The Archeology of Viktor lé. Givens
An Interview for Sixty Inches From Center
Viktor lé. Givens‘ work, which is primarily performance, sound, and installation, exists in a continuum of making that is inhabited by writers and storytellers like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston. The vocabulary used to categorize their style has trouble fully holding them, so what’s required is a new category. One that resembles a recipe kept alive not with precise measurement, but through muscle memory, making, and an awareness of hidden ingredients. Their work is called fiction and speculative, but I resist the limits of those labels. Describing it only as imagination and conjecture doesn’t recognize the knowledge, truth, and undefinable substance that is embedded within it.
In one of my favorite Toni Morrison speeches, The Site of Memory, she pulls the words of Zora Neale Hurston who said, “Like the dead-seeming cold rocks, I have memories within that came out of the material that went to make me.” In other words, there is truth and knowledge to be found in the marrow of our bones. It is a crucial part of how we retrieve and construct our lost and fragmented stories, traditions, and legacies. It is not fiction in the way you may understand it.
Morrison goes on to say:
If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic. I suppose I could dispense with the last four if I were not so deadly serious about fidelity to the milieu out of which I write and in which my ancestors actually lived. Infidelity to that milieu – the absence of the interior life, the deliberate excising of it from the records […] – is precisely the problem in the discourse that proceeded without us. How I gain access to that interior life is what […] distinguishes my fiction from autobiographical strategies and which also embraces certain autobiographical strategies. It’s a kind of literary archeology: On the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork, you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply. What makes it fiction is the nature of the imaginative act: my reliance on the […] remains – in addition to recollection, to yield up a kind of a truth.
Though the form is different, I believe that lé. Givens’ work is a continuation and adaptation of the methods used by storytellers like Hurston and Morrison who find truth in their bodies and use the whispers of archeological sites (mental and physical) to piece together Black pasts. His most recent exhibition at Rootwork Gallery is an example of this. The In Between Space: Black Magic. Black Manhood. Black Matter is the final chapter of lé. Givens’ series of archeological installations dedicated to Black men with supernatural abilities–the “sight seeing, dream catching, street prophesying alchemists.” It opened at Rootwork Gallery under the curatorial eye of the gallery’s founder, Tracie Hall.
Just as the show was being installed, lé. Givens and I discussed his Texas roots, the often overlooked magic of Black men, and why deep personal excavation became such an important part of his practice.
Read the interview with Viktor here...
Portrait of Viktor lé. Givens in front of Rootwork Gallery prior to the opening of The In Between Space, September 9, 2016. Photo by Janelle Vaughn Dowell.