This presentation will begin with the Unisphere as a basis for exploring the lasting impact of science, sci-fi and ‘machinic-molecular-cosmic’ aspects inscribed upon the black body – specifically in Afrofuturism.
Celebrating itself as a “universal and international” exposition, the 1964 New York World's Fair theme promoted “Peace Through Understanding,” and was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” which was symbolized by a twelve-story high, stainless-steel model of the Earth called the Unisphere. Located in Flushing Meadows (Corona Park) in Queens, NY, the Unisphere, which depicted “The Space Age,” was abandoned and largely neglected until its rehabilitation in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s when it became one of the city’s most iconic and enduring symbols.
The 1964 New York World's Fair theme was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” which was symbolized by a twelve-story high, stainless-steel model of the Earth called the Unisphere. African-Americans and other groups, mostly from under-resourced, urban communities in and around New York City re-appropriated the Unisphere as a way to reposition themselves, figuratively, as performers on the world stage.
The Unisphere symbolized American culture, the coming technological age and, arguably, created resonances of Afrofuturism, an aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique, revise, interrogate, and re-examine historical events of the past.This album sleeve, designed by Paul Frick, features a German astronomical chart of the solar system. Beneath it, Frick has placed Sun Ra within a pantheon of astronomers and scientists including Tycho Brahe, Leonardo Da Vinci, Copernicus, Galileo and Pythagoras.
In 1982, Soulsonic Force and AfrikaBambaataa released a single called "Planet Rock". The song borrowed musical motifs from German electro-pop, British rock, and African-American disco rap. All the different elements and musical styles were blended together; and in doing so, offered hip-hop as a new vision for global harmony. Rammellzee, an early graffiti writer, hip-hop pioneer and performance artist whose style influenced the Beastie Boys and several others. His Gothic Futurism theory describes the battle between letters and their symbolic warfare against any standardizations enforced by the rules of the alphabet.
Often with her collaborator Jean-Paul Goude Grace Jones explored intersections of race, class and gender through her performances. Goude’s early influence on Grace’s style is now documented and celebrated. In turn, Grace Jones has inspired contemporary artists and performers such as Missy Elliot whose explore the technological transformation of the black female body: its mutation into a cyborg (or a black super she-ro).
Hip-hop artists turned directors like Hype Williams (Flava In Ya Ear, Missy Elliot videos, etc.) create works that demonstrate the lasting impact of science, sci-fi and ‘machinic-molecular-cosmic’ aspects inscribed upon the black body – specifically in Afrofuturism. This includes new pioneers who are busy adapting, appropriating, re-staging, and creating ―altogether deconstructing, constructing, and re-contextualizing preexisting themes and grand narratives.
Can new practices shift existing social interstices that mark certain bodies as inferior beings to alternative contexts that unlock the binary rhetoric of victimization and oppression?
Deconstructing the Unisphere
DECONSTRUCTINGTHEUNISPHEREHIP-HOP ON A SHRINKING GLOBE IN ANEXPANDING UNIVERSEBy Nettrice R. Gaskins, Digital Media Ph.D. Candidate
"Kick that ol robotic,futuristic, George Jetson,CRAZY JOINT!!"THE SPACE AGEDuring the period of its restoration the Unisphere became a backdrop for many hip-hopprojects including on The Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill” album cover, in Craig Mack’s “Flavorin Your Ear” music video, and in Talib Kweli’s and Hi Tek’s recent video “In this World.” Thiswork can be placed within a much broader, deeper theoretical purview.
HELIOCENTRICWORLDSSun Ra manifested virtuality,as alternative states (orspaces) ofbeing. Philosopher GillesDeleuze wrote about the“laying out of a commonplane of immanence onwhich all minds, all bodiesand all individuals aresituated.” This notion canbe used to explain BlackAtlantic cultural practicesthat can be found inAfrofuturism.
AFROFUTURISMScience fiction is a constanttheme that occurs repeatedlyin youth, urban subculture –even with limited resourcesparticipants are veryadaptive and flexible in theiruse of various sci-ficonventions. Several well-known artifacts and themesare situated in culturallyaffirmative environmentsand in hip-hop production.
IDENTITYRECONSTRUCTIONSAfrofuturism is all about theexpansion of creativity intosomething unique andunusual. Grace Jones was apioneer in the materialworld. She has done toherself what online usershave done to their avatars –deconstruct variousconventions in order toconstruct or re-constructnew identities and worlds –which can be seen incontemporary hip-hop, i.e.music videos.
QUESTIONSCan we better understandhow Black Atlantic culturalpractitioners manifestconceptual planes ofimmanence? We already seeit in art and literature. Howabout the next level oftechnological innovation?