As part of Liberty, artist Nwando Ebizie will present Distorted Constellations at Waltham Forest Community Hub, an Afrofuturist augmented reality that uses sound, projections and holograms to immerse the audience in the imagined landscape of Nwanodo's brain.
Ahead of the festival's opening, we spoke to Nwando about what people can expect from the installation, and how it reflects her version of reality.
Tell us about your work as an artist?
I am a self-educated multidisciplinary artist and curator driven to create utopian visions of Afrofuturist alternative realities. I have created and co-created immersive operas, gig theatre and multidisciplinary festivals in the UK and around the world.
I make Alternate Realities. In a creative sense, that means creating ritual performance spaces and immersive installations. In a real-world sense, that means posing alternative versions of what our reality could look like. This is reflected in artwork which bleeds beyond the performance space or gallery. I am struck by the idea that there is no difference between the performance space and the real world. Instead, the performance space is a testbed or playground which enables us to work out what the world could be if we only let go of false binaries such as normal vs other. If we let go of the assumption that the status quo is the only way.
At the moment, as well as Liberty, I’m working on the sound design for the new play Midnight Movie at the Royal Court, and an immersive multisensory opera called Hildegard: Visions with sensory makers Bittersuite.
What has inspired Distorted Constellations?
About five years ago I realised that I experience a different reality to most other people. One particular night, driving through London, I mentioned to my parents that it looked kind of hazy outside. They were worried that I had cataracts and insisted I go to an optomoterist. The optometrist found that my vision was fine, but couldn’t explain the symptoms I described to her (seeing millions of fizzy dots, seeing auras) and suggested I take some eyedrops. (Nothing wrong with eyedrops - I still take them!)
I began to search the internet for descriptions of what I experienced. Eventually I found a word – Palinopsia – Latin, literally to ‘see again’ – a rare neurological condition which manifests as a visual disturbance defined as the recurrence of a visual image after the stimulus has been removed.
And what do I see? I see a world full to the brim of glowing lines and shapes, whizzing, fizzing dots and auras of people, trees, stars crossing and filling the vista. When I climb the hills around my familial home they grow more intense and kaleidescopic, amassing into recognisable, pulsating, geometric shapes. On a clear day, looking at the sky, it seems full of trillions of fizzy dots, like a bluish, translucent TV static, like Seurat had painted the world just for me. When it all gets too much it coalesces on me, light becoming sound, sound becoming indistinguishable from an inner buzzing pressure and all I can do is lie down in a darkened room, trying not to move, not to think.
This was 2014. The same year that unbeknownst to me, a group of neuroscientists defined a new condition as: ‘Visual Snow’. In the peer reviewed paper Schankin et al 2014, it was summarised as “an almost completely ignored problem” and a whole heap of symptoms (16 and growing) visual, aural, psychological found a new home in a new condition. A condition that thousands of us organise our realities around. So, I wanted to create an experience that could open people up to this truth.
What can visitors expect from the exhibition?
Arriving, you will be greeted by accessibility artists, who will ask about your needs. There will be a small collection of books and texts I have gathered linked to research about the exhibition to peruse. Light refreshments to buy, with proceeds going towards the community centre.
It is recommended that you take a moment in our Antechamber, maybe talk to our onsite researcher about your understanding of perception, before crossing the threshold and diving into the installation.
There you will find a labyrinth made of layers of light and sound, both of which might be overwhelming for some. You are welcome to sit on the benches or lie down on the floor. There is a 360 electronic soundscape, as well as immersive projection. The installation runs on a loop for 20 minutes. You are recommended to stay for the duration, but feel free to stay as long as you wish. When you have had enough, you should go back into the antechamber to decompress, talk to the researcher or the accessibility artists before making your way back into the world.
What other performances of yours can people look forward to as part of Liberty?
On the final night I’ll be hosting a Closing Ceremony. This will be an experimental salon featuring ASMR style relaxed performance, conversations with neuroscientist Prof Sophie Scott and ambient myth/science storytelling and DJing from journalist Joe Muggs. It will be a celebration of innovative accessibility and creative neurodivergence.
Where can people find out more about your work?
Check out the video below of Distorted Constellations at the Brighton Festival.