Arika 14: Make a Way Out of No Way

Experimental cross platform programmers Arika return to the Tramway with part 6 of their episodic series of multi-arts festivals, drilling down into questions of identity, gender and culture

Feature by Eric Karoulla | 03 Sep 2014
  • Arika's Episode 6: Make a way out of no way

Edinburgh-based company Arika bring Episode 6: Make a Way Out of No Way to the Tramway. Each Episode involves a three-day programme of events that are held together by a common theme. Then, each Episode informs the direction of the next one(s) through the discussions and questions that arise from engaging with it. For example, Episode 4: Freedom is a constant struggle concerned itself with radical black artforms like Free Jazz and improvisation and whether they ever did, and do express freedom. This seems to have led Arika to explore other forms of oppression – not only through race – contemplating day-to-day and other performances of gender, and sexuality as highlighted in voguing, drag, and clubbing communities, which were included in Episode 5: Hidden in Plain Sight to the Tramway stage.

“What we’re interested in is unpicking the problems of identity, of how aesthetics have a role in that – and then these different categories of identity, like male, female, sane, able, cultured, black,” explains Barry.

Arika’s events around these themes tend to take on the shape of performances, discussions, screenings and workshops that try to poke at the questions they are asking. In particular, Episode 6: Make a Way Out of No Way comes in the form of poetry readings, film screenings, performances, and discussions. Arika’s array of artistic and scholarly contacts offers a wide variety of approaches and perspectives to the topics raised, allowing for audiences to engage with ideas and concepts, while being able to interact with people who might experience these issues on a day to day basis. For example, Episode 5 saw members of the ballroom (voguing) community meet and compare their experiences alongside academics investigating alternative methods of archiving, and remembering, such as the way Houses in the ballroom community pass on certain moves tied to the history of the House.* 

The newest episode is no different, bringing a variety of guest speakers and performers to the same space.

Columbia University professor Saidiya Hartman kicks off Episode 6 with a reading on wayward communities – that is, communities that are difficult to control or predict and prone to seemingly perverse behaviour. She introduces the concept of waywardness and communities that break away from the constructs of race and sex. This is taken slightly further with discussions on the prison abolition movement in From Subjection to Subjection, as well as in the explorations in Fugitivity to Waywardness. In the latter, she is accompanied by Duke University professor Fred Moten. Moten’s research interest lies in black studies, and the various ways blacks, blackness or black (as a colour) are represented in culture and politics.  

Meanwhile, the twin brother of Netflix celebrity Laverne Cox, M Lamar presents queer black requiem opera Speculum Orum: Shackled to the Dead. Inspired by the negro spiritual and his classical vocal training, Speculum Orum tosses listeners back into the harsh reality of the slave ship, where shapeless moans and sounds tell the story, rejecting ‘proper’ language as we know it. The project stands as both an exploration of how far sounds and language can be pushed in order to convey such a situation, and as an investigation into blackness, as informed by Moten’s theories.

Later on, Miss Prissy, MikeQ, The Legendary Pony Zion Garcon and Danielle Goldman present You’ve Never Seen Pain Expressed Like This, a two-hour freestyle performance-conversation that seeks to explore big questions about injury, pain, and improvisation as a practice of Freedom through movement and speech, with the help of some of the best dancers out there. Storyboard P was crowned King of the Streets on several occasions at BattleFest – a flex tournament launched in 2007. He is joined by Miss Prissy – the Queen of Krump – and The Legendary Pony Zion Garcon who also performed at the club event in Episode 5. Speaking of clubs, Episode 6 also features a clubbing event which is going to be held at Stereo, with MikeQ behind the deck.

Aside from performance and discussion, Arika also throw some film screenings into the mix. Specifically, Episode 6 features two films: Killer of Sheep (1977), and Dreams Are Colder Than Death (2014).  Directed by Charles Burnett, Killer of Sheep has been hailed as 'an undisputed masterpiece of African-American filmmaking' by the British Film Institute, while Arthur Jafa's Dreams Are Colder Than Death tackles black relationships to death, violence, fantasy, love and memory. Jafa attempts to find a new way of approaching film, making parallels with the patterns jazz and improvisation artists take.

Arika’s festival format means spending an entire day at the Tramway attending events and participating in various discussions and workshops. The position of the venue outwith the City Centre makes a Festival pass a sound choice for the audience –  it's cheaper than paying for all the individual events – and for the organisers, in terms of maintaining the audience for each event. Trying to turn up to all events in such a compressed amount of time can cause information overload, however. With each event full to the brim with ideas and concepts to take on, it does get quite hard to concentrate without time to process. Our advice? Pace yourself. As seen by the variety Arika offers, they are willing to explore their chosen theme in depth, and through any medium and artform necessary. Inviting guests from the US, where blackness has a completely different meaning, the company underline the differences between local and US ways of dealing with oppression while thinking about similar behaviours.

*The House in the ballroom community is a form of family, with members of the LGBTQ community banded together under a house 'mother' or 'father.'

Episode 6: Make a Way Out of No Way, 26-28 Sep, various times, various prices