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ADS2: Demonic Shores – Imaginaries of Indeterminacy in the Age of Logistics

Ayanna Adannay Blair-Ford

Ayanna is a budding architect and production designer, with a passion for narrative-led design. Ayanna received her BA (Hons) in Architecture from Oxford Brookes University in 2017, where she is now an Associate Lecturer. Upon graduation, Ayanna worked at Hawkins\Brown Architects as an Architectural Assistant and then went on to work at 59 Productions as an Architectural Assistant and Junior spatial designer. Her experiences as 59 Productions reinforced her interest in narrative-led design, performance, and experiential design and led her to study at the RCA. Displaying an innovative and forward-thinking approach to the role of the architect, Ayanna was awarded the RIBA Wren Insurance Association Scholarship this academic year. 

At the RCA Ayanna's research stems from an interest in identity, perception, and spatiality. Last year, Ayanna's project explored cultural erasure and digital colonialism, in a speculative future of Jamaica. This year, the themes of identity and space persist as Ayanna researches the possibilities of theatre and performance when considering the narrative of African and Caribbean diasporas.

In 2019 Ayanna was part of the winning design team for the ‘Mile18 Marker’ competition for the London Marathon, in association with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and Virgin Money. Over the last year, Ayanna has also been working as an Assistant Art Director in Film, TV and music videos, assisting production designer Chris Melgram.

Blackness is staged. In life. In stories. On stage. Representing an idea of blackness, not always created by the subject, but imposed upon them. In the UK there has been a significant rise of ‘Black British plays’ exploring ideas of diaspora, colonialism, identity, and blackness. However, it can be argued that the way in which we create, develop, and consume performance in the UK is inherently Eurocentric. What if these stories were told and performed in ways that resonated more closely with African and Caribbean culture?

Black On Stage is the development of a new performance method, cartographic of the Caribbean diaspora. It aims firstly to un-condition, then to re-condition, the viewer and their consumption of Black narratives. Black on Stage defines a blueprint for staging a world with Black voices and identities at its forefront. This performance method constructs a new scaffold - built not on the stereotypes born of slavery but the resistance of the people, the things that survived. The final output of this project is a short film of the same title, putting into action this new performance method.

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— BLACK ON STAGE CAST AND CREW: AYANNA BLAIR-FORD - FREYJA PAKARINEN - FOLA ABATAN - RACHEL EVANS JOEL DBW ROSENBERG - GEORGIA JOHNSON - LEVITICUS HINDS - BUKELWA KUNENE - CRAIG BYNOE - DURASSIE KIANGANGU - HOLLY DAWSON
Director Behind the Scenes

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— The Stage - The Actor - You : This introduction film explores key themes and starting points of my work and research.
Still 01
Still 02
Still 03
Still 04
The Stage - The Actor - You - Network Diagram
Fuck A Stage
Uncondition / Recondition Research
Genealogy of the Stage
— My trans-epistemic cosmogram explores the genealogy of black on stage. It presents the slave ship, the plantation, the auction block, the camera and black skin itself as platforms on which that black people have been forced to perform. The overlaid camera plans represent how events have created the present-day image of blackness on screen. The playback screen merges into the surveillance room, alluding to the fact that to be on stage and to be on camera is to be continuously watched and analysed.
Black skin and Wood
— Throughout my research, I noticed a relationship between black skin and wood. From the slave ship to the auction block, wood staged a constructed the image of black people. Looking at five ‘stages’ and their related materials, the relationship between wood and black skin becomes increasingly significant.

The aim of this project is to challenge the way in which we consume and understand the presentation of blackness on stage and screen. To recognise that fact that the images of blackness we receive are constructed narratives born in part out of the violence of the slave trade. 

In order to recondition the viewer and the way they view blackness, we have to look at blackness from another perspective. This is where the cartographic communication methods inform the performance method. The performance method I have developed centers around what I call ' THE THINGS THAT SURVIVED' .

Performance Method
— Method Diagram: Diagram outlining the 6 key elements of the performance method.
— Soon Come - Sound Piece: Testing the method through restaging. Re-enacting, re creating a narrative from the poem It Soon Come. Through testing this poem I begin to solidify the audio elements of the performative method. Imagine you’re walking down the street of brixton. A riot is coming. The smoke from Grenfell lingers. And the people are talking…
— Traces - Body - Camera: Inspired by the choreographic drawings of William Forsythe - The anticlockwise camera moves, integration of the camera as character, and staging of bodies in space combine to create this plan of movement.

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— A scene by scene breakdown of some of the most important elements of the performance method.
White Person Enters — When discussing logistics and racial positioning Stefano Harney said ‘All a white person has to do is walk into a room to fuck things up’. The camera is positioned on the periphery of the conversation, making the viewer feel like an intruder. The way that Aaron and Bianca code switch further exemplifies the living reality of being black on stage and in life. Most importantly for the only time in the film we see an actor - Jerome walk against the bakongo cosmogram, in a clockwise motion away from the camera
White Person Enters: Scene Stills
The Auction Block — As shown in this drawing, this scene and the traces movements, encompases the many aspects of Black on stage’s genealogy. The stages we were put on willingly and unwillingly, the stages that began centuries of generational trauma and the western theatrical stage, which the trace positions reference.
The Auction Block: Scene Stills
Pass the Parcel — The movement, structure and spatial intervention of this scene is all about power and subjectivity. As the actors mimic the voices of the acting world, they take the camera themselves - taking control of the narrative and the way in which their bodies are relayed to the audience. This also makes the viewer feel out of control of what they’re seeing and how they’re consuming it.
Pass the Parcel: Scene Stills