Following his critically-acclaimed Serpentine exhibition, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa exhibited Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016) in a site-specific installation at Store Studios, co-presented by the Serpentine Galleries and The Vinyl Factory.
Jafa’s contemporary revisualisation of black American history was shown in a bespoke tent at Store Studios, 180 The Strand, from 5 October to 14 December, in the work’s first London presentation. The tent was inspired by revival tents, a custom from the southern United States where Christian worshipers gathered in a marquee erected specifically for meetings, healing missions, church rallies or simply to hear a preacher speak.
Set to Kanye West’s gospel-inspired hip-hop track ‘Ultralight Beam’, Jafa’s work is a convergence of found footage that traces African-American identity through a vast spectrum of contemporary imagery. The meticulously edited seven-minute video jumps from photographs of civil rights leaders to helicopter views of the LA riots, suspending viewers in an emotional montage that is a testament to Jafa’s masterful ability to juxtapose and sequence footage and that poignantly embodies the artist’s desire to create a cinema that ‘replicates the power, beauty and alienation of Black Music’.
A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions transformed the Serpentine North Gallery into an immersive assemblage of still and moving images. The exhibition included the work of three additional voices: the photographer Ming Smith, @nemiepeba (the Instagram feed of artist Frida Orupabo) and content from the YouTube channel of Missylanyus. Together, these three ‘platforms’ or ‘guests’ were integral to Jafa’s presentation in the gallery and acknowledged the influence of others within his own practice.
During the final weekend of the exhibition, Arthur Jafa presented a Listening Session in collaboration with The Vinyl Factory with musicians Steve Coleman, Morgan Craft, Micah Gaugh, Melvin Gibbs, Jason Moran and Kokayi Carl Walker, a dismembered jazz ensemble that performed separately and simultaneously from different sites across London. Performing artist Okwui Okpokwasili danced to the discordant soundtrack as the musicians were livestreamed to an audience at the Magazine Restaurant at the Serpentine North Gallery. Arthur Jafa’s Listening Session was also recorded direct-to-disc on The Vinyl Factory Lathe for a limited vinyl edition, soon to be released by The Vinyl Factory and Serpentine Galleries.