Kodwo Eshun on abstraction

Found a PDF of Christopher Cox's 2014 interview with writer Kodwo Eshun, making a case for a hermetic practice, despite the current art world's hatred of abstraction lacking in obvious identity signifiers. Excerpts are below.

Christopher Cox: Yet you clearly don’t aim to wrap it all up neatly. As you mentioned earlier, there’s a hermetic -- even mystical -- tendency in your work that resists decoding and competes with the hermeneutic tendency to fully understand or “unzip.”

Kodwo Eshun: Yeah, the sense of initiation, the sense that the work is initiating you into an enigma so that you become something like a disciple. So, there is something occult.

CC: Not just a reader or interpreter, but a disciple?

KE: Yes. You become part of it, which implies that you’re won over by it and that you too will go out and somehow proselytize on behalf of the work and carry it with you so that you’re now a kind of card-carrying disciple of this enigmatic experience that you’ve had. You haven’t decoded it. You’ve accepted that you can’t decode it and you’ve enjoyed that process will take it with you. This initiation is something I really enjoy. Certain kinds of audiovisual experiences are really good at doing that. Certain kinds of films have this capacity to turn you into disciples of them; and this is also the strongest feeling of Drexciyan music itself. So, there’s a kind of affirmative dimension to mystification. “Mystification” sounds obfuscatory, like you’re mystifying for the sake of it. But I’m interested in “mystification” in the sense of what Marshall McLuhan calls“participation mystique.” [The phrase is originally from Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (1910), trans. Lilian A. Clare (London: Allen & Unwin, 1926).] If an artistic experience is really working, it’s working through this level of you finding yourself participating in a mystery without quite realizing how you got there. The music I love has that dimension.

CC: It has to solicit you, in a way.

And more:

Kodwo Eshun: There’s a curator in the States, Valerie Cassel Oliver, who’s been excavating African-American abstraction. It’s not that it was buried, but for different reasons, certain abstractionists perennially complicate an easy read. Whether it’s Norman Lewis or Fred Eversley, these figures are not racially readable. That’s all it takes. As soon as the work throws up a dimension of optical fugitivity, in other words, as soon as the work cannot immediately be read as belonging to what people recognize is African-American legibility, then suddenly it disappears, whereas actually it is exactly that work that is most compelling precisely because it blocks legibility so you can’t easily read it in terms of the identity of the person who is making it. You have to do more work. You have to think of all the other things that the work might be about, as well as the identity of the artist. So, with people like Charles Gaines, the African-American Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson, all these artists, the complexity of their work is not an easy read. So, they tend not to be named when we talk about Afrofuturism. But actually, if they’re not Afrofuturists, I don’t know who is.