…Then the water splits. Lines are delineated, spliced. The calypso song and domino game are interrupted by a smart-sounding voice: “It’s a piece of real socialism. It’s a piece of real Christianity too,” says the voice, speaking of the NHS. Applause. Glitch. “British Nationality Act 1948: An act to make provision for British nationality and for citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.” Glitch. Water and sky and British Nationality Act share the screen. Black and white family photograph overlaid by glitch. Something like an old-school TV glitch. Something close to static, but not. Related but not. Foghorn. Black woman, glasses, nurse’s uniform. Clipboards and documents behind her. Overlaid on water. Radio excerpts – news reports and dancehall tracks. Two heavy, forthright syncopated basslines vie for attention. Glitch.
The film is an assemblage, a cut and paste collage. It’s angular and restless in form.
“OUR JAMAICAN PROBLEM,” headlines British Pathé… “The large influx of coloured people from commonwealth countries has created several problems.” Repeat. Collision of echoing digital sounds. Siren-like sounds, electronic distortions. “RUN IT – BUN UP!” Arcade alarms. Stylised gamified gun-shots. DJ’s air-horn – “bah-bah-ba-bahhh”. Archive footage of black people dressed in Sunday best, descending from a ship. “Fiiiiire” “Pull-up, Wheel up, Run it”. “6 or 7 to a room”… “G-G-G-G-G-Government.” “DDDDDown here.” “Pull-up, Wheel up, Run it.” Glitch – foregrounded by a smiling selfie of Zinzi and grandmother – “the autobiographical example,” says Saidiya Hartman. Sit-down little boy! That one here, grab them!
The soundtrack is fragmentary. Chopped and cut. I think again about the music on the party boat, the “Wheel up, Run it” of the DJ. I think about the “Dub” in the title of ‘Dub Finding Ceremony’. Dub, a precursor to – or elder of – dancehall; a successor to ska and rocksteady, the genres that birthed reggae. Dub-reggae, music sub-genre born in the late 60s and early 70s, in the wake of Jamaican independence not so long before in 1962, and amidst of an accelerated relinquishing of colonial control over neighbouring Caribbean islands in the years that followed. Dub as a version or ‘double’ of something that has come before, pressed onto the B side of a record. Dub with its sonic strategies of citation, variation, remixing.
“I am sampling the emphasis and breaks of Wynter,” says Gumbs. “Influenced by the promiscuity and prolificity of dub music, the confrontational homegrown intimacy of dub poetry, and the descendants thereof […], this work depends on and disrupts rhythm and riddim, the impact of repetition and the incantatory power of the spoken broken word.”
Dub! Echo, reverb, splicing, edits. Stretching and layering. Piecing together. Re-working.
As per the genre, in Fi Dem II, there are no lead vocals, no lead voice-over; or at least any attempt to lead is interrupted, spoken over. The voices in Zinzi’s work vie for space as DJ or ‘toaster’. There are sound effects, riddim emphasis. There is glitch.
Writer and curator Legacy Russel meditates on ‘glitch’ as form and strategy in her manifesto Glitch Feminism. She speaks about glitch as “an error, a mistake, a failure to function,” as “machinic anxiety”, as “a form of refusal”. She talks of the glitch in the context of queer and racialised bodies, straddling intersectional and muti-dimensional identities: “As glitch feminists, this is our politic: we refuse to be hewn to the hegemonic line of a binary body. This calculated failure prompts the violent socio-cultural machine to hiccup, sigh, shudder, buffer.” This framing of glitch disrupting dominant oppressive systems, recalls Christina Sharpe’s call to “rupture the structural silences produced and facilitated by, and that produce and facilitate Black social and physical death.” She calls for us to embrace “re/seeing, re/inhabiting, and re/imagining”, slicing vocabulary in a visual deconstructive gesture, a small-scale practical enactment of the instruction to take things apart. Practice what you preach. “We must become undisciplined,” she says. The glitch prompts both pause and movement, provocative in its disruption of activity. It demands attention.
I think about all of this in relation to Zinzi’s work – the film’s resistance to smooth linearity, its layering, stuttering, intentional repetitions; and I read these as in line with this same refusal to the violent socio-cultural machine, to presents suffused in the salts of murky transatlantic histories. But, in an email exchange with Zinzi, she tells me that her relationship to glitch is different, not operating as defined by Legacy Russell: “that is fine if that is your reading,” she says, but “that’s not how I am using the word. To me it is the racism [that is] the glitch. It is the interruption.” I think about the work again. The so called “JAMAICAN PROBLEM”, the “piece of real Christianity”, the British Nationality Act, splice across the other activity in the film, inescapably present. I turn over these understandings of glitch in my mind; interruption as the language of racism vs. interruption as an appropriated strategy of resistance. I often think of collage within my own work as a method for bringing together different strands of narrative, refusing singular or binary readings. True to form, I feel the assembly of fragments in the film quiver restlessly, offering themselves up to varied and multi-layered interpretations.
“we would like it if your wrote us poems. we would like it if you wrote us long life sentences. we would like it if you broke sentences and gave us more life than you or we were told could be contained. we would like it if you remained. we would like it if your showed up every day.” – Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Last month, in April 2022, the Douglas Hyde Gallery held an in-person screening of both Zinzi’s Fi Dem II, and my film Petname. I gave a short introduction to the work that touched on several of the thoughts outlined in this text, and in the one that precedes it; dwelling on inter-generational communication, familial relationships, silences, ocean histories, multiplicity, and fragmentation – themes that I feel are integral to both works in different ways. In the Q&A someone noted that they were struck by the contrasts in tone between the two works, with ‘Petname’ quiet, gently probing; and ‘Fi Dem II’ a full assault on visual and aural senses, insistent and direct.
I found it interesting to watch these two works alongside each other. Petname opens up one-to-one dialogues with family members, and invites the viewer to sit in on these; while Fi Dem II has a broader conversational remit. They operate discursively in a similar socio-historical sphere and against a contemporary backdrop of the UK Home Office’s hostile environment policy, introduced in 2012; but the temporal context of the birthing of the Fi Dem series is particular to the unfolding injustices of the Windrush Scandal in 2017/18. While in Petname, the wider social and political events that shape the speakers’ lives exist largely off-screen, in the subtext of the narrators story-telling, and in the margins; in Fi Dem II, all of these things collide visually, within the viewfinder frame. The material qualities of Fi Dem II gesture towards abstriction, but the fragments themselves within the work are specific, and detailed; signifiers of concrete lived experience. The selfie at the close of the film is anecdotal, it’s the autobiographical detail mentioned by Hartman – a counter to the potential violence of abstraction, of removal, of a proposed objective distance.
Fi Dem II can be viewed in the context of a larger family of films. Formally, the work bears some resemblance to its siblings, while maintaining a distinct character of its own. The refusal and resistance I read as present in the earlier works seem maintained in Fi Dem III: Ancestral Interference + Fi Dem IV: An introduction on becoming unruly, as referenced in their stubborn titles. But elements of the visual languages shift, with the works absorbing CGI aesthetics. As a series the Fi Dem wider body of work is fragmentary by nature, a collection drawn together to make up a whole.
Not dis-similarly, I had initially thought of Petname as potentially involving some form of seriality to it. The full title for the work is: Petname: Momma . Me Mudder . Sis . Brodder . Sweetie . Carmen . Plummy, the idea being that each segment could be independent in its own right, and with the potential of the series being open-ended for possible new additions to be added. I had hoped my trip to Jamaica last August might offer a chance to build on some of those existing conversations through further interviews with family members. This wasn’t to be. But the encounters I did have with family, the reflections on place, and of course my short stint on the party boat, are marked indelibly on my mind; and now doubt, will be revisited in some way, shape, or form, in future work.
I see Zinzi’s commitment to Fi Dem – for them, to them, to extending this growing body of work – as performing what Christina Sharpe refers to as “wake work”; a dedicated and attentive “ethics of care (as in repair, maintenance, attention), an ethics of seeing, and of being in the wake as consciousness”. The acts of care in Fi Dem push back against creative works as singular, static, or complete. The series is open-ended. It carries a temporal and personal investment. There’s a promise of more to come. The DJ / ‘toaster’ speaks over the track: “Pull-up, Wheel up, Run it…”
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub Finding Ceremony, Duke University Press, 2020
Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, Verso, 2020
Sondra Perry, Typhoon Coming on, Serpentine Galleries, 2018
NourbeSe Philip, Setaey Adamu Boateng, Zong!: As Told to the Author by Setaey Adamu Boateng, Wesleyan University Press, 2008
Patricia J. Saunders, Fugitive Dreams of Diaspora: Conversations with Saidiya Hartman, Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies, Journal: Vol. 6 : Iss. 1 , Article 7. 2008
Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Duke University Press, 2016