Curator Elvira Dyangani Ose on marrying music and art
The London member and director of acclaimed art centre, The Showroom, discusses building a shared community for both music and art
By Osman Can Yerebakan Above image: Elvira Dyangani Ose (Christina Ebenezer) Wednesday 26 August, 2020 Short read
Spearheading an influential cultural institution, however, comes with its perks, such as bringing jazz to the audience when a pandemic makes the opposite a challenge. The Showroom recently launched the digital platform IN·FLO·RES·CENCE to exhibit minute-long compositions by 10 international musicians. New York-based pianist Elio Villafranca performs pieces commissioned to J.D. Allen, Bokani Dyer, Nduduzo Makhathini, Elaine Mitchener or Corey Mwamba intimately from his apartment. The mastermind behind the geography-pushing project is film-maker Reece Ewing, who presented the idea to Dyangani Ose and her curatorial team. It gives musicians the opportunity to create during a mandatory hiatus and even utilise this obstruction as a prompt for inspiration.
‘My love for jazz comes from my parents, especially my late father,’ says Dyangani Ose, who was born in Spain to parents from Equatorial Guinea. Between curating for cutting-edge international institutions, including Fondazione Prada or Creative Time, and helping Tate Modern build its African diaspora collection, music has occasionally appeared in her projects. ‘IN·FLO·RES·CENCE, however, is different from my collaborations with Theaster Gates, Nick Cave or Laura Lima – here, production of music joins the conversation, too,’ she explains, and accepts that ‘this is an invitation that challenged me.’
For Cuban-born Villafranca, The Showroom collaboration crystallises his intention to hold ‘intellectual understanding of music secondary to the full experience of culture’. He founded multimedia ensemble The Jass Syncopators in 2012 with a motivation of cultural exchange between disciplines and genres, and interpreting scores by musicians he never met contributes to conducting what he calls a ‘musical dialogue’.
The 90 sq m exhibition space and a multipurpose library upstairs continue to serve a hub for the community. At the top of Dyangani Ose’s to-do list when she joined The Showroom in 2018 was to connect with the centre’s family of former collaborators. She then slowly familiarised herself with the surrounding community by getting lunch from the food truck outside or talking to visitors who made their way up to the library after seeing the ground-floor installation.
Working with artists in global biennials and museums has familiarised Dyangani Ose with the intricacies of creating, whether for an artist or musician. She connects with a young generation of cultural producers through the Goldsmiths’ Visual Cultures department: ‘I explain to my students what it means to be confronted with struggles of the artists besides putting on shows with them.’
With decades of ‘in-person’ exhibitions under her belt, Dyangani Ose embraces the alternative connection with her audience in IN·FLO·RES·CENCE, and also understands values of artistic production in a global web of collaborations. ‘Sometimes we forget what it takes to create, and moments not reflected in the physical work,’ she says, but quarantine has urged artists, curators and institutions to redefine artistic production. ‘How do we convey the rigor and agency of each composer similar to a jazz venue?’ is a question she discussed with American artist Jason Moran. His practice spans from exhibiting multimedia installations at international museums, to composing Oscar-nominated film Selma’s theme score. Moran’s discussion with Villafranca and Ewing for the project’s conversation series will articulate on spaces reserved for presenting jazz and art in terms of social norm, class, and even surveillance.
Life during quarantine may run at a stubborn pace, but try giving in to 10 composers’ vivacious melodies about subtle thrills of repose. Let Villafranca’s generous piano rhythms intimately fill the void of listening to music in a crowd, not at Cafe OTO but from home.
IN·FLO·RES·CENCE is live through September