SPACE: The BAU | Functioning Circuits

2 November 2020 - 10 January 2021

Mercer Union’s SPACE billboard commission has invited The Black Artists Union (BAU) for its 2020-21 season. Their project, Functioning Circuits, gathers functionality in art through a series of advertisements made collaboratively with The BAU commissioned artists and businesses found within its communities. Functioning Circuits: Aunty Lucy’s is the first billboard in the yearlong series.

Contexualizing their commission is an accompanying text, written by members Ekow Stone and Flimon Yohannes, that reflects on the future, the present and the past through a journal entry in which the personal thoughts and experiences of an archivist named Yanira bring us into dialogue with an elder.


 

March 13th, 2115

There was a point at which there was a lot of in-fighting. Our ancestors as well as their ancestors knew where we needed to be, but this didn’t align with our future ancestors. It was an innovative concept at its time, that our ancestors have ancestors, and that we have future ancestors. Yet there was a time when we didn’t respect our future ancestors, nor our past. That must have been where a lot of in-fighting came from. We began to acknowledge our truths—all of our truths—bringing us closer to them and the comfort of knowing we were never alone. 

 I was an eager kid. I wanted to be an archivist long before I was of age to do so. I knew of Nairobi, one of the last elders that lived through The Great Transition and was still pretty coherent. We met at Nairobi’s favourite tree, a beautiful willow in the middle of a field of goldenrod and asters, sharing time as we observed, recollected and also argued, but I was always listening. Still, I am grateful.

—Yanira

 

September 25, 2076 [transcribed]

Yanira:
As you of course know, gratitude is such an important part of our way of life here. What we know now, what we have on lock now, wasn’t always the case. I heard about it in school, all the struggles for inclusion and justice. Then this dramatic shift to adaptation, self-sufficiency, sustainable development, sovereignty…you know? All the values we come together around now. I’m so grateful for the switch up in how we move as a people and to be here collecting the fruits of our collective, generational labour… It’s just incredible how in just a couple of decades we were able to make that shift and make our own way. Anyways, I guess I’m trying to give thanks and acknowledge all that has passed. I know the history, I know the dates and significant events, negotiations and treaties. But I’ve been wanting to ask you, as someone who came up during the Great Transition about all of this: where we are now vs where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Nairobi:
Well first of all, I want to say, thank you for being here and carrying on the tradition. Things are good now and there’s mutual respect between us and them, but it’s important we stay vigilant. And part of the way we do that is by knowing our history. My aunty always used to tell me that they are the most needy, insecure, and codependent people in the world. They need us more than we ever needed them, and as soon as you start setting boundaries, they take it as an offense. And some of them are still offended that we dared to start our own thing, but they can stay mad. As long as we got each other, our resources, and our guns, there is no outside force that can change The New Wave.

Yanira:
Yeah and I think The New Wave, as something we inherited, is given more weight when we know what the alternative could have been. You know, still begging them to be able to be represented in their ‘modern’ institutions n’ shit. I wanna know more about those times.

Nairobi:
Well you are still young, and our knowledge keepers and matriarchs don’t really go into the nitty gritty at your age; too violent, and that part of history centres them too much. It’s important to build a foundation in a young mind where one’s own people are the centre and the life systems that support their people are revered as sacred. That’s something we’ve come to learn from our Afro-Indigenous kin who have brought some of the Original Teachings of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and so forth and applied it to our context. Our extended family on the continent who have been revitalizing their Indigenous ways have come to similar conclusions. You learn too much about the before times and you could be contaminated with all the nonsense that comes from those who used to think themselves superior to the land they stand on, to the water that hydrates their bodies, to the plants that produce the air they breathe and transform the sun’s energy into all the biochemical nutrients needed for life itself. Modernity was always a djinn that needed more.

Yanira:
But we still got money, businesses, isn’t that something they created?

Nairobi:
You see this idea of money, understood as a store of exchange value, has existed for millennia. Now, the key is being in the right relationship with it. Money understood as energy that can be made in a reciprocal and sustainable way in alignment with the ecosystem; shared not hoarded or unreasonably accumulated, and invested in a productive and generative way, that’s the way to do it. If money is energy then it cannot break the 1st law of thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. So, we got money yeah, and it moves around businesses and people, but it sure as hell don’t grow infinitely. Yet there was a time when money was thought of as infinite; we trusted in their banks, but their banks printed more and more. As they ungratefully took from the land, our fiat savings evaporated with the rising inflation.  It’s that illogic and poor relationship with money and ecology that got us having to deal with the changing climate, the floods, the droughts, the hurricanes. Like in the Gulf of Mexico circa. 2005, we now got American refugees coming in by the thousands every time September rolls around. You’ve already been taught this though, haven’t you?

Yanira:
Yeah, I learned about some of this, it just seemed curious how we kept some things and disregarded others.

Nairobi:
Only so much you can change in a couple of decades. My parents’ generation were the children and grandchildren of those who came from Africa and the Caribbean as immigrants. It’s not like down South where they had generations there already; a solid sense of identity already formed that new immigrants could assimilate into in a way. Here in the North we had to work from scratch and though we have our own shortcomings we have an improving Pan-African population, with their own ancestries, cultures, and Indigeneities, all rooted here. That’s no small feat considering The Great Transition only took a couple of decades. So, it’ll all take time, but in a few generations The New Wave will take us to new waters, new ways of being, but all of that takes time. We must have faith in our future ancestors, that’s what informs our work now.

Yanira:
Yeah, I guess when business is good, life is good, you know? When it’s done proper.

Nairobi:
What we got now works! Listen. Money is made within; it circulates the community and rarely leaves. Everything is here, our world is here. Used to be that just a couple of farmers still needed to drive into town to get gas. We have many towns now, and we own our own energy grids, generating our own power with the sun and the wind. I can’t remember the last time I needed to leave our territories, can you?

Yanira:
No, this place is my whole world… Some people have gone though?

Nairobi:
Oh yes, back in 2042 when we made that trade deal in Ghana. And don’t you worry, the matriarchs are organizing some trips with our fleet of jets to our sister communities in Jamaica, Ghana, Brazil, and South Africa. I believe they have to go through some more test flights and then they’ll be good to go, but you didn’t hear that from me, it’s supposed to be a secret.

Yanira:
Waa! Alhamdulillah! We have come a long way. From what I’ve read, in comparison to before, life is really this good?

Nairobi:
Life is good! Everyone gets what they need and more. To each their own, but we share a lot too. You see our wealth is in our relationships to each other, to land, to technology, and to the dollar. A rich society is not one where a few rich people chase fleeting joy with stupid toys, and the rest toil to make stupid toys to feed the rich their fleeting joy. A rich society is one that is biodiverse and healthy, with a lot of free time and leisure on their hands, good music and good food, no waste, clean water, and the topsoil getting thicker by the year.

Yanira:
Hmmm, but what about the Decentralization? I read that things were rich then… I remember reading that our cousins in Zim helped them a lot.

Nairobi:
You see, Decentralization only helped them create profit from the bankless, the economically-othered. They found a way to include those who were never thought to be included. That’s what I mean, their social technologies were lazy, reactionary. They found ways to collect data from our cousins in Harare but many of them learned to innovate and bring us to new frontiers in cybersecurity and so many other domains that we see today!

Yanira:
I see…

Nairobi:
Yanira, that was a good question, but I suppose a better response would be a question back to you: How do you sell Decentralization to someone who has never been centred?

 


The BAU is an artist collective supporting the works of Black artists and creatives within the diaspora — aiming to be a place where Black art can exist in function with its community.

SPACE invites one artist to produce a yearlong series of images for a public-facing billboard located on the east façade of Mercer Union.

Image: The BAU, detail from Functioning Circuits: Aunty Lucy’s, 2020. Courtesy the artists. Commissioned by Mercer Union, Toronto.