What does it feel like to move through 50 years of hip-hop cultural history in less than 15 minutes? For visual artist and composer artist Timeboy, born John King, it’s a full-body experience. Through his multimedia installation and immersive group experience Inflection, audience members see, hear, and feel the passage of time crash over them in waves.
Produced in collaboration with VICE and Art Basel, Inflection will run through December 2 at our Not A Test event in Miami Beach—more info on that here! In a dark room, a barrage of light cues keeps pace with the soundtrack, a hallucinatory blend of familiar beats, protest chants, testimonials, and original music that King scored and arranged with audio contributions from Machinedrum, Lil Snake, Thys, and Deniro Farrar. Abstract visuals—created by King with assistance from Jason Ting, Simon Alexander-Adams, and Gleb Kuznetsov—project onto a large, circular screen twitching and dissolving in response to the music, A vibrating pad on the backrest of the installation’s seating revs up and winds down as the piece surges forward. Oh, and there’s a fog machine.
Inflection is divided into five pieces representing hip-hop culture’s evolution and the infinite possibilities for what comes next: Resistance, Expression, Experimentation, Exploration, and Beyond. “I wanted to start the experience off with an immersion and then dive into the different sections that examine different parts of culture—starting from the past, moving into the present, and then flying through the unknown future, with all of its endless possibilities,” King told VICE.
To learn a little more about Inflection, we spoke with King and his Inflection collaborator Emiliya Gureyeva about his inspiration, from the 1977 New York City blackout to predicting the future and drug-free psychedelic experiences.
VICE: This is such an involved, complicated piece. How long have you been working on this project?
Timeboy: At the end of August, I was touring with Hiatus Kaiyote, my friends’ band, and VICE reached out to me, just throwing me some ideas like, “Hey, we’re partnering up with Art Basel this year and we think we’d be really cool to get you involved.” Which, yeah, doing an installation at Art Basel definitely checks something off my list in life!
Can you walk us through the process of representing hip-hop culture in this abstract way?
It was really important for me to make the experience feel iconic. It took a while to figure out what that would look like, so I dabbled with a lot of trial and error. The piece has a lot of circular-type patterns, right? It’s responsive, it looks audio-reactive. That was really fun to be able to really finesse that look and have the interaction of that symbolic circle react to the music and react to different parameters.
Speaking of the music, I’d love to know how you selected the recognizable music clips—I think I heard some Wu-Tang in the “Resistance” section, right?
So, Inflection is a five-part journey, and it’s taking you through a timeline, starting in the past, examining hip-hop culture and rap culture and Black culture, and trying to understand the mechanisms through which that culture has changed over the decades.
“We are the creators of the future, and only time will define what that ends up turning into.” —Timeboy
The beginning part was the immersion. The idea was to create the sensation that you were in New York in the 1970s, like flying over. That’s how I imagined it: I started in the skyline and then swooped down to the street level. And then I was flying above the street level, and you can hear all of this commotion and action and energy people and all of these things. It was really important to capture that, especially for an intro. You really want to give people the context of what the experience is and pave the way to where you’re gonna go.
How do you think hip-hop—as a genre and as a cultural force—has been able to remain so dynamic?
It’s permeated through the mainstream world, and it’s bounced between all of these different places and people. It doesn’t just belong to one place—it’s an ideology, right? There’s an essence of hip-hop that multiple cultures can stand behind. The pressures of hip-hop seem to have arisen from moments of oppression and subjugation to the point where people needed that outburst, that release of being able to express themselves. And I think a lot of different cultures certainly relate to that feeling of needing to be a strong voice and using your voice to its full capacity.
When you were conducting research for this project, was there anything in hip-hop’s history that surprised you?
When I first started the project, I started watching this documentary on Netflix called The Evolution of Hip-Hop. It was a nine-part series and they dove into things that I didn’t immediately know, which was amazing. Something specifically that was really surprising was the impact of the 1977 NYC blackouts. These people couldn’t afford all this expensive hardware, recording equipment and drum machines, but they’re opportunists. So they used that opportunity to collect that gear, and then they had the hustle that propelled them to create things that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. And it transformed the game when they were able to, you know, fuck with all of that incredible gear and hardware. The echoes of that blackout cascaded through time and really changed its trajectory and created the timeline of where hip-hop is now. And if there wasn’t that blackout, I don’t think we would be in the same story right now.
What do you hope audience members take away from Inflection?
I’m really intrigued with psychedelic culture. The whole idea of altered states of perception is a really fascinating place. One of the things with [Flying Lotus’s] shows is that at the end of the show, people come up to me because I’m always there doing visuals, and they’re like, “Duuuude, oh my God, I’m on mushrooms!” But if people can get there totally sober—to offer that type of hyperstimulation where someone feels like they literally have ascended into a different realm, and then they’re just sitting with it? That’s when I did my job.
When I started the project, there was an interesting back and forth with VICE because they really wanted me to be creative and think of a possible future that I could examine. But to me, I literally can’t, because I see a million doorways open when I think about the future. I see all of these endless possibilities depending on all of these different things that can happen. That’s what I wanted to illustrate with the experience—especially at the end when we leave the present and we go into the future.
That was the biggest takeaway: not to tell people what a specific version of the future will be. Rather, it would be to inform them that the future is based on all of us. It’s based on you, me, everyone in the audience. We are the creators of the future, and only time will define what that ends up turning into. I want to give people that feeling of mindfulness by embracing the perspective of infinity. I think we nailed that.
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