This week we’ve explored four essential works from multidisciplinary artist Cecilia Bengolea.
For Cecilia Bengolea, dancing is both a tool for self-expression and a medium for radical empathy and emotional exchange. “Mainly, my work is about the body inventing out its own sources”, she explains, “its own rituals.” Whether presented in live performance or captured on film, her movements constitute a form of animated sculpture, a practice that allows her to become both subject and object at once.
Her approach to dancehall, the genre and culture she has returned to time and again throughout her career, perfectly encapsulates her fundamental belief that the power of performance can infuse both the individual and the collective body with energies drawn both from nature and from the empathetic relationships forged with others in the dance.
Whether documenting the incredible diversity of different dancehall styles and dancers in Dancehall Weather and Oneness, joining the dots between more classical styles of dance and contemporary musical influences in Dub Love, or exploring psychedelic illustrations of sexuality and self-expression alongside Jeremy Deller in Bom Bom’s Dream, Bengolea approaches the genre holistically, underlining it as a global artistic practice in which sound and movement are equally vital.
Filmed on location in Jamaica, Dancehall Weather documents routines at various times of day and in various weather conditions, featuring some of dancehall’s most pioneering dancers and musicians, including Craig Black Eagle, Equiknoxx, Kissy McCoy, Erika Miyauichi and Oshane Overload. “Dancing in the wet weather of the Caribbean, sweat and tropical rain further dissolve the boundaries between inside and outside”, says Bengolea, “reminding us perhaps that inner body fluid is an electrical conductor that functions for the body in similar ways to the synapses of the brain.”
Bom Bom’s Dream:
Back in 2016 Bengolea and Jeremy Deller’s surreal short film about the fantastic, dreamlike adventures of Japanese dancehall queen Bom Bom thrilled audiences of The Infinite Mix, the storied, boundary-pushing audiovisual exhibition presented by The Vinyl Factory and the Hayward Gallery at 180 The Strand. Bom Bom’s Dream follows the titular dancer as she travels to Kingston, Jamaica to compete in a local dancehall contest. On the way she dreams, tumbling down a dancehall rabbit hole as she is accompanied by a talkative reptilian admirer on a strange journey through a fantasy Jamaica.
In Dub Love, Bengolea and longtime collaborator François Chaignaud combine classical forms of dance with contemporary musical styles, including dancehall and dub. It is with this subversive amalgamation that the duo’s work can be understood as explicitly politicised, seeing them use unconventional cultural associations to channel their radical politics. “The movements I create have a common denominator”, continues Bengolea, “no attack and no hierarchy among the movements. This is why dance is political”.
Oneness is Bengolea’s documentation of dancehall as a global practice, a six-hour video archive presented in the form of a panoramic triptych installation in which videos are shown in an algorithmically-generated sequence. Captured across various locations in Jamaica, including Kingston, Bogwalk, the Alligator Head Foundation and the TBA21 Academy, dance footage is juxtaposed with choreography created in collaboration with the Jamaican national synchronised swimming team, emphasising the fluidity of both the movements of dancehall, as well as the dynamism of dancehall culture. “Working on steps is just one part of the endeavour to synchronise and compose ourselves within a state of greater liquidity”, explains Bengolea. “The movements I’m drawn to are those in which the body is driven by a physical intelligence of its own.”
For more information about Cecilia Bengolea and her work you can follow her on Instagram.
Watch next: Cecilia Bengolea Presents – Oneness