On view at Haus der Kunst, Munich through March 2022, a call to disorder is the new multisensory installation incorporating smell, light, and audio by Sierra Leone-born, Berlin-based artist and musician Lamin Fofana.
Interview by Claire Mouchemore
Lamin Fofana is a Berlin-based visual artist and musician who draws correlations between the historical, philosophical, and political circumstances surrounding Black identity, migration, and displacement. Fofana’s discography spans over twenty musical releases and his installations have been exhibited worldwide, including his critically acclaimed “Blues” series that was exhibited at Mishkin Gallery in the Flatiron district of New York City in 2020. Originally from Sierra Leone, Fofana has exhibited and performed in Athens, Montreal, Venice, and more recently at Haus der Kunst in Munich. His latest exhibition, “a call to disorder,” is a series of commissioned acoustic works that investigate settler colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism through the lens of an artist that has lived between Sierra Leone, Guinea, The United States, and Germany.
CLAIRE MOUCHEMOREThe book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney was one of the main influences behind your “a call to disorder” exhibition. What is your relationship to this collection of essays and how have they influenced your work?
LAMIN FOFANAThe title of the exhibition is taken from the book. Although the book came out in 2013 and focuses on the London riots, Occupy movements, and uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, I found the essays to be very relevant to the present day. “a call to disorder,” much like this book, is an ongoing project that I have been engaging with and working on for a long time. It involves reading certain ideas or interpretations of the world and responding to them via dialogue in the form of sound and music. In a way, I’ve always been doing this, but it’s felt much more pronounced in the last five years. I often find myself working artistically as a way to engage with certain issues, such as the migrant crisis. I was dissatisfied with the world and the same questions kept coming up about how and why world order produces disorder. So, what I’m trying to do is hint at or point out other possibilities that exist in the world: how we relate to each other and how you relate to yourself and to the environment on a political and historical level. Fred Moten describes mortality as a socioeconomic, socioecological disaster. I think that’s where the dissatisfaction stems from, living within this catastrophe where our institutions are constantly failing us. The exhibition is about providing a space of refuge where we can learn how to live amongst the catastrophe and somehow sculpt meaning from it.
"I often find myself working artistically as a way to engage with certain issues, such as the migrant crisis. I was dissatisfied with the world and the same questions kept coming up about how and why world order produces disorder."
CMWhat was the creative process behind creating the show?
LFI worked on these pieces in the first half of 2021 during a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude. I spent a lot of time creating very long, durational, multisensorial pieces that change depending on the circumstances of the Haus Der Kunst space. The theme and the idea remain the same, but the different seasons and changes in light will adjust the context of the work. The piece Shafts of Sunlight is an ode to impurity that’s not exactly in the museum, it’s in an inbetween space that you often pass through and disregard. I wanted the piece to focus on this inbetween, which is a running theme throughout all of the pieces. Musically, it’s about stretching the boundaries between noise and music. A lot of surface noise is used in the compositions in an attempt to overturn classical music theory. White, 18thcentury European classical music from Germany and Austria cemented the idea of what music was and in turn, solidified the presence of expansionism and imperialism. Around that same time, capitalism led to the construction of certain economic systems, spurred on by settler colonialism and white supremacy, which were byproducts of a group that was set on classifying the world.
CMYour work often examines intermedial moments in history, with a focus on Black identity, migration, and displacement. Considering the omnipresence of Germany’s migrant crisis, both past, and present, how did you approach these themes while exhibiting at Haus der Kunst in Munich?
LFA lot has happened in the last eighteen months. It feels as though we’ve transitioned into a new reality. I aimed to include certain ideas and elements that would carry the work beyond the space, which has a tremendously violent history. I make an effort to talk about that history and more recent events involving the handling of immigrants in Germany. I see it as what falls inbetween and what exists in between; like when you’re playing the piano, sometimes dust falls in between the keys and you can really hear it. It changes the sound of the instrument completely. The audio file for the piece Shafts of Sunlight is called “the dead hand of the past” which is taken from the quote “the dead hand of the past is heavy here.” After living in Germany for five years, it’s become clear that the dead hand of the past is everywhere: World War II, colonialism, the scramble for Africa. It’s spoken about but it’s still not addressed properly. In some places, you feel it more than in others. The mistreatment and handling of migrants in this country is ongoing. But also in the rest of Europe, and beyond. It’s a global issue. Historian Robin D.G. Kelley wrote a foreword for the revised third edition of Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition by Cedric J. Robinson, which was published in 1983. Kelley speaks on liberation and freedom from the black radical tradition and why it isn’t achieved by a specified date. I’m constantly looking at history, thinking about our present moment, and trying to look at what’s what else there is. Because, obviously, this isn’t working, we’re not yet at that point of liberation and freedom.
"I aimed to include certain ideas and elements that would carry the work beyond the space, which has a tremendously violent history."
CMHow do the pieces exhibited at HdK, differ from your previous electronic compositions?
LFThere’s no clear distinction between the two. This show is comprised of field recordings and surface noise, such as the crackle of vinyl when the needle moves between the grooves of a record, and the moments of audible static between two songs. In many of these pieces, I question where acoustic ends and electronic begins, because depending on how the sounds are manipulated, they can fall into both categories. Whether the base sound is a hand clap or striking something with a rock, it’s about getting those textural sounds and using various strategies and techniques to stretch and transmute the recordings. It was particularly difficult to resist the urge to draw distinctions between mistakes and happy accidents, especially coming from an electronic music background where you are constantly pruning and perfecting. Some pieces were initially two hours long before being cut down to ten or thirty minutes for the exhibition. I have a lot of excess material that I draw on when I play live and have even considered releasing it as a trilogy of albums.