‘My I must know my me’: in conversation with Nástio Mosquito
Angolan-born artist Nástio Mosquito’s work is prophetic, cacophonous, and a bit slimy. His work is actively engaged in defacing existing linguistic taxonomies, bypassing the art-world tendency towards opaqueness. The artist’s multimedia works—which span video, sound, sculpture, architectural intervention, and even several collaborative forays—inculcate a viewer into his personal genome. Underpinning his vast output is an investment in the emancipatory potential of correspondence, as well as the ways it can be wielded to elicit the entire arc of a provocation: shock, surprise, awe, acquiescence, nostalgia. He discusses fatherlessness, selfhood, journalistic integrity, fucking, and Western legacies of colonization in the same breath.
I spoke with Mosquito about caricature, intimacy in a pandemic, and haunting ecosystems, among other things. He shared YouTube links—extraordinarily generous recommendations in the midst of global crisis!—and we touched on his new collaborative project, a series of experimental podcasts made under the moniker THEY THE THEM ARE WE. Made in collaboration with Baruch Ben-sira, Eva Gonçalves, André Pinheiro, Massalo, Indira Mateta, Godelieve Mosquito, Pedro Rainha, and Diogo Vasconcelos, the series provides a soft entrée into his oeuvre (which, I should add, is notably not eccentric for eccentricity’s sake.) The podcasts are separated into four series: Speak Like You Talk, I’s Eye, Shape of a Voice, and the Portuguese-language Trabalho de Preto. Each begins with the same familiar jingle, but quickly morphs into something altogether strange. Take a listen:
Before process, before productivity, before consequence, there is you… before community, before responsibility, before the right thing to do, there is the gut. Welcome to I’s Eye, a podcast in favour of vision and capacity… My name is Nástio, and this is a THEY THE THEM ARE WE recipe.
Admixed into one “act”, we hear his pantomimic vocal range. LET LIGHT BURN, for example, begins with a two-channel instructional by a Mosquito alter-ego and is followed by birds chirping and Care Bear cartoon pleasantries. The strange intimacy of radio, where you are a voice-only, a voice with or without a body, is what enables the work. Nástio Mosquito can make you believe anything if you just listen.
I want to start with your past as a broadcast television employee and the influence that has on your work. What do you make of the tropes of public broadcasting or journalism generally, and does your past as a public servant hold sway over your work?
What I find curious, and worth expressing, is the pornographic affair journalism has with storytelling as we stand at the beginning of the 21st century. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize propaganda is its own kind of storytelling—or fiction—if you will. But what I witness is a bulimic distinction between fictional departments, entertainment departments and news departments. Surely my statement comes with the kind of exaggeration that fucked Icarus up-the-ear…
I understand there are various kinds of public service. I identify deeply with a service that is fundamental and not circumstantial. Not because circumstance does not matter to me—in fact the ephemeral is crucial to me—just because my competency thrives when I am considering fundamental perspectives of my living. At least, that is what I tell myself about myself. This is to say that I’m never responding to a need as a departure point. I’ve been graced with an experience where whatever I’m responding to often aligns with specific needs, in particular, ecosystems. Instinctively, I would have answered your question with a word: commitment.
Which is the ecosystem that currently haunts you?
None if I’m honest… Maybe my own body?!? Does that count? I’m trying to respect myself as well as I commit to treating others with respect. It’s hard to respect myself—harder than I thought. Becoming aware of what my body needs physiologically as well as neurologically, and to be disciplined about it, has provoked a great deal of conflict with people, habits, and structures that I did not anticipate.
I have a sense that I’ve made all the contributions I could, as far as sharing the unique testimony of my being. Now it’s about the quality of my presence in any given ecosystem. I’ve lost the license to judge people and their environments—that’s a young being’s game! There’s an energy that only judgement can fuel, that young energy that provokes movement. If I find myself haunted by anything nowadays I have the sense that I have the wrong perspective of the circumstance, which happens from time to time. Something within me keeps insisting on committing to emotional clarity.
That’s really beautifully put. I’ve been thinking about this more myself, particularly in the context of a global pandemic (the perennial elephant in the room). Now everything is infused with a sense of civil duty or prosaic intimacy where before disclosure was relegated to the realm of vulnerability, especially when it comes to matters of the (abstract) body. Forgive me if this is too obvious a question, but how has your thinking around your practice been changed by this year’s events?
Not at all, no problem. It’s a necessary question. My thinking has not changed at all, but the way I communicate has become less exuberant, I guess. It’s a matter of self, and witnessed, capacity.
I read a cynical comment that expressed the different challenges believers and non-believers in a god figure were facing during these times—the cynicism, or intended humor, came from the fact that only the people “of reason” would be aware of the realities these pandemic times confront all of us with.
I’m a man of deep faith, and I’m not talking about God right now. I’m talking about faith, belief, conviction.This human thing that birthed myths, fictions, and penal codes. It has become extremely clear to me that when I confront my faith with the contradictions of the materialization-of-vision, what I have is the opportunity to collect is the recognition of the variation of human I am, and with that, the consideration of blood, incarceration, suicide, murder, accident. I was confronted with all of that in a very tangible way from the inside of “my house.”
The vibes of these songs were important for me during this period:
Can you speak more about this contradictory “materialization-of-vision”?
Contradictions of the materialization-of-vision… the best way I can express what I mean is by imagining the distance between Roemer’s consideration/observation—and consequent process of proof via the moons of Jupiter or something of the sort—of light’s finite speed and MIT’s research team’s success in actually providing us with discerning visuals of that same electromagnetic phenomenon… something like 335 years between each “declaration”… Know what I mean?
I do not know what faith is, just like for many years we had no idea what light was, but we could not deny it’s presence and that engaging with it was the most singular crucial factor to a new understanding of the natural world.
Vision is made out of discovered and invented matter (maybe… ), this is the space where exploration may be consequent if one, like most scientists, embraces and celebrates doubt as a disciplined curiosity and an obsession with the next step. It’s not about being right. It’s about the beat, the pulse, the vibe—and yes, rent too. All this seems to be an intense management of contradictions that one must recognise the value of.
Transitioning into your broader work—out of, or with the aforementioned ecosystem!—I wanted to ask: I have been seeing your work, and performative practice in particular, described as a form of mimicry, as a demo (for democracy), as caricature—in other words, as a performance of alter ego. What do you make of these characterizations, which remove your identity from the characters on display? I imagine it’s more complicated than you playing yourself or others.
What would you say?
Hmm. I’d say it is complicated. I don’t believe the integrity of the work rests on its triangulation of identity, subjectivity, and characterization (alter ego). I think the leakage, the mutability of these forms, is precisely what contributes to our collective intrigue. In general I think the emphasis on “alter ego vs. self” is sort of besides the point, since eccentricity is present in you regardless, and is therefore always available for consumption. But this is perhaps a very un-contemporary-status-quo view of me to hold.
I like how you look at it.
You’ve previously described your work as an expression of one of three archetypes: preacher, joker, and public speaker. Could you describe the particularities of each form of ventriloquism?
I’ve organized and presented the neatest narrative I could state as a frame, with the help of the archetypes you mention, so that such descriptions could belong to each of us encountering the work. I will say that creating those kinds of distances between what I do and the tools I use to activate what I do, has given me a greater capacity not to confuse “myself” with “I”, nor confuse the “I” with the “We”. Creating a clear construct made it easier to identify and navigate collective and emotional constructs around me
Speaking of “we,”you recently released a series of podcasts as part of THEY THE THEM ARE WE, which explores the limits of audio-as-experience. The re-contextualized sound vignettes function more as sonic dreamscapes than they do as information-bearing, serial podcasts. Can you talk about the ethos of this project?
To establish an emotional state of possibility. Allow me:
My grandmother does not know the word ethos.
I googled the word ethos,
just to be sure I would have a concise answer for you. An answer that could make sense no matter how you looked at it.
Did I achieve that? Maybe…
THEY THE THEM ARE WE is trying to articulate an emotional landscape of considerations. Trying is uncomfortable…
It is in this trying to articulate with words, concepts, images, narratives and motivations that the tangibility of the ethos of this project and my grandmother’s one tooth grin in the face of a fried egg, meet up.
I’m interested in that,
This translates to the project through a collection of opportunity clinching moments gathered together and distributed in various social media platforms. Collaborations with people I’ve worked with, some in the past and some specifically to help give shape to the first step of THEY THE THEM ARE WE. I say first step because it’s all very new to me… allowing the project to evolve at a slower pace feels new and necessary. It’s a project that can only materialize itself if the relationships between those involved meet with some kind of intention. I was not able to pay all who were involved in this first season of content. This is far from ideal, and it is at the same time revealing of the character of the desire and commitment behind our gestures.
There’s nothing unique about the project.
All people involved in the project are unique; and this is not a deep statement…
We are trying to give tangibility to that gap.
Trying is uncomfortable and sometimes inappropriate…
So far, this process has revealed to me that generosity is not a communication thing, it’s a doing thing. The project is a path to commit to that…
One at the feet of a huge mountain.
One’s not particularly into walking, tracking, climbing.
One’s passion is to paraglide.
One is a gifted paraglider and does so often.
TTTAW’s ethos is the testimony of the magic, tragic, deliciously absurd things One has experienced in the walk, track, climb. Something like that.
I went for a walk and played several acts from Shape of a Voice. I took on a new vision. I also felt a cocktail of emotions, a combination I hadn’t quite experienced before—guilt, frustration, softness. Poiesis. It was undoubtedly unique to the experience of the podcast.
It’s a very sumptuous project. Can you tell me a bit more about the different acts, and how you imagine the sound bytes being consumed?
Not sure my imagination is required…
The way you’ve engaged with our content sounds beautiful to me. You express it in a way that gives me the confidence that our content does have the potential, to not only occupy space but to create space. That is our challenge. The reason I’m doing this is to be one more human focused on making sure that for every second that WE demands your space, it’s ultimately because we have something to give you.
Remember when the entire family, and the most unfortunate neighbours in the area, used to gather around the radio to listen to the most popular fictional hour-long special?!? Unlikely. I still remember gathering together to listen to things; not just music, but F1 races, soccer matches, news, and soap operas. Part of me intends to—in the name of and out of respect for human imagination—invoke and edify collective listening sessions. It’s a way to listen to our content that I’ll be pushing for.
Listen to WE when you defecate.
Listen to WE as your 5th to 8th “must do” in the morning.
Listen to WE when the “I” has fucked with you for long enough. No solutions. Just shared considered processes towards a more beautiful living.
Like radio, WE is an oscillatory project, inevitably blurring and overlapping around the margins. A recognition of the continuous spectrum of sound and shared community.
Any last words?
Yes, but not mine… yet, for all of us; edifying…