Fleshbacks. Notes on Research, Blackness, Empaths, and the Destruction of the World As We Know It.
The encounter with a past that refuses to be past stands at the center of Fleshbacks. Notes on Blackness, Research, Empaths, and the Destruction of the World As We Know It. Conceived as creative non-fiction in three parts and building on artworks, theories, and methodologies from the field of African Futurisms, performance (studies), queer-feminist theory, Afropessimism, Afrofuturism, Black Aesthetics, Jazz, and African cosmologies, the projects offers a space for multiple researchers/ personas to arise and lead through the narrative.
The project takes as a starting point two historical constellations – the research of Austrian-Czech ethnographer, missionary, educator, and writer Paul Schebesta (1887-1967) in what was then the Belgian Congo and the exhibition of a group of West-African performers that was part of an event termed “human zoo” in the Viennese Prater (1896/97). Building on the discourse of antiblackness as the totality of the climate (Sharpe 2016), while analyzing the development of two artistic projects – Unearthing. In Conversation (2016|2017) and Voids (2017-2021), Fleshbacks & H(a)untings turns against the all-too-easy-made conclusion of “no colonies = no colonialism = no coloniality.” In contrast, it argues that the presence-histories of colonialism and enslavement, as well as Austria’s partaking in and benefitting from them, are framed in terms of general innocence (Gloria Wekker 2016). Therefore, the terror and violence of these historic subjections (Saidiya Hartman 2007) enter the stages of the everyday mostly in the form of ghosts, which, in turn, serve as fertile soil for what Avery Gordon (2008) frames as hauntings and ghostly matter. Leaving behind the shadow of the ethnographer by renegotiating Blackness and the concept of the non-human, Hortense Spillers’ differentiation between body and flesh (1987) provides an important foundation from which to think the haunting as Heim-Suchung (Ger.) as in searching for home (Nicola Lauré al Samarai 2016). The encounter with a past that is not past is concludingly theorized as fleshback; as a remainder and always potential reminder of the violent separation between Black body and flesh.