signs; XXXVIII, 1993

 

Affixing Ceremony: Four Movements for Essex, Tiona Nekkia McClodden 2015

*all handwritten text is by the artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden and the excerpts are from the body of work of Essex Hemphill's self published + published poetry and prose work.

Movement I: I'm carrying trauma into cyberspace -- violent gestures, a fractured soul, short fuses, dreams of revenge.... My primary public characteristics continue to be defined by dreads of me, myths about me and plain old homegrown contempt. All of this confusion is accompanying me into cyberspace; every indignity and humiliation, every anger and suspicion.

Essex + Audre, 2015 TRT: 2.17 minutes.

*footage found online comes from a scene in Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs, 1989

*the quote Essex performs;

I know the anger lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Movement II: Will I be allowed to construct a virtual reality that empowers me?

20 excerpts selected by artist Tiona McClodden from Essex's body of written and performed works; Diamonds Was in the Kitty (chatbook), Earth Life, Conditions, Ceremonies, The Brass Rail

Movement III: Can invisible men see their own reflections?

introducing Performer + Writer Marcus Borton

The Uncoolness of Grief, 2015 TRT: 1.26 minutes

*Untitled #1 1982 (excerpt) featuring Essex Hemphill with Garth Tate on Guitar + Brother AH on percussion recorded at DC Space courtesy Grace Cavalieri Forest Woods Productions

Movement IV: I was counting T-cells on the shores of cyberspace and feeling some despair.... I have miscegenated and mutated, tolerated and assimilated and yet I remain the same in the eyes of those who would fear and despise me. I stand at the threshold of cyberspace and wonder, is it possible that I am unwelcome here, too?

*photo of Essex Hemphill courtesy Sharon Farmer, copyright 1982

Featuring excerpts from conversations with;

Charles Nero interviewed in Lewiston, Maine, Barbara Smith in Albany, NY via phone, ABilly S. Jones-Hennin in Washington, D.C., Valerie Papaya Mann in Washington, D.C., Ron Simmons in Washington, DC via phone, Wayson Jones in Prince George's County, MD, Michelle Parkerson in Washington, D.C., Sharon Farmer in Washington, D.C., Joyce Wellman in Washington, D.C., Grace Cavalieri in Annapolis, MD, E. Ethelbert Miller in Washington, D.C., Christopher Prince in Washington, D.C, Aishah Shahidah Simmons in Philadelphia, PA, Tyrone Smith in Philadelphia, PA, Dorothy Beam (recorded at Essex Hemphill Dec. 95' Memorial Service in Philadelphia, PA, audio recording courtesy Aishah Shahidah Simmons), Sonia Sanchez (recorded at Essex Hemphill Dec. 95' Memorial Service in Philadelphia, PA audio recording courtesy Aishah Shahidah Simmons).

Additional Audio;

Heavy Corners read by Essex Hemphill, Community Journal Radio Show - Hosted by Denise Jones, March 1995

To Some Supposed Brothers read by Essex Hemphill, Community Journal Radio Show - Hosted by Denise Jones, March 1995

Essex speaks, Community Journal Radio Show - Hosted by Denise Jones, March 1995

Tiona Nekkia McClodden reading from Vital Signs; XXXVIII, 1993

Special Thanks to Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Sister Sonia Sanchez, Gina Renzi, Michelle Parkerson, Sharon Farmer, Marcus Borton, Adrienne Gaither + Jordan Rivers, Dr. Charles Nero for his generosity, Becky Huff Hunter + the ICA staff for their support, Corey Tegeler and Other Means for their patience.

*Funding Support provided by Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant

© 2015 Tiona Nekkia McClodden

All content © Tiona Nekkia McClodden 2002-2021. Please do not reproduce any of the content on this site without the expressed written consent of Tiona Nekkia McClodden.
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