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Commission & talk: Rashaad Newsome’s ‘Hands Performance’ for Channel Somerset House

Text by CLOT Magazine

American multidisciplinary artist Rashaad Newsome joins the Somerset House Studios community for a three-month international residency this Summer. Rashaad will focus on creating a new digital commission titled Hands Performance, which will be presented on Channel Somerset House’s curated online platform for art, ideas, and the creative process. Hands Performance will be premiered on 13th June alongside an in-conversation between the artist and the new Somerset House commission with artist, curator and writer  Tamar Clarke-Brown.

Channel represents alternative pathways for creation, contemplation and discourse within the context of one of London’s most established historic institutions. As part of this online realm, residency opportunities were introduced with specific focuses and goals.

Rashaad Newsome is an American artist working at the intersection of assemblage, technology, sculpture, video, music, and performance. Newsome’s work celebrates and abstracts Black and Queer contributions to the art canon, resulting in innovative and inclusive forms of culture and media. The new project, Hands Performance, takes its title from the well-known element of vogue fem, highlighting a dancer’s ability to tell a story with their hands and showcase their musicality. Hands Performance continues Rashaad’s exploration of mapping Black cultural production as a form of movement research, data storage and collective wayfinding.  

Working with a team of Black Queer ASL interpreters, various vogue fem performers, flex dancers and motion capture technologists, Newsome translates his original poetry into a movement dataset exhibiting American sign language’s uniquely Black and Queer aspects. Newsome then integrates this movement into Being the Digital Griot, a non-binary Artificial Intelligence which moves seamlessly from signing the poetry to communicating through dance forms that defy what the human body can do.  

The film combines stunning visuals from a speculative future with a highly energetic score filled with booming bass, synthetic snares, snaps, claps and glitches, resulting in a futuristic sonic experience. Hands Performance innovatively celebrates a community often forgotten, decentering ableism and privileging the deaf and hard of hearing to make the power and morphosyntactic features embedded in Black Queer vernacular visible. 

(Media courtesy of Channel Somerset House)
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