Essay | Emo de Medeiros: Transpositions by Osei Bonsu
Emo de Medeiros has become known for his innovative approach to the languages of craft, design and digital technology through a wide variety of forms. Living between Cotonou (Benin) and Paris, the artist employs notions of place and identity to question their context within our increasingly globalized culture. Embracing the crafts and cultural traditions of his native country, Medeiros's practice spans video, sculpture and found materials, experimenting with everything from traditional Beninese textiles and ritual traditions to electronic music and digital technologies. Passing through these specific histories, languages, symbols and geographic regions, the remaining objects are loaded with a unique capacity to interrupt received ideas and stable categories.
While keywords such as globalization, digitization and hybridization have become synonymous with the very definition of contemporary production, they have rarely been applicable to the act of making art. More often than not, they are the processes by which artworks are disseminated, mediatised and communicated. Recently, artists have endeavoured to draw these activities closer together, by exploiting new technologies or inventing new uses for old ones. This act of cultural transmission is not bound by traditional geographies, hierarchies or hegemonies because it is only activated by the intended audience, creating a space of virtual reality where culture is simply another currency. While identity is still the main context through which the raw subjectivity of human experience is understood, this culture of the virtual has brought forward a platform for the third person or a re-imagined self.
Emo de Medeiros understands this space well, his aim is not simply to make art for the sake of its display or reception. Instead, the artist seeks to transmit information and meaning through visual structures or 'contextures'. While his practice is positioned in dialogue with the existing forms of trans-cultural or pan-African aesthetics, his work is marked by a unique ability to interweave visual textures and information. Operating at the intersection of social practice, live performance and new media, works such as Kaleta/ Kaleta (performed at Palais de Tokyo in 2014) mix ideas of masquerade from Beninese dance traditions and psychoanalytic theory. The question is not whether the outcome of these experiments is productive or generative, but whether a motion of transgression or transformation has occurred. For Medeiros, the alchemy of this unique condition is central to the question of contemporary production itself; a perpetual dialogue between disparate symbols, images and objects of global culture often far removed from their original contexts.
In Transpositions, the breadth of the artists practice has taken a variety of shapes, a series of fragments from a non-linear narrative. In one work, a constellation signs appear across a series of wall hangings based on the traditional Abomey appliqué (Surtentures, 2015), displaying a double-edged playful humour. In a more recent series titled Electrofetishes (2015), Medeiros alludes to the complexity of reading the post-colonial artefact when confronted with the disposability of today's material cultures. While the dual realities within which these objects exist are often constitutive parts of the artist's cross-continental existence, they also contain their own juxtapositions and ironies. Encountering Medeiros's imagined world, with all its traditions, fictions, masquerades and icons, other sources of knowledge allow us to form our own conception of each transformative object.