A Moment Is Destroyed: On Counterpoint

A Moment Is Destroyed: On Counterpoint

Victor Ehikhamenor, a visual artist, requested for sheets of black cardboard paper to be taped on glass doors. Following a cue from Dabyna, a guitarist, he picked a chalk and began to draw on the paper. Dabyna’s cue soon became proliferated tunes, the rhythm of Ehikhamenor’s lines, as though sensory gestures leaped from the eyes into the ears. As they kept on, Ehikhamenor’s lines and shapes found their way into Dabyna’s guitar chords, resulting in a symphony of drawn lines.

The premise of their collaboration, which you noticed immediately, was a journey that began midway. Ehikhamenor clearly bore within himself the shapes he drew, and Dabyna’s music – at once jazz, and blues, and didn’t I hear bluegrass? –served as an impulse, just the way you restart your engine on the highway after stopping to pee.

Sometimes (as in this case), the fount of immanence for creation is a gesture. Gestures begin everything, whether a musician finds them in the first lines drawn by an artist or the first combination of chords. You find, consequently, a similar schematic in drawing and in strumming—a movement from head to hand. This movement is audacious. As in this collaboration, where Dabyna played tunes in tandem with the activity of Ehikhamenor’s chalk, you are asked to trust something other than your eyes and ears, to sit on the fringes of what’s about to become present—and isn’t this the highest degree of participation, where the audacity of the artists match the attentiveness of the audience?

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Even more, it became clear as time went on that both collaborators had brought the shadowiness of intuition to light. (Intuition is hardly perceptible. When you say you act based on an intuition, you respond to a feeling or moment that has no reference point.) As the music became one with the drawing, the knowledge of what would happen next became unnecessary; both artists focused their energy on illuminating their ignorance, on opening up fields within the visual and auditory senses that would otherwise remain ignored. Things opened up here.

Qudus Onikeku, acclaimed choreographer and dancer, saw the opening. What he saw—perhaps the instant when a singular language had been enunciated by Dabyna and Ehikhamenor—made things come full circle.

Until now, the movement had been from head to hand. Onikeku put his entire torso, hands, and legs at the service of Ehikhamenor’s shapes and Dabyna’s chords. His body became a force field of sorts, pulling the sound and vision of the evening to itself. Then he moved towards Ehikhamenor, standing behind him and imitating the movement of his hands.

At that moment, the drawing act bore its real significance. Placed side by side with the dancing act, you saw a moment coming into being. Just as in live drawing, the live dancer creates a presence from start to finish. And to make a case with this performance, while Ehikhamenor made use of lines and curves, Onikeku’s choreography was his tool. Yet the purpose was similar: to make presence, to bring intuition into view.

Because presence carries absence on its heels, what happened next was, in some strange way, not unusual. Dabyna’s strumming became frenzied, like a singer who was whipping his demons. All Ehikhamenor’s cardboard sheets were now covered in lines and curves.

Onikeku hopped on Ehikhamenor’s back, and the latter began to slowly wipe off the chalk drawings on the cardboards. Soon enough Ehikhamenor listened to the cacophonous instruction of Dabyna’s guitar and began to destroy the cardboard sheets. Large bits devolved into smaller and smaller bits, until the drawn shapes had become a tune that wasn’t stored in a retrieval system. Anyone who asked for the product of that evening’s collaboration was shown destroyed cardboard sheets, and this was comforting.

The performance happened halfway through Counterpoint #1, an event curated by YK Projects in mid-May, led by the inimitable Qudus Onikeku, assembling an array of Lagos-based artists to speak about their projects, frustrations, and imperatives. The night’s conversation was steered towards the question of value—how is art valuable in the Nigerian creative economy? The logic that the performance suggested, in response, was value that saw no shortcoming in being considered valueless. All things are inherently valuable, but it depends on what you make of your looking, listening, and presence.


Emmanuel Iduma is the author of Farad, a novel (Parresia Books, 2012). He trained as a lawyer in Nigeria, and works as a writer and art critic. He is the co-publisher of Saraba Magazine and director of research and concept development at Invisible Borders. He is currently studying in New York.

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