What links Martin Luther King, Detroit techno and Kubrick?

Exclusive: Edgar Arcenaux draws the connections in his new commission for Art Sheffield

On April 4th 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. made the last speech of his career: taking to the pulpit at New York's Riverside Church, he called for an end to military action in Vietnam. A year later, he was asssassinated; two days afterwards, Stanley Kubrick released 2001: A Space Odyssey in Washington DC.

According to Edgar Arcenaux, the two disparate events are intimately intertwined. Arcenaux's creative practice turns on the points of contact shared by seemingly unconnected events tangled; so the civil rights movement and labour rights that dominated MLK's life are inextricably associated with artificial intelligence and its capacity for violence and social advancement, as put forward by Kubrick's cinematic opus.

With a score by techno music founders Underground Resistance, Arcenaux set out to explore the links between the two, creating a video commission for Art Sheffield that was filmed in an abandoned Detroit church, one not unlike the church pulpits King made his speeches from. Dazed previews the film here and speaks to the artist about the work. 

It's not much better in America today. Well, we do have the internet and techno music

What is the idea behind the title, A Time To Break Silence

The speech seems to be speaking as much about today as it did the 1960s. For Dr. King, he felt he could not longer stay silent about the atrocities and injustice of the Vietnam War. How it was a double victimization of both the Vietnamese people and the poor of America, by its destruction of both the family and the village in America’s poor inner cities as well as in Vietnam. He understood that if America's citizens didn’t force the US government to shift its foreign policies, they would continue along this trend of advancing US corporate interests disguised in the form of the same democratic principles that had yet to be fully realized within its own borders – that black and white soldiers could fight side by side in war but not be allowed to live or dine together back home.

In my new film, A Time To Break Silence, the techno music of Underground Resistance is used as a story driver, but not just breaking the silence of the ruins of St. Agnes, but by breaking up Dr. Kings speech. Using the structure of a Catholic service, the tracks of sound break in at exactly the same points music does during a traditional Christmas mass. A great way to bring the past into the present, is by superimposed three foreign structure over one another. 

How does A Time to Break Silence link Martin Luther King’s assassination and 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Edgar Arceneaux: Stanley Kubrik, Arthur C. Clark and Dr. King were formulating their ideas about the duality of technology, which can be used as both a weapon and tool during the same time period. As the psychic trauma of Dr. King's death had the nation in a raw state of anger and uncertainty, a film chronicling the genealogy of humanity's troubled future with technology is released in theaters. The juxtaposition of the past with visions of the future offer us a chance to fantasize critically of our own present moment.

DD: You’ve worked on a book with Julian Myers about the ’67 Detroit riots, A Time to Break Silence is shot in a Detroit church, Underground Resistance is a Detroit band – why such a fascination with Detroit? 

Edgar Arceneaux: I'm from Los Angeles, a sister city of Detroit and believe the best way to understand where your from is by getting to know some place else. Traditionally, the stories we tell ourselves about Detroit are allegories for the rise and fall of the promise of American industrialization. My interests are in understanding the ‘nature’ of the stories we tell ourselves when encountering these fantastical realities and then seek the people whom in spite of harsh conditions, create works that takes us to higher plateaus of thinking. UR does this, Dr. King’s ideas and actions do this, the works of Stanley Kubrick elevate one's humanity. 

DD: On your part, how do you feel about the state of race relations in America, 47 years on from MLK’s death?

Edgar Arceneaux: It's not much better in America today. Well, we do have the internet and techno music. 

A Time to Break Silence is exhibiting at CADS until 14 December. artsheffield.org/artists/edgar-arceneaux/