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An Archive of the Future: Iyapo Repository

Law Warschaw Gallery - St. Paul, MN

Curated by Jehra Patrick

By Christina Schmid

Iyapo Repository, an ongoing project in residence at Macalester College’s Law Warschaw gallery in St. Paul, invites participation in creating an archive of the future. Envisioned by two New York based artists, Ayodamola Okunseinde and Salome Asega, Iyapo Repository pays homage to Afrofuturism’s Octavia Butler and the heroine of her Xenogenesis trilogy, Lilith Iyapo, but charts its own path into a complex not-yet: an archive of what might come to be that holds the imaginary residue of an even more distant future.

Iyapo Repository collects ideas, turns them into digital prototypes and, occasionally, into physical artifacts dedicated to, as lead conservators Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunseinde put it, “to affirm and project the future of people of African descent.” Some of the artifacts designed and produced for the Repository reference trauma directly, such as the marvelous blue sensory suit “that simulates the feeling of being underwater. This suit has sensory units on the inside that collect data from subject, such as heart pressure, vital signs etc. to evaluate the subject during their ‘underwater experience.’ This suit is useful for helping trauma victims and/or people with water-related phobia as a form of therapy.” Imagined in one of the workshops the project hosts, the suit now exists as a physical artifact, on view in the gallery. A video, part of the Repository’s moving image collection, shows the suit in use: an alien-reptilian costume of otherworldly beauty. And that is precisely the point: to imagine another world.

Installation view of Iyapo Repository at Law Warschaw Gallery, Macalester College. Image credit: David Turner, 2017

The aftermath and lingering effects transgenerational trauma, such as the transatlantic slave trade, impact the experience of time. Past and present collapse as memories loop endlessly. Flashbacks arrest the passage of time. But trauma also affects the capacity to imagine, a phenomenon the literature on trauma calls “a foreshortened sense of the future.” Iyapo Repository aims to tempt the mind into unruly speculation, to dare imagine differently.

Though described as an “archival and pedagogical intervention,” the design thinking Iyapo Repository promotes steers clear of didactic instruction. Workshop facilitators provide participants with prompts designed to articulate a general direction. For instance, what kind of a future is this artifact for: dystopian, utopian, apocalyptic, or revolutionary? Which cultural arena does the artifact engage: music, politics, fashion, space travel, security, education, or health? (Perhaps needless to add, this is not a complete list.) A third tag asks for more detailed description: does the object have a motor, transmit data, permit wear, make sound, change color, or serve for self-defense? The results never fail to surprise: bio-suits to aid adaptation to alien species, space traveling rockets that emit perfectly pitched sound, or Afromation pills that deliver historical information directly to the brain.

The goal is to not get stuck in the feasible but freely engage in and speculation. Iyapo Repository’s storied artifacts gesture toward a not-yet that is free from the imperative of the functional and celebrates the impractical pleasures of fashion, music, and art that may act as kindling for imaginative leaps. Rather than set the record straight, Iyapo Repository radically re-imagines what counts as a record.

(September 22 - October 25, 2017)

Christina Schmid is a writer, critic, teacher and curator. She works at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Art, where she teaches contemporary practices and critical theories. Her essays and reviews have been published both online and in print, in anthologies, journals and digital platforms, including Artforum, Flash Art, Foam Magazine, afterimage and mnartists.com.

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