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Miles Greenberg’s Alphaville Noir
Photography Clement Vayssieres

The afro-futurist performance artist who uses algorithms to bend time

A mentee of Marina Abramović, Miles Greenberg speaks on his far-reaching influences and how his experimental performances hope to alter our perceptions of reality

Time is money, and space is divided. Yet, imagine being able to put your hand on those of a clock, and move them in whatever direction and whatever way you want – to expand yourself beyond the mere physical.

Creating new states of feeling is what makes performance artist Miles Greenberg tick. “I'm just trying to slow everything down to a fraction of the speed,” he beams. At the ripe age of 21, Greenberg is currently the Palais de Tokyo’s artist in residence and has directed four long-durational performative events that will take place throughout March. Titled Alphaville Noir, it’s a play on Goddard's futuristic flick Alphaville (1965) and takes place over the evenly divided timespan of a single 12 hour night, with chapters named ‘Dusk’, ‘Nightfall’, ‘Midnight’ and ‘Dawn’. The structure of the space will loosely resemble a clock, with Greenberg stretching the three-hour-long moments of each stage of the night into a whole evening of performance. The performances will start before the doors open, and continue, linger, after the doors swing closed behind the last viewer. Like a reader slipping into Murakami's After Dark, it’s an atmosphere of continually shuffling realities. The emphasis being the “big relationship to time, temporality, and time relativity”.

“I'm just trying to slow everything down to a fraction of the speed” – Miles Greenberg

At the age of 13, Miles had a transformative experience during Marina Abramović’s iconic The Artist is Present, which inspired him to dedicate his life to performance art, and create “work like Marina’s, that puts you in these different states”. Later on, he completed a five-day intimate residency with the mother of performance art in Greece and now counts Abramović as a key mentor in his creative practice. Alphaville Noir is the live debut of Greenberg’s own performance method, self-titled Opera Didactica. It is the result of an eclectic two-year-long independent research project on movement theory that took place between France, USA, China and Hati. Relating to the worldwide afro-diasporic culture, the method draws heavily on black forms of movement (Haitian voodoo ritual, deep bass) and the Japanese dance form of Butoh. The method involves using an accessible set of algorithms that lean into afro-futurism, operating from a place of acknowledging that racial barriers are inherent and systematic, but to create a space for black people despite that. As the performances progress, the algorithms create different movement cues, that Greenberg, in turn, will direct to the show's performers from within the performance itself, and remains prior thereto undetermined. The sensation is one of ad infinitum. An approach akin to Jimi Hendrix who also used innovative tech (the reverb) to collapse the boundaries between self, sound, and environment. As a black queer person, Greenberg sees working with algorithms and improvisation as a “vital exercise in seizing the reigns of temporality”.

Since colonialism, Time and its side car sleep deprivation have been a punishment driving the repression of black people. Rest remains a privilege that, as recent studies show, is racially distributed and people of colour sleep far less than white people. Toying with “black idleness”, the artists Niv Acosta and Fannie Sosa’s Black power naps, a big inspiration for Alphaville Noir, sought to reclaim black rest.

In Alphaville Noir, this social disparity is dovetailed with hindering the full potential of black creativity. Economically, institutionally and socially, black cultural production is not on the same considered timetable as white creativity. Greenberg’s approach is of fostering a hypnotic state in his all-black group of performers. “I'm really interested in how it (hypnotic states) alter the senses of time in your mind. For me, as a black person, as a queer person, I believe it’s a way of reclaiming power.” The performers will be partially blinded by white contact lenses with their movements directed by Greenberg in-situ.

“If I tell you to take 20 paces, raise your arm, scream, then take a breath, and it takes you a whole hour to take just one step in that sequence, and that’s all you get done, as a director, I'm thrilled,” Greenberg remarks. “I want people to feel that they are infinite, and it’s a really big part of my form in going beyond the confines of temporality.” For the performers which include members from the legendary Voguing collective House of Ninja, it’s a transformative opportunity to explore an enhanced state of being, and, as black artists, sit with and expand their own creative practices. “I’m looking for all the micro movements, tremors, cracked smiles, laughter, to shine through the framework. For me, the expression of the individual’s place in that matrix is what makes the work.” In stripping down the timelines of performance and space, Greenberg is destabilising the linear concept of time, by creating non-linear sequences based on feeling.

Viewers will encounter drone-like music and the unhurried, sculptural presence of milky-eyed performers. There is a black slick shiny surface, and an installation of mirrored cubes, exploding with wild, sub-Saharan floral arrangements, steaming at all times with billowing plumes of incense which vary from frankincense to benzoin and copal resin. Reflecting back the white gazes, twisting the space, touching, and vibrating the architecture around it – a vision of distortion. The effect is not one of confrontation – “people like to preserve their feelings to a certain degree” – but one of unobtrusively infiltrating their psyche and creating a feeling of suspension. This hyperreal atmosphere is a metaphor for how Greenberg views the black experience. “(The reality of blackness) is physical before anything. It is corporeal. There is an atmosphere around you when you suddenly become hyperaware of moments and inches of your body.” Like when a black man (maybe cold, hood up, gasp!) is in the street, it instantly evokes violence. It is something that all black bodies inherently carry, but seldom given a neutral connotation. The performers are not looking at you as a racist, they have been momentarily freed from their racialised state. The only gaze is one of you, refracting around the room. 

This is an invitation for a collective meditation on what it means to be in a hypersensitive state of corporeal nuance. One that, as black people, Greenberg remarks, “We have to live in, but on a very particular frequency every day.”

Part of the La Manutention artist in residence programme, Alphaville Noir will take place consecutively on every Thursday evening from the 7 March – 21 March 2019 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris

Photography courtesy of Clement Vayssieres and performance and BTS by Gianluca Matarrese