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Aug 10, 2022
Syllabus for Black Love is the lush multichannel installation by jaamil olawale kosoko, a recipient of a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award who worked with numerous Wex staffers over a three year period.
For this WexCast, we’re excited to share a conversation between kosoko and Alexis McCrimmon, an editor in the Wex Film/Video Studio and a filmmaker in her own right, moderated by Film/Video Studio Curator Jennifer Lange. Syllabus for Black Love is on view now in the Wex galleries as part of the summer 2022 interdisiplinary platform Portal For(e) the Ephemeral Passage, and it’s the second collaboration between kosoko and McCrimmon, following the film Chameleon (A Visual Album). That work, codirected by Ima Iduozee, won the Best Experimental Short award at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year and it’s also on view now at the Wex, along with the exhibition-related performance the hold, which is streaming here.
Intro: Soft, slow synth music can be heard behind a variety of voices speaking about Black love:
"Black love is comfort, joy, a promise."
"To be nourished, to be nurtured, that's Black love."
"Black love is so abundant, that you feel its absence painfully when it's gone."
"Black love in a sense is what it means to be."
"Black love is the conduit to your debility."
"It requires constant spiritual conjuring and attention, an attention to embodied survival."
"Black love is a calling for which I'm grateful and I must answer to this calling in order for me to exist fully."
"The be all and the end all—that's it."
Melissa Starker: This is Wexcast, from the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University and that was a small audio sample of Syllabus for Black Love, the lush multichannel installation by jaamil olawale kosoko, a recipient of a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award who worked with numerous Wex staffers over a three year period.
For this episode, we’re excited to share a conversation between kosoko and Alexis McCrimmon, an editor in the Wex Film/Video Studio and a filmmaker in her own right, moderated by Film/Video Studio Curator Jennifer Lange. Syllabus for Black Love is on view now in the Wex galleries as part of the summer 2022 interdisiplinary platform Portal For(e) the Ephemeral Passage, and it’s the second collaboration between kosoko and McCrimmon, following the film Chameleon (A Visual Album). That work, codirected by Ima Iduozee, won the Best Experimental Short award at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year and it’s also on view now at the Wex.
jaamil and Alexis's partnership has been close and fruitful, and in the talk that follows, each of the artists speaks about the relationship they developed and what they learned from each other. Let’s listen.
Jennifer Lange: OK well, the first question i'd say is for jaamil and it's more it's about your practice and the the move towards Moving image. You have a performing arts background, But you also work very collaboratively with different artists from different mediums and disciplines, so your residency at the Wex actually started in Performing Arts, but kind of quickly transitioned to the Film/Video Studio as you were making Chameleon. So I guess the first question is, can you talk a little bit about this transition towards moving image in your practice?
jaamil olawale kosoko: You know, I've been working with moving images for many years, actually. But the the technology shifted, if I can say. And so it was more around learning and experimenting and all these new ways of editing and the way the technology just has become so much more sophisticated, since when you know, I was making my little dance videos in college. But all to say I've always had a deep interest in moving image and from the very beginning, really when I started dancing and really choreographing and making work for stage and theater. I remember doing a project then, I called it The Night Dances, where I would record myself dancing in the dark for hours using the night vision feature and so already you know, like early on, I was developing this sort of conversation between moving image, my body, blackness, grain, glitch, interference, static—you know, just like all these babies that I'm deeply excited about and intrigued by even now in my work. And so really I'd say, yeah, just sort of like reactivating with this technology and, of course, collaborating with Alexis over the past few years really helped to just have an dentifying visual language, and to really begin to deepen that craft into a more specific approach to how I want to perform and really share my body now inside of the moving image arena and film and cinema.
JL: I know that residency in the Film/Video Studio, we have two full time editors and, I mean we thought about it in advance, but it was somewhat serendipitous that Alexis is an editor at the Wexner Center and your project came through at this moment. I think collaboration is again really important to jaamil and his practice but also Alexis as a filmmaker, we always talk about the fact that one person doesn't make a film ,it's a group effort, and there are many, many roles and ways that people are contributing creatively. So could both of you talk about that creative relationship and how it sparked? Because you two were, I mean immediately, I could tell within a couple of days like totally vibing together
JOK: You know, we had a couple conversations before we actually met, but when we did meet and really got into the studio you know, it felt like just such incredible chemistry and just sincere excitement. I mean, I really felt such a thrill from Alexis and just a deep interest to jump into this work and and to really open it up together and to see what might be possible, you know I think it's also important to say that we're both, you know, Black people, and there is a kind of languaging and identity and communication and feel and, yeah, all of these sensational elements, if you will, feel really important to the practice and the making of the work. But i'd love to know what Alexis thinks.
Alexis McCrimmon: I'd say just, I'm a big reference person, and so in meeting a new person it's trying to find that keystone of references, and immediately jaamil and I were vibing. And I think specifically in the entertainer section of Chameleon, when you have all these these portraits of very famous Black male entertainers, I just started to do my Luther Vandross impression because that's something I love to do. But just this sort of, yes, kismet, vibes vibes vibes. When I think about, Seancers, or I think about documentation that i've seen of Black Body Amnesia, in the sense of going from performance documentation to active camera, jaamil, your work lends itself to the Cinematic beautifully.
And because you also are a poet, and your words easily lend a visual equivalent—they easily translate into very rich evocative imagery and I think seeing the dailies or seeing, you know, footage from Chameleon and then reading the poems, hearing your vocal performance, seeing clips—it was all just like, OK, this is here, this is a very fertile ground. And I think that is something that my mind really loves as an artist and an editor in working with you is that your mind is so fertile. And it's powerful. And it felt easy. It's like, oh, this is cheating. OK, I'll just dive on in.
And I think even transitioning from a single channel work that is very experimentally narrative, cinematic piece the score poem chameleon into even evoking at the onset, documentary documentary motifs and modes for Syllabus, which were sort of abandoned, but there's still something incredibly cinematic about Syllabus for Black Love, even though it is a three channel video installation. And it's something that's really funny, I remember, looking at the footage from Tulum of you and Jen on the cliff and just having this moment of like, OK, I think i'm starting to understand your movement language as an artist and and how that makes sense editorially, and thinking about my experience of watching you perform on camera for Chameleon and this, it's like, so i'm beginning to sort of have an automatic kind of recall or this ability to say, OK I know what jaamil does—like, putting all of that, together, so that was really nice for the second project to have this intense familiarity because also there wasn't really... We started working on Syllabus maybe in May, June of 2021. And we'd finished working on Chameleon in like July, maybe even August of 2020. So there was definitely a gap, but like it wasn't that big of a gap in time between the two projects. And it was also just wonderful to be presented with something that was just so, like, similar but very different from what i'd worked on the last time. So I felt like there were ways in which we can forge new, you know, paths together.
Yeah, that's what i've got.
JL: I think Alexis and jaamil, also it's important to note that this piece started during the pandemic and, as I like to point out, jaamil you were the last person to leave when the pandemic started and you were the first person to come back, our first to do in-person residencies. So I wonder if you could also both talk about the fact that much of Syllabus was developed not working together in person, but remotely, and what that process was like, and how important it was to have the groundwork of Chameleon and your relationship going into that.
JOK: Would you like to start, Alexis?
AM: Um, sure. I think. We made an edit of Chameleon for the Earth Day performance and that kind of reignited the fire of, OK, let's finish this you know. There were some major structure shifts and the peace. And through that process, it was just... I don't know if we really did a lot of screen sharing. It was mostly durational phone calls and then sharing cuts. But I think for the generation of Syllabus, like that generative phase, it was a lot of just talking on the phone. It was a lot of reviewing footage. It was, you know, looking at additional references and just having conversations about what was desired for the piece. Reviewing materials that you and Ima had sort of written, that initial proposal, just a lot of thought work, which is something that obviously is great and preferred to be accomplished in person, but it's definitely doable virtually.
And it was one of those things where I was glad to have a project, where I knew it was easy to communicate with the artist and it was, it didn't... Like that additional stress of working remotely and having to deal with what was happening in the outside world—because there was a lot happening in the outside world, just not, you know, the COVID 19 pandemic—it was nice to feel like even though we're getting work done, that there's a support system and this person that I'm collaborating with, we are checking in with one another. And that, you know, once again just felt like cheating—easy to kind of figure out, OK, I think I get what you're saying, boom boom boom, what about this, boom boom boom, just like sequence sequence sequence, scenelet scenelet scenelet.
And then, once it was like, hey I'm thinking about this being a multichannel piece, can you give me a draft of what that would look like, it's like say no more, fam. Because at this point in my tenure at the Wex in the Film/Video Studio program, i've done a few multichannel pieces, and so it was like, say no more, fam. I got you. Like, let me just set up this timeline to reflect a three-channel edit, and so that even felt like cheating. It's like, of course, of course, you want to do this, like with me now. Of course. Let's lean in to it. Let's make it happen because we are the right people for this right now. So, I definitely think it was challenging, but it was certainlyI remember speaking to you, Jennifer, about how, in putting jaamil back on the schedule, it's like, yeah, great great great great, easy, great. Like, thank you for making my life better. And that's not to disparage my relationship with other artists; it's more just like it was a blessing and a pleasure.
JOK: I mean, likewise. You know, I'm remembering, I forgot that we kind of... yeah, that decision was made a bit later in the process that we would move toward the three channel. I had an idea but I hadn't quite figured it out I think when I first approached Jennifer and Film/Video and everyone just around around Syllabus for Black Love, and it was still very much coming into focus. I knew that I wanted to continue our relationship. And honestly, you know, I wanted, I needed to be in practice. I needed to be in conversation. I needed to understand. I needed some kind of outlet. And you know, this became an incredible investigation to do remotely, and it sort of spilled out in so many different directions, you know, Syllabus for Black Love, specifically, which would become the three channel installation that's on view now. But yeah, you know, speaking of that fertile ground, Alexis, there's the Spotify playlist. You know, there's an actual syllabus that folks can engage with that's also interactive and on view. And you can engage and read and all that stuff.
But i'm thinking about all the prep work that went into this process and project before it became what it is now and it was so incredible to be working with someone where we could really investigate a critical embodiment of these aspects, you know, what is a critical embodiment of Black joy, of laughter, of loving? How does that sort of move through the lens and capture a feeling and energy? These were all really important questions for me while while filming, while creating, while brainstorming, but really wanting to center this love practice and just to see what what might happen when something as esoteric, if you will, as love, can be inserted into a sort of critical investigation creatively. It was worth it, I had to do it for my heart to deal with all the things that were, and still are, happening, you know, in the outside world.
JL: Well, maybe just to close, I'd love to hear just what you kind of took away from each other and and this relationship, because I feel like with artists in the Studio, we do tend to have these long, sustained relationships that either result in, you know, future projects, but even friendships, I guess? Creative relationships. So it would just be nice to hear each of you sort of speak a bit about that.
JOK: I mean, you know, Alexis is totally, you know, someone who I certainly want to continue to build with, grow with, create with, you know, with or without the Wexner. Alexis really has taught me so much. And yeah, speaking of again this idea of fertile ground, I guess it does feel like cheating because we go into the Studio and, you know, hours kind of go by and [laughs] magic happens. And it's really incredible and it's also really affirming when someone else is like, locked into a logic. And if you know me, I create my own logic quite often. So for someone, you know, like Alexis who can so easily, because she's so familiar with this lexicon of work and this history of projects that are so deeply connected, but are also, you know, very entrenched in their own identities, but because we have such such a deep history, you know, I think, yeah. This is something that I'm so excited to continue to cultivate and see what's, you know, what's next. You know—what what, what, what next project can I propose.
AM: Oh, my. I will say that I think every experience I have working with an artist teaches me patience, which is something that's like my personal recurring life lesson that I need to learn is to be patient. So thank you, jaamil, for teaching me patience. I also... I think what's great about working in the Studio is that I work with a variety of artists who are practicing different modes of representation, but I think sometimes because of my own training and how I see the world, or how I think, you know, that that question of logic, right, what is flow? What makes sense? I get locked into my own ideas and it's nice to have somebody who can break through and cause a breakthrough, and I think it's interesting because so much of both works are about being embodied and about the body and movement and flow, because there is that performing arts background, and so I think teaching me to sort of stay loose and limber and flexible, reminding me that that is something that should be embodied within me, and just, you know, just to breathe [laughs]. And so I really do appreciate that. And even thinking about those quiet—youJOK saying like, hours go by, and I think about when we were in our last editing session of Chameleon before the world ended, if you will. Just us playing music in the Studio. Like, dance breaks, like just feeling the vibes, being in communion with one another, and I think those memories are very precious to me and our relationship is very precious to me. And so I do look forward to working with you in the future, yeah.
JOK: Oh my god [laughs]
AM: Yeah, 'cause I know you have stuff cooking because you just stay busy.
JOK: Stay busy.
AM: Stay busy. But the world needs it, so that's fine.
JL: I think that's a great place to end. Thank you both.
JOK: Such a pleasure.
MS: That was jaamil olawale kosoko in a conversation with Wex Film/Video Studio editor Alexis McCrimmon, moderated by Film/Video Studio curator Jennifer Lange. For more information about the summer ’22 exhibition Portal for(e) the Ephemeral Passage and all things Wex, go to wexarts.org. For the Wexner Center for the Arts, I’m Melissa Starker. We'll leave you with the sounds of fire and music from Syllabus for Black Love.
Outro: Sounds of fire crackling over percussive music that builds in intensity before fading out.
Top of page: jaamil olawale kosoko, Syllabus for Black Love, 2022, in Portal For(e) the Ephemeral Passage, installation view at the Wexner Center for the Arts, June 10–August 14, 2022. Photo: Stephen Takacs
Special thanks to Film/Video Studio Editor Paul Hill for his help with this podcast.