‘Undercurrents’ is a sonic ruttier, a poem developed in response to field and hydrophone recordings gathered during a series of workshops curated and hosted by Libita Sibungu in Bristol, (2022).

The work takes as its starting point the notion of the 15th century ruttier, a long poem and map, recited and memorised by sailors at sea to guide them as they navigated. Subverted later by the poet Dionne Brand in her poem ‘Ruttier for the Marooned in the Diaspora’ from her (2001) novel ‘A Map to the Door of no Return: Notes to Belonging.’

Sibungu framed her workshops within this context to consider routes and pathways of remembering for African Diasporic people living in the city of Bristol in relation to buried and emerging water bodies. Reflective in part of Sibungu’s shifting experience of time, after giving birth just before the (2020) lockdown, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the collective tearing down and dumping of the Colston (slave trader) statue into the murky harbour water. The participants of the workshops included black artists, writers and historians connected to Bristol.

She says “I think what's interesting about a ruttier is that it's a form of embodied wayfinding, perhaps mundane, violent, beautiful, a song—but over time transformed with each person's interpretation, interaction, and repetition to become; memory, body, and sound —like an ear worm, drifting and dissolving like salt.”

“Undercurrents is not about an end destination, it's about process and reflection to re-imagine the present, impacted by the ongoing rupture, the afterlives —of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Whilst making way for the flood, grief and rage that comes with that, for any catharsis to happen.”

“What do you do with all of that emotion? It needs to erupt and it needs space.”

Using a process of generative research, Sibungu explored this question collectively in a listening ceremony, concluding the workshops shared across a three day gathering, in and outside of the Bristol Beacon. The workshops were co-facilitated with: the writer, artist and performer Imani Mason Jordan; interdisciplinary artist, educator and waterways activist Kayle Brandon; and sound artist, composer Felix Taylor.

The final audio work includes a sonic poem written, performed and arranged by Libita Sibungu, with sound design by Felix Taylor and a guided meditation contributed and performed by Maria Christoforidou. Additional words and vocals are by; Edson Burton, Kayle Brandon, Maria Christoforidou, Valda Jackson, Imani Mason Jordan, and Shawn-Naphtali Sobers.

The two track, 50 minute audio was broadcast with BCFM and Radio Amnion (across multiple oceanic sites) on 25th January at 6pm with the full moon. The work can now be experienced online on the Undercurrents website.

Commissioned by Bristol Beacon, curated by Theresa Bergne, produced by Prince Taylor.
Lead vocals and arrangement by Libita Sibungu
Sound design and composition by Felix Taylor

Sibungu is the (2022) recipient of both the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Foundation Future, Awards. She has presented works with: Kunsthall Trondheim, Norway (2023); Sonsbeek, Netherlands, (2021); Spike Island, Gasworks, (UK), Cabaret Voltaire, Switzerland (2019); Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg (2018); Diaspora Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (2017).

Undercurrents, 2022
Undercurrents, 2022
Undercurrents, 2022
Undercurrents, 2022
Quantum Ghost, 2019, Photo: Max McClure
Quantum Ghost, 2019
Mothers Tongue, 2018
Dust 002, 2018
Libita Sibungu

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E: theresabergne@fieldartprojects.com