Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud: Goofer Dust


Leah DeVun

Goofer Dust, an installation/performance by Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud at Diaspora Vibe Gallery in Miami in 2006, is now on display as a documentary video at Polvo in Chicago. For the original performance in Miami, Mccloud constructed a square box of earth in the center of the gallery. Computer projections, video and a troop of live roosters intersected the performance space; Mccloud also invited audience members to join her in a session of collective dreaming. Participants lay face down on the floor, their bodies oriented toward the earthen box. According to Mccloud’s statement, she intended to evoke the spiritual—even supernatural potential of collective dreaming through which dreamers can predict the future, heal their bodies and escape the mundane nature of reality.

The title of the work, as well as Mccloud’s emphasis on collectivity and dreaming, are a nod to the aesthetics and sensibilities of Voudou, a diasporic religion practiced predominantly in Haiti. Goofer dust is an ingredient in certain spells. The staging of Mccloud’s installation brings to mind the visual structure of Voudou ceremonies, which organize adherents around a similar spatial focus—the poteau mitan or traditional peristyle—and a shared altered consciousness. The chickens that moved through the gallery represent the sacrificial food of the lwas, divinities in Voudou. They transmit the dream experience from one participant to another.

The ritual composition and intensely theatrical nature of Voudou ceremonies lend themselves readily to performative adaptation, and Mccloud’s effort and ability to capitalize on such imagery and its meanings is impressive. As a stand-alone video, however, Goofer Dust does not hold up quite so well. The camera offers a restricted and unsteady view of the space, making it difficult to see the projections that accompanied the performance. The piece is strictly a document rather than an interpretation of the event; as such, it takes little advantage of video as a medium. Even so, Goofer Dust manages to convey what a treat the original performance must have been. It also provides some insight into themes Mccloud has been exploring for several years now—a logical extension of earlier projects, which also draw connections between the human body, the natural and the supernatural.

Ayana Jolivet MccLoud, Goofer Dust, 2006
Video still of performance installation

Mccloud often borrows from Voudou, particularly through her use of vévés, traditional symbols of the lwas, which the artist removes from their ritual contexts. In Damballah Study, for example, she writes the snaky lines of a vévé onto a grassy field; in both Delete/Borrar/Efase and Crossroads, she constructs installations using vévés for specific lwas. In this respect, Mccloud follows a number of artists who have incorporated the ritual imagery of Voudou, Santería, Palo Mayombe and other diasporic religions into their artistic practice. Her performances and installations also resemble those of Juan Boza and Angel Suarez-Rosado, whose recreations of Santería altars similarly blur distinctions between ritual and artistic space, arguing for a suffusion of the spiritual into all aspects of life.

Other recent works highlight the body as a potential site of physical and metaphysical movement. In Walking, Mccloud’s body slowly vanishes into the spare landscape of a beach, suggesting the passage from one world to another. Emphasis on the transformative potential of the body brings to mind the photographs of Marta María Pérez, which unite Pérez’s naked body with orishas and firmas—Santería versions of lwas and vévés. Mccloud is also indebted to Ana Mendieta’s well-known work, which combines earthen mounds, Santería-inspired markings and the artist’s body to powerful effect.

Mccloud’s methodology, however, suffers in one important respect: the symbols she borrows are not always sufficiently transfigured. One wishes that she would keep pushing form as much as gesture as she does successfully in Sky Crosses, which reinvents the Voudou crossroads by means of string stretched through treetops. But Mccloud seems well aware that merely tracing out vévés is no longer enough: her recent work represents a welcome effort to inject physicality and personality into projects that still convey spirituality and transcendence. In this regard, Goofer Dust documents a wonderful progression in an ongoing body of work.

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