Beyond the visual: exploring the collective experiences of rhythm and sound.
Rhythm and sound, especially drums, are amongst the elements artist Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom brings into his work. He welcomed us warmly in his South London studio, and told us about the influence of music in his life and art, the importance of collaboration with percussionists and how these interdisciplinary contacts reconfigure his works. Movement is one of Appau’s greatest interests: not only as a dance, but also as philosophy, which transcends the linear cultural trajectories and narratives of origin. The artist explores how different cultural practices do not normally emerge from a singular, ‘authentic’ point of origin but rather from contacts between different cultures. This brings us back to the idea of drumming and how almost every culture has its own version of it. Thus, the incorporation of rhythm in Appau’s art helps us experience the works beyond visual perception. In this interview, you can read more about the artist’s interest in the relationship between viewers and performers, his choice to conceal the body and how this affects the above-mentioned relationship, and other cultural references beyond drumming that he keeps coming back to.
How did you first get interested in music?
Growing up in South London, I always loved the way music would impose itself onto you. Being amplified through cars, homes, and people singing along to music. I was always tuned in to these overt expressions of love and enjoyment and I loved the way it was infectious. During my teens, I was a real culture chameleon and had friends within separate cultural groups. I started working in high street fashion retail, where the majority of my colleagues would listen to dance music such as house and boogie. Alongside this, I also started to get into skateboarding with some of my friends whom I had grown up with and at the time this came with it’s own music scene. At college, I had a different set of friends that I would go to drum & bass nights with. I would share a love of hip-hop and R&B through hanging out and going to parties with cousins and friends. The connecting factor in all of this is that most of the music I was finding out about was through social interaction and the contagious love for music people would share. It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I started to collect vinyl, that I started to listen and discover things alone, but I would always share this, either through trying to Dj or casually playing music to friends and family. Listening session is my all-time favourite thing! Talking about what you love about a particular track whilst it’s being played. It allows you to project an honest fluency.
You mentioned that you felt like you had to follow material traditions in art school, and you graduated as a painter. How did you move away from the materials you were using back then? More generally, how did your practice shift since graduating?
Like most people who move away from the use of a particular medium, I found that I couldn’t convey my ideas through the medium. I became more interested in the entirety of a space over containing within a canvas and gradually begun working with installation. I also studied my BA at a time where Fine Art courses where mostly categorised as ‘Fine Art Painting, Printmaking or Sculpture’, although the work that I applied with was definitely painting. There was no expectation on the course to produce paintings. Painting of the three courses felt the most open to not being restricted to the medium, as there were a few people in my year that weren’t making paintings by the end of the course. However, through various things, I felt I was being influenced, being affected by culture outside of a “Fine Art” context. It wasn’t until I finished my postgraduate study that I began giving myself the permission to incorporate some of this.
You were telling us about your interest in keeping things unfixed, unstable and in a constant movement. There are objects, such as shoes, that you have used multiple times in your work. How does your approach to these objects change over time?
Movement as a philosophy is something that I am very interested in, as it encompasses every area of life on earth and more (i.e. growth, ageing space, sound etc.). Shoes have been used within various mediums within my practice. Of course shoes are a signifier of movement, but I am also interested in how they can form a portrait. The detachment they have from the body replaces the human pulse/energy with objects, lucid material, light and sound in suggesting alternative figures and modes of motion.
You recently completed a residency at Villa Lena in Tuscany – what public-facing event did you create? How did the change of scenery affect your practice?
For the residence, I had to produce a public facing event and there was a mixture of writers, musicians and artists. This meant that there was a mixture of events from readings, live music performances, etc. I screened a piece of work called “Untitled (Language Research)” from 2015 which showed the research behind a previous piece, “4minutes 6 of Conversation” 2014-ongoing. Within it, there’s a close look at non-linguistic languages through dance. Exploring where cultures collide, grow, merge and complicate. This 45min montage has had several works splinter off it, so I thought it would be a good starting point in discussing the different elements within my practice.
Music and dance are among the things you bring into your art, having collaborated with musicians and percussionist for live performances/ improvisations. How does working together enrich your own practice?
It allows me to lean into my work as being unfinished and ongoing, to research and be in continuous conversation. The introduction of the percussionist into an existing work always reconfigures it and in an exhibition, this permanently changes the work from what was originally presented. This is a way for me to explore my interest into when different cultural contact occurs and a new cultural expression emerges from it. I like this idea of things changing through contact and not coming from a linear trajectory.
In your works the artist/ performer is usually concealed. Why do you choose to hide the body?
I am interested in the relationship between the performer and the viewer. The performer is often concealed to remove expectations. In experimenting with performances where the viewer doesn’t have the privilege of being able to scrutinise the physicality of the performer and what that means within the context of a sound performance and their experiences.
Your work is not purely meant for viewing but also for experiencing. How do you go beyond viewing and how do you make an experience universal?
This is mainly through the use of sound and rhythm. In more recent years, the incorporation of a live percussionist is used to draw closer to this. I’m often working towards pieces where the different aspects or materials co-exist on equal plain working together.
The multiple layers of references and cultural narratives you use in your installations are fascinating. Can you tell us a bit more about the significant ones that you keep coming back to?
Rhythm is one, as this has something to do with timing in the context of giving the pre-recorded elements a live physical pulse. In terms of imagery, I often use color and photographs of fruit and vegetables in reference to movement in terms of imported food and plants found in other parts of the world from where they are commonly grown: its historical context, adaptation and influences. Drums are of course something I have continually returned to. I view this through the lens of every culture having there own version of this instrument and its various cultural uses. I often gravitate towards its bodily relation to the sound of the human heartbeat. Drawing upon its universal language and its use within collective experiences is something I like to explore and further understand.
We talked a great deal about how the idea of origin is unnatural. How do you convey this in your work? What are the things not included in the authenticity/ origin narrative that you discuss?
I feel like it’s a term that does not give room for things being or growing out of more than one thing. It is often used as a term to compare and align, which I find can be deeply problematic. Particularly when these terms find themselves used within culture when they are used associatively. With this, I mean winners vs. losers, good vs. bad etc. What this looks like and where one sits in this constructed spectrum. The ways in which they are leaned on to be all encompassing, I find can be bleak. I prefer to explore how culture and cultural practices are normally birthed from two or more different cultural contacts. I try and put all these ideas to question within all the material elements of my practice. Using ready-made objects, archive and performance is more about my interaction with these things rather than my depiction and how this changes with new interactions and experiences. Influencing ideas and as a result, works are often revisited and new iterations created.
Do you have upcoming shows/projects you’d like to share with us?
Keep an eye on my website, as I always try/keep these up to date with events and goings.
Words by Victoria Gyuleva