Ada M. Patterson: Looking for "Looking for Langston"
Ada M. Patterson’s Looking for “Looking for Langston” considers the affinities between truth and the imaginary, envisioning the gaps in knowledge and understanding—and the fantasies that arise to fill these gaps—when faced with the yearning to experience something that is just beyond reach. The video calls to Looking for Langston (1989), by artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien, an impressionistic documentary on the life of poet Langston Hughes and the social circumstances of the Harlem Renaissance during which he worked. Having read extensively about this film but lacking the access to watch it in full, Patterson responds with a film of their own—seeded by references, found across Hughes’s writings, to sailors, queerness, and the sea—that reflects an attachment to this work and its contexts despite experiencing it only second-hand.
Set in a surreal, atemporal reality, Looking for “Looking for Langston” follows two characters, a sailor and a sea captain, stranded on a beach and gazing longingly at the horizon offshore; the horizon set before them, and its unfixed nature in separating sea from sky, is representative of an unreachable destination and of things outside of one’s grasp. The scenes in this video follow lines collected from Hughes’s poetry: “…sailors with large noses binocular the Atlantic,” from the poem Seashore Through Dark Glasses (1947), forms the basis for one of the characters, his appearance, and the way in which he relates to his seaside environment. Shot predominantly in Barbados, the work digresses across themes of illusion, the speculated subjects of Julien’s film, and histories of colonialism that have unfolded in the Caribbean. The sailor character in Patterson’s video performs a militaristic choreography distinctive of The Barbados Landship, a cultural movement of parades and performances that mimic the British Navy’s costuming and drills. Threading the work’s tropical setting with its broad exploration of conjecture, Looking for “Looking for Langston” is as well a commentary on the touristic fantasies imposed on parts of the Caribbean, sustaining an image of them as paradises while ignoring the unmarketable and uncomfortable histories that have unfolded across these islands.
Ada M. Patterson (Bridgetown, 1994) is a visual artist, writer and educator based between Barbados, London and Rotterdam. Working with masquerade, textiles, performance, video and poetry, she tells stories and imagines elegies for ungrievable bodies and moments. Patterson is the 2020 NLS Kingston Curatorial & Art Writing Fellow. They have exhibited with LADA, London; Barbados Museum & Historical Society, Bridgetown; TENT, Rotterdam; Ateliers ’89, Oranjestad; Alice Yard, Port-of-Spain. Her writing has featured in ARC Magazine, Sugarcane Magazine, PREE, Mister Motley and Metropolis M.
Ada M. Patterson