N-Prolenta’s new work explores black identity and climate change

After a week-long, live-streamed isolation period, the multimedia artist will premiere Banana Island: Hublots at the New Museum.

N-Prolenta’s new work explores black identity and climate change N-Prolenta   Photo by N-Prolenta

Last Tuesday morning at 9.30 a.m., the stock markets opened up, and artist and producer N-Prolenta closed themselves off. For the past six days, the Fayetteville-based multimedia artist holed themselves up in a secret location to compose a mixtape, Hublots, as part of a live-streamed performance piece entitled Banana Island: Hublots. Their only interaction with the outside world was through the livestream: viewers could witness their composition process and donate money via PayPal to provide N-Prolenta with items such as food (bananas), water, or gifts.

I took a trip to Banana Island last week where I was greeted with a white, illuminated backdrop, a desk housing a few plants, a computer, recording equipment, and a blanket-clad N-Prolenta, pacing in and out of frame, enjoying a banana. They approached the mic to ooze low, escalating growls and repetitious exclamations like “My eyes are...BIGGER THAN MY STOMACH” or the gradually hypnotic “Here we go dowwwnnn…” Wherever down was, I suddenly felt like I was going there with them.

They performed these vocalizations while an extraterrestrial hum mysteriously seeped in and out of the background. They also incorporated unconventional sonic sources: they crumbled plastic wrappers or shook plants into the mic, after which they took another bite of banana, exaggerating the smacking noises as they chewed. When I checked in on the livestream again the next day, N-Prolenta had disappeared from view, leaving only a side-tab of a Fenty Beauty YouTube review playing on loop on their laptop.

N-Prolenta’s new work explores black identity and climate change Screenshot of N-Prolenta during their livestream for Banana Island: Hublots   Photo by N-Prolenta

"In Banana Island, I challenge notions of Blackness positing it as 'the unknown,' and therefore as 'territory to be excavated, surveilled, and dissected' beneath the penetration of light," explained N-Prolenta over email. "Incidentally, I spend lots of time out of the camera's frame or with muted or distant sound. I have interviews with other black artists in which their voices are muted or their faces obscured. This is a refusal."

"I also simulate what feels like the most imminent and presently encroaching future condition for the Black subject: precarity," they continued. "In a pressurized world where sea levels have risen, access to water and food are insecure, populations are far more dense, economic agents are increasingly single-actors, and power is garnered through the fidelity of the image, the Black subject maintains its position as fulcrum for those pressures, and experiences its brunt. With Banana Island, I produce a situation where my resources are scarce and the pressure to tap dance for the camera and to create channels for economic exchange, or suffer, is at a high. It's like if the Hunger Games were a crisis aid hotline."

Rhizome curator Aria Dean commissioned N-Prolenta's work as part of an online exhibit called First Look: New Black Portraitures. She explained the inspiration behind the exhibition in a phone interview last week. “The idea came out of some work I’d been doing prior," she said. "I was writing about blackness, and I’ve also just been in a lot of conversations with artists in which there’s the question of portraiture and how it’s always at play with blackness and how to represent black life.”

“Working with [N-Prolenta] has been fantastic,” Dean continued. “I think it’s groundbreaking, the way in which they are expressing how finance mediates our existence. They’re so rigorous in the way they work. I love someone who is so dedicated to their vision, and they have a wonderful way of infusing intentionality and flexibility.”

On Wednesday 25 October, N-Prolenta will release themselves from isolation to perform their composition process during a live performance at the New Museum theater. 60% of proceeds from N-Prolenta’s livestream will be directed towards hurricane relief for those affected in St. Maarten, South Florida, Puerto Rico, and Haiti, as well as victims of the 2017 Sierra Leone Mudslide.

October 24, 2017
N-Prolenta’s new work explores black identity and climate change