For decades, Arthur Jafa clipped photographs from magazines, newspapers, and advertisements and organized them in notebooks, some of which served as references for his filmmaking and cinematography work. In recent years, he has migrated this practice over to his computer. APEX is a file of digital images that he has presented in different forms, including as a grid on a panel and as a fast-paced video.
At roughly eight minutes, the video packs in images that flash by to an electronic beat intercut with an arrhythmically pulsing beep. Pulled from a broad range of popular sources, among them sci-fi and horror films, these uncountable images include: Mickey Mouse; Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth; electron microscope images of insects; Black athletes, musicians, and artists; shots of an eclipse; skulls and mutilated bodies. Seen one after the next in this way, radical pairings and contrasts emerge, in which heroes and villains, past and present become enmeshed in what Jafa has termed “spooky entanglements.”
Additional text from What Is Contemporary Art? online course on Coursera, 2019
Jafa has asked, at what scale should we consider the lives of Black Americans? For over thirty years—starting while he worked as a cinematographer—Jafa has compiled notebooks with clippings from a broad array of sources. His notebooks, facsimiles of which are on view nearby, are repositories of references and ideas that serve as reminders of the depth and beauty of Black life in America. While each image is drawn from a particular context, together they convey the shared vocabularies and collaborative procedures the artist considers central to Black cultural production. In the immersive video APEX, on view through this corridor, Jafa organizes a fast-paced sequence of images. Set to a driving soundtrack of electronic club beats, APEX creates pairings and contrasts whereby heroes and villains, history and present all become enmeshed in what Jafa has termed “spooky entanglements.”
Gallery label from 2019