2016: Issue 4: Creep: Salote Tawale

Creep. 2014. Salote Tawale. Photo by Dan McCabe.

Creep. 2014. Salote Tawale. Photo by Dan McCabe.

For a comprehensive overview of Success’ latest show, it is highly recommended to read Francis Russell and Gemma Weston’s essays on the show.

Success’s ominous air, alluded to in Weston’s essay, is one of the reasons this work operates so well here. The sound, a repeat of the refrain of Radiohead’s Creep (‘you’re so special, you’re so very special, but I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, tell me what am I doing here, I don’t belong here’) fills the entrance by the freight elevator and the vastness of the main space. The source is revealed only when we enter through a dark doorway, inconspicuous and barely lit, and see an enormous face loom at us from the projection at the wall, a video filmed on a smartphone, or a laptop, or something similar, with a light that illuminates only the face (that appears to come from the recording screen, but this is perhaps an assumption without basis), and leaves the background obscured.

The work is one of the most effective engagements with the strange ambience of Success’ peculiar appearance. It hides itself in the vast interior of the space, and yet it allows us to experience it throughout the space. It forces us into intimacy when we finally encounter the work, and the scale, always a problem when one has such a broad expanse as Success’ main space, finally seems massive. The oppressive air of Success is, in this moment, most appropriate.

Oddly, the work reads almost like an affirmation of common sentiment of one of Radiohead’s biggest hits. Radiohead themselves notably came to hate the song, as it was so popular. They apparently renamed it ‘crap’ amongst themselves. Tawale has used pop music before, and from similar common-language sources (does he really love me? Featuring an unaccompanied vocal cover of Whitney Houston’s I wanna dance with somebody). Similarly Creep is performed in unaccompanied vocal. It is yet difficult to judge the relationship between the original song and its re-production in both cases. They each seem like odd homages in their re-performance; the videos and installation that accompany them are the elements that proffer alternate interpretation. In both cases, they are hidden – I wanna dance with somebody is hidden in a trash can, inside a cardboard room filled with indoor plants, while Creep is hidden in a side space, with its sound echoing through the rest of the vast interior. This hiding, and the intimacy it eventually forces, develops a relationship between the extremely public nature of popular music, and the strangely intimate possibilities of someone re-performing the polished results of studio engineering.

In this show about identity, there is also an undeniable identity-based reading of the work. I yet hesitate to read too much into the appropriation of Radiohead (white, male, British) into Tawale’s diasporic, queer context. It is strangely not the primary reading the work seems to invite. Despite the use of the first person and the constant refrain of self-diminishment that invites an identity-politics like reading, the relationship it appears to zoom in on is that of the audience and performer, and the strange alienation and power relationships of each to the other. There is something both attractive and threatening about the face looming out of the wall at us. It is so much bigger than us, and appears sheltering, protective and aggressive all at once, and in such a small space it bursts out of the frame and out of focus, and ruptures the divides of any controlled framing. There is still something about identity in this relationship of the audience to the performer though. It is not a straightforward relationship, and this is why I hesitate, yet there is uncertainty as to who is empowered and who is controlled. The work is vast, omnipresent in the space, and it overwhelms us. Yet it is Tawale who is singing about not belonging, about being a ‘creep’, who seems to be at the mercy of us telling them what they’re doing.

Perhaps, much like Radiohead became frustrated with their song, this re-performance is Tawale’s annoyance at being reminded of her supposed ‘weirdo’ identity, and the repetition of this constant differentiation becoming something grating, overwhelming and exhausting – especially in its internalisation, an internalisation that, as Weston points out, seems to be repeated on the gallery goer. The repetitive and endless nature of the work seems to reciprocate with this reading. There is something addictive, but also tiring about the song’s refrain being performed again and again and then put on repeat, often with particular words selected to be sung over, as if a record is skipping. Perhaps the most important elements of the work is finally our uncertain position in relationship to it. It permeates the space, and worms its way into our ears, and is simultaneously comforting and frightening.

words by Graham Mathwin.