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Quantum Ghost: An interview with artist Libita Clayton


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Libita Clayton’s innovative new exhibition Quantum Ghost, commissioned by Gasworks, maps the journey of the artist’s heritage, digging through personal documents and oral histories to create an immersive experience. The National Student spoke to Clayton about her work.

Composed of sound installations, photograms and live performances, Clayton’s British and Namibian heritage is reinvigorated in this eerie space. Visitors are encompassed in unfamiliar territory, an otherworldly environment. Clayton addresses this: “there are other worlds within us - internally, the places that we retreat to - the secret locations that we tap in to out of joy, need, love, fear, and I wonder about how we map this to our exterior world. The micro and macro - the Quantum in time, space... travel.” These imaginary worlds we create in our minds are echoed in Clayton’s artificial setting.

Libita Clayton, Quantum Ghost, 2019. Installation view. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

The exhibition begins with a collection of photographic prints, ghostly glowing images that seem to depict the surface of other planets. These were produced by pressing minerals and personal objects onto light-sensitive paper, creating what Clayton calls “an aura radiating from the crystals, sand, shells, rocks, skin, through light and chemical processing. The fragments of matter are - suspended in time like a shadow of itself.” These kaleidoscopic images merge the artificial and natural, personal and unfamiliar onto one picture frame.

A tunnel-like structure then leads visitors into the sound installation. Made from clay, sand and straw, and doused in red light, the space conjures images of a mine shaft, or perhaps an ear canal. The artist described this experience: “the terrain you walk on is uneven and noisy - you walk over mounds of gravel, and the sound moves all around you, from the speakers, and sub pushing out pressure. It is another - non-place - another world.”

Libita Clayton, Quantum Ghost, 2019. Installation view. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

The encompassing experience is a shock to the senses: “I realised that for this to exist there would have to be some sort of collective alchemy, I’d have to reimagine the gallery space…”. This creation of an unfamiliar landscape originated from Clayton’s musings about her recollections of childhood. “I was trying to remember being a baby, to go as far back as I could to feel the memories that were evidenced to me in photos. But I couldn’t access the feelings really, I could sense them, but I felt a loss - a disconnect to the image.”

“But I soon realised the way in which we gather to tell stories”, Clayton reveals, “is a group experience, a kinetic and magnetic thing that requires certain energy, a feeling of being comfortable, or a ritual around the act of sharing.”

This exhibition was the result of a years research for Clayton, but it was important that the process was an organic one, reflecting the ideas of recall present in her work.“I trusted that the project would reveal itself to me” the artist claims, “it meant I could sit, breathe, read, be lost, travel etc.….trying to find a way to translate the everything of life - death - family, history into an artwork - a container.”

Libita Clayton, Quantum Ghost, 2019. Installation view. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Clayton's “sonic archive”, collected from her trips to sites of significant familial value, particularly in relation to her father’s exile from his home country, explores the sounds of the pink salt lakes in Namibia, and the tin mines of Cornwall, amongst other places. This multi-channel audio installation is a process of collecting and collaging, a reflection of the intersecting nature of personal histories. “Quantum Ghost is the surfacing - the material and immaterial manifestation of an ongoing journey - a life journey into finding out, and unearthing information about my ancestry” Clayton reflects. “This by nature - is personal, but global in the rhythm of movement and migration of the African diaspora. I am part of that lived experience, of that ghosting and resonance.”

Clayton explains that, beneath it all, this is an exhibition about familial love and the importance of personal histories: “it’s really at its essence a love story…of coming to be out of the circumstances that led to my parents meeting. Asking mum; how the hell did you and dad meet in this tiny town full of white people? Can you imagine 1980’s Britain - interracial relationship, mixed-race kid - it was a very violent landscape.”

Libita Clayton, Untitled, 2018. Photogram. Courtesy the artist.

Quantum Ghost is a personal journey, but also a universal one, of family heritage, fragments of memory, and the importance of constructing your own history. On an intimate level, Clayton claims, “exploring the philosophical and spiritual nuances of ‘coincidence’ and ancestry helped me to navigate this lived black, mixed heritage experience.”

Quantum Ghost can be seen at Gasworks in Vauxhall until Sunday 24th March, and a closing performance by Demelza Toy Toy, Jol Thomson, Hannah Catherine Jones & Libita Clayton is to occur on Saturday at 3 pm. To learn more about the exhibition, click here, and to read about the upcoming performance, click here.

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