Copyright Â© Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley 2018 Photo credits: Jack Baraclough
Black Holes by Seke Chimutengwende & Alexandrina Hemsley
We started writing Black Holes in 2016. It forms the basis for our dance duet of the same name. This text holds the slippery unreliable soft roaming intimate resisting unfurling time-travelling (un)knowledgable lived and danced all at once.
Love Seke and Alexandrina, 2018
We are floating now.
Infinity roaming in the black oceans
At first there was nothing. Zero.
The lights are off (but there are no lights). We don’t want to let you in. There are burglars. There are thieves in the night.
The night was long and dark.
The baby seems strangely quiet. Normally she wakes to feed at this time...Except there is no baby, and no milk in the breast of the mother who isn’t there. Not at home. Nobody home. No home. Will there be dew on the grass in the morning? Can there be day if there is no night? Is this the night? ***
The dying tissue full of grief: pulse-pulse, pump-pump. “Oh, it’s nothing” Nothing. No things.
Things don’t exist yet. Places don’t exist. Where? Nowhere. No questions, no answers. No names on signs. Postcards lost in the post. Bank accounts, empty. Windows smashed, telephone off the hook. Teacher’s called in sick. School’s cancelled. General strike! We packed our suitcase with emptiness and walked out the front door hand in hand. The road was long and dark. Our flight had been delayed. The last boat had sailed. Our horse was sick. It’s so cold on this planet. Amazing to think that one day it will sustain life. I told you a joke but you didn’t laugh. There were no clouds in the sky. No sun, no moon, no stars. No sound of birds chirping. The tide was out. It hadn’t rained for days. Had it ever rained? They know they are forgotten - these beating lightbulbs of black. Arranged in rows, and grids, half a metre apart from each other. Floating high above all else. The air hums with the last signals of the last wars and the last questionable acts and the last unfair departures. Black luminescence face their endings and it feels claustrophobic like a heartache rushing to numb itself into nothing. But, there’s no escape from an existence on its knees with full nothing. Cramping nothing. Nothing crawling over itself, knowing that it is over.
We came to a vast clearing in a deep valley. A canyon full of caves. A graveyard for the unborn. We tried to shout out in wonder but we’d lost our voice. Silent echoes reverberated in the forgetful non- space. It’s impossible not to be lonely in this place. Even though we are together. Shall I turn on the radio? You pulled out the transistor and we listened to the quiet static. At dusk – is it always dusk here? At dusk we planted our tattered flag and flew it at half mast. Nothing had really happened yet. We had arrived...but we were early. Very early. There was no news, no timetable, no events on the horizon. No notifications, no honourable mentions. No signal, no reception. Things were yet to take shape. It is coming, you said. It distributes good things, appears in the east and belongs to the element water. If only, I said. Water, I said. We are so thirsty. I said. Liquid. I said. I don’t think you heard me. Time had flourished and it had then sickened with the fever that took over all, and stripped the fields of breathing lanterns bare. The space that was left, was in turn, stripped bare of itself. It was whipped up into a spiral that shed it of itself. Any remnants were compressed into a point infinitely dense and yet still pulsing outwards.
So first there was nothing.
This really is a wasteland, I heard you think. We are on the cliff edge. Ready to drop. Ready to fall. We thought. But there is no time here. We dream-shouted. We read each other’s vacant minds before we fell asleep. They say it is coming. It distributes good things, appears in the east and belongs to the element water. It is also sky and light, earth and root. It is unique and singular. It has no ancestors, no past or future. It pervades the whole of creation. Alarm woke us up – for the first time. We had overslept. We unpacked our empty suitcase, got dressed in nothing, ate nothing and stared silently at the future. We unpacked our empty suitcase, got dressed in nothing, ate nothing and stared silently at the future. The future stared back at us. (For the first time.) Still waters slowly evaporate as mankind ages; collectively looking out at a black sun hanging low in the orange-red sky. The mists are slowly rising, dragging themselves laden and warm, away from the dark water. These droplets dimple the air, causing currents to smoothly bend around their wet surfaces. Trembling between liquid and gas states. The black, brilliant sun continues to command and lifts the water across the threshold. Threshold as far horizon. Horizon that has begun its blurring. Mankind feels dread cascade through their bodies as they witness the slow, inevitable rise of ocean into air. Water will take its leave of this suffering planet and vanish. The black sun will take a momentous turn, inexplicably making itself lighter. As its gravitational pull with the planet weakens, lonely huddles of creatures will line the planet’s shorelines, their eyes looking upwards as the giant star leaves also. The solar winds awoken by this departure ruin the star’s solar system, nothing will be as it was. The star flies away and in the wake beneath, creatures and land, lie down broken and drifting. A wolf howled in the far off distance. Then there was a sound of helicopters overhead. We looked around and a small woman was painting the rocks with a giant paint brush. How had we not noticed the rocks before? Then the earthquakes began. A sudden release of energy in the lithosphere creating seismic waves. Geothermal energy expelled through fractures in the planetary crust. Underwater fissures along the mid ocean ridge erupting bright-hot lava from the unseen chamber. These expulsions are cooling rapidly, folding into black glass. The camera zooms in on more movement. More movement! Black crystals tumbling, magmatic outgassing. We can’t breath we guess – shouted.
The slow motion build up of timed eruptions and half liquid bake offs, cascading in a ritual of torrential show downs between bit part mulitiversal players, ripping off the anguish of their sisters and brothers, strangers and little helpers, clamouring and groping their way through jungle like algorithmic dance beats, swinging and swaggering, swimming and swaying together, shivering fervently, made our hearts race!
It had arrived. ***
So first there was nothing
The universe hasn’t always been here. Before the universe there was just, just... nothing. It was a space that in some instances felt like a milky, white emptiness and sometimes the space felt smooth black and empty. Space sat up in bed and looked out the window through its half-sleep. It could see nothing, for there was nothing to see, but it could feel everything. All that had been and all that was to come. All that was to come, out of this silky nothingness. Its insides churned and gurgled. Space rolled over, back into the soft, downy bedding and waited. Upon waking, space let out a long sigh and felt full of unseen potential. The lights were off (but there were no lights). We - the nothing - are undiluted sulking. Hobbling through a woeful landscape. A space full of unseen potential.
It was just, I don’t know, I don’t know..nothing
Blacklight. Radiant rays of electromagnetic waves, speeding in the black viscosity. Spinning in spectrums of hyperpolarization. Not yet visible. Not yet shining. Not yet shining brightly. *** Thick and heavy as ten thousand wet braids slick-slopping through water as dense as black treacle, we fold in. We fold in, and in and in....compressing into compression after compression, disaster after disaster, suffocation after suffocation, like the tides of apocalypse after the poisonous storms. Here, there are only endings slick-slopping through time-space as waterlogged sand thuds through a child’s fingers into an abyss.
We - time-space - become the hadal zone, a wet, vast underworld of all that has been lost. We are and it is, lost. We - the universe - come up for air from the dank cavern of non-existence. Awakened by an impossible shockwave, after lying in dormant darkness. We - the universe - are gasping. We - the pocket of air - are an accident.
And it was in this air pocket, that something magical started to happen. A tiny amount of compressed time built up kinetic energy and exploded. There was a conversion of particle displacement and then the whole retrograde kicked off and there was this techno fission, which burst the space bubble of air. But first a period of rest and relaxation. Truth and reconciliation. I can see both sides. But I don’t see colour. It’s too dark in here. I can’t see what I’m eating. She said let there be light. Didn’t you hear? Apparently the writing’s on the wall. I think it might need a bit of proofreading. Editing down. Change of scene, change of syntax. I can’t spell irony. Or was that smell irony? What is that smell? Why hasn’t anyone bothered to clear up? Why hasn’t anyone bothered? What a mess! Words all over the place. Worlds all over the place. The universe is very big place. Through pink dust clouds we - time - fly and are made. Collecting fragment after fragment, atom after atom. Drifting in soft spirals, gathering into gentle storms of dust and magnets. We fly and we are made. Assimilating the pre-matter into our present bodies. Bodies of light matter. We - the mess - begin. Passing through, treading lightly, falling softly. We - the universe - take shape. We - the universe - drop shape. What we thought were our outsides become our insides as more and more matter starts to matter, and sticks to us. We - energetic sites of consciousness - will matter to stick and watch time as we turn, turn, grow, grow. These gluey parts of us coagulate into fleshy rock. This is when we start to see the first hydrogen atom...And there was no build up or anticipation. It was just something that happened. It was like turning the lights on but without even the gesture to turn on the lights. The first atom just showed up in the wasteland. And this first atom felt lonely in the wasteland and begat other atoms. Spawning egg atom after egg atom. The sound of everything swollen and popping... body invading wasps laying eggs inside the stomachs of caterpillars... Hatching into communities of atoms. And they created matter because there wasn’t matter before. And that was a big turning point for the universe. A big life change. Because now there was matter and once you have matter then things start to matter. It was a time of new, a new order of things. We - the Gods stepped into our space boats and began our intergalactic voyages. We - the creators - sketch out our universe.
First drafts. Flirting with early creations. Baby steps. Fail better! You said.
We were entering the known from the unknown. Making and breaking. Moulding and manipulating. Collateral damage. Beginners guide to infinity. We tried everything at first. And when that didn’t work we took a long nap. Time was so new to us. We, the first real time travellers. We stole each others ideas and fought terribly. We stormed off but remembered that we arrived together and still hadn’t made anything stable enough yet. There was nowhere to go except into the next room where our anger steamed through the walls. You wanted a hug and I wanted some food. We coaxed one another back to the stuff of the cosmos... Then things got a bit hazy. It’s all a bit hazy. We hate it when things get hazy, smoky, lazy, dopey.
We grew our hair while different elements were forming; different configurations of atoms were coming together and doing a bit of lending of their electrons to make different compounds. Gravity decided to intervene. She could see a bit of Chaos and she thought she better go and sort it out. So, she came and started pulling different atoms together and this produced a site of energy. It got very hot. Just like it did towards the end of the Universe. It got very hot. Yes Gravity really came to Chaos’ aid. And they signed a Treaty of Coalition carving their lost-names into the stone tablets by the frozen river. They didn’t always see eye to eye but they really complimented each other and the tension between them produced something very dynamic.
Stars...stars began to be born.
The stars were born
With Chaos and Gravity as their parents
And nothing like that had ever happened before.
No, there’d never been a birth and suddenly there was just this epic birth – with each starchild burning 600 million tonnes of hydrogen. The universe was suddenly full of these screaming babies, these celebrated births...and light! The key was the light. If you think of animals, they might mate and then one of them becomes pregnant and gives birth or some variation on that but I think with Gravity and Chaos it was like the mating was the birth so it was kind of...It was intense. It was intense, it was shocking, it was everything. All the emotions at once.
There was light. There was light everywhere; suddenly. ***
OK – So, what? In the beginning she said let there be love and light and all that but now look at it! What a mess! He said, she said. Things are definitely getting worse. Is it just me? Or is it you? Me, me, me. Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself? I mean
where does selfishness even come from. It’s down to each individual, which means it’s down to everyone. Please move down inside the carriages. The universe is unkind to strangers. Blink and you’ll miss it. What is this atmosphere of discord, of bedlam, of carnage, of war? I hear no whistles, no sirens no cries for help. I will sleep well tonight for I have no more capacity for fear. Can I touch your hair? Do you know where I can get any drugs. Do l look like I know? I just don’t have time. Time is running out. Time waits for no man. Man Friday. Gone with the wind. Can I see your passport? *** Through pink dust clouds we - time - fly and are made. Collecting fragment after fragment, atom after atom. Drifting in soft spirals, gathering into gentle storms of dust and magnets. We fly and we are made. Assimilating the pre-matter into our present bodies. Bodies of light matter. We - the resistance - begin. We become the newborn galaxies. And each galaxy was like a family. A big, busy family. And the galaxies started to spread out and the electro-weak symmetry started to break we began to forget each other and move on. A kind of amnesia took over; the galaxies started forgetting each other. This stage was later called, ‘The Age of the Forgetful Galaxies’ or ‘The First Minute’. In the forgetting, everything had to start again. We- the galaxies - had to make sense of our own arrival. We existed but the tides of the birthing universe had broken all connection to the wheres and hows of how these clouds of stars came to be. So, yes, an age of forgetting... There was endless, repetitive chatter. Trying to recover some history. Looping and looping. Again and again. Always returning to the beginning. Ending and then starting again. The old grey moon getting further and further away. The old blue sky, leaving it behind. We should take the past with us. Come with us. We are floating now. Infinity roaming in the black oceans. The universe had become this spread out, black space where time had begun and galaxies had separated out and forgotten each other. Oh you have really cool hair. Oh you are so lucky that you can dance like that. Hey Lenny Kravitz!.Hey, Afro thunder! Yo afro! Yo afro! Yo afro 5000! Yo afro 3.1!
I was dancing with some friends at a jazz gig in a town in the south west of England, known for its racecourse, a government surveillance intelligence agency and regency buildings. A man who was -I guess in his late 60s - was dancing nearby and, as he was alone, I offered him my hand and we enjoyed a brief partner dance. We fell out of time into the era of swing. A female friend of his started tugging at my arm, pulling me away from his gentleness and into a chaotic whirlwind of tipsy demands: “Dance with me”. “Come to my table”. My fingers loosened the grip she was holding on my wrist. I said a polite “No, that’s ok”. I headed back to my friends with an embarrassed eye roll. I was about to sigh back into dancing when the same woman - all sharp, painted fingernails, dug one hand into my back and cuffed her other hand around the back of my neck. She wrenched and dragged me towards her table. She spun me round to face her friends and they were there at their fancy, draped, table with iPhones filming or whatever...They wanted my photo. Feeling her pincers at my neck, I forced a smile. I turned on my lights. I positively beamed. The dirty act of performance done, she released me from her grip and I stumbled blindly back to the group I had arrived with who had both seen and had not seen all that had happened. Yeah Yeah
I don’t want to go into the woods. Especially at this time of night. Who’s going to look after the sick and the elderly? The ancestors? My, what big eyes you have, what big teeth you have! What big hair you have! What a big ego you have? All the better to eat you with. I’m starving. I always get like this when I’m hungry. Why hasn’t our food come? Why haven’t I been paid yet? Don’t mind me. Don’t point that thing at me. Move! Move it! Groove it! Flash forward several billion years and all the people who thought that a black president ushered in the post-racial lost their facial features. Life wants to be believed. ‘Go away and come back later’, life said. Reframe the question with we - the multiple - at the centre instead of someone there with you looking too close. The object feeling like they are in a cage, or a bad dream and you are too much up in their face. Too close. Life wants to travel away. Life wants grow in size and wreak havoc. Life is trying to be original here. Break the mould. Depart from everything that has been done before. The aliens are all reading each other’s minds across the many tables. That’s so interesting that you can speak such good English... *** We - the moon children - wish we knew enough about our histories in order to be truly original. Secure in our realities. Secure in our points of departure rather than floating around in fragments, in imagination or in genetically inherited trauma-tides. We - the universe - are an accident. A random gesture. We - the universe - take shape. We - the universe - drop shape. What we thought were our outsides become our insides as more and more matter starts to matter, and sticks to us. We will sleep well tonight for we have no more capacity for fear. It’s beyond black. We’re playing dark history. We’re dealing with the dark things of the cosmos.A journey from the point of nothingness into the point of everything but there is still more to go. Behold the thisness. This isness.
It’s all happening again as if for the first time, you dream-shouted ***
Then there was a period of warming. Things were getting hot. Things were getting hotter than they’d been in ages. And we - the layabouts - don’t just mean planet earth. It
was kind of universal. And no one really knows where this heat came from. Some say it came from the galaxy just north of your galaxy. There was some kind of collision, a collision between two star systems but no one can really be sure. There’ve been a lot of rumours about the possible collision between two star systems. People have different interpretations, but it’s in the past now, or the future depending on when you are. A wolf-god howled in the far off distance. Then there was a sound of helicopters overhead. We looked around and a small woman was painting the rocks with a giant paint brush, thick symbols to warn the survivors. We scrambled to help her but it was all futile. Time only runs in one direction. The looting invaders returned to their airships, wiped out, ruined and burnt. Genetic engineers, healers, gene traders, call them what you will. Their mission ended; Illuminated by the flames of the apocalypse. No. No. No I mean, life goes on, you know, animals crawl out of the water, they crawl back into the water. They climb up the trees they climb down the trees. It’s all much of a muchness really in the grand scheme of things. I was orbiting with some planets dead centre in the whirlpool galaxy. I look around me and all I see is the space junk flying towards me. Prehistoric metal being rammed down my throat. Slicing and dicing through the innards of time. When did it become my job to clean up? I swallow galaxies up before their lights have burnt out. I’m always hungry. I get discovered and rediscovered. Named and renamed. Event Horizon. Abyss. Singularity. I gorge myself on vapour thickened by everybody’s armageddon.
The tide was rising. At first we basked happily in the long summers, marvelled at pineapples growing in the north of England and donated our metallic puffer jackets to pluto. After we were all submerged we tried to find our way back to the lost kingdom of Atlantis. We failed. Glamorously. How glamorous Atlantis was. Must have been. Could have been, should have been. Glamorous like the stars. We - the once glamorous Atlantians. Lost in space. Lost without trace.
You tell me to hold on tight. You shout, ‘Not so tight!’ as I squeeze your hand.
Anyway. I’ve got the blood of aliens on my hands. Put your ray gun to my head. Thank you for being so patient. Bloody extraterrestrials. I don’t want to go into the woods. Nature! With all its species! Bloody insects. Crawling and gnawing. Naming and shaming. A policeman told me to stop dancing. On a street corner with my metal tentacles. “Remain calm citizens, remain calm.” All the planets in all the multiverses sighed with relief as their dominant inhabitants faded away. The rocks shed their outer skins and revealed all hot-breath, molten innards and crystalline emotions. All that was physical shuddered. Yes things were getting hot. Getting steamy. The steam of the universe. I mean I’m not doing this for my health! I’m just not doing this anymore. I remember the war on drugs. I remember fireball matter collapsing onto itself. I remember some things but I also try not to remember some things and other bits just get forgotten. The bigger the headache the bigger the pill. The universe is pissed off and wondering what to remember. There must be a pill for that. The universe remembers wanting blonde hair and blue eyes. I remember that oblivion. I remember that trying to hold onto memory is like constantly covering up or folding into a gigantic sense of lacking. We remember that we have, by now, by force, by this time, grown up. We occupy the spaces that should feel too hot but to us feel just right. Our rage is welcomed and folds in on itself with enormous speed. Our rage rebounds with colossal force, generating the highest temperatures in the universe for 15 seconds of expanding bliss. I’m tired. I’m over it. Get over it. Get on with it. Get with the programme. Get woke. Get on up. Get under it. Get a move on. Get a groove on. Get on the train. Get on board. Why are there no free seats? I bought a ticket, surely I should have a seat. Why do they have to be so cynical? Why do things have to be so cyclical? I mean who is this even for. You have to rent a tuxedo to go? Fuck that! Bloody cyclists. Bloody foreigners. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
Flash backwards to the first air pocket of the beginning and place it next to now. ***
The end of the universe happened over generations. We developed a messaging system where the older generations handed down a summary of their universe ending. And it would get passed down and down and down to the younger ones. Fragment by fragment, note by note, the universe made sense of its ending. Handling each part of itself gently. Turning itself over in its body-mind. Tonguing at the tiny rip in time. Foreseeing the graveyard of stars. All this dust. I can’t breathe, it guess-shouted. Accepting took a long time. It ended in stages. And there was all this steam. You could hardly see because there was all this steam everywhere, and the condensation started to cool things down. It got so hot that there was steam and you know that’s what steam does, it cools down. Around that time, is when the lights started to go out. The stars, they started to run out of energy. They got big and red and droopy and dark. They were like roses at the end of summer. With their petals falling off and little kids kicking them. It was exactly like that. So slowly the stars are going out and the universe is condensing and this condensation is happening across the edges of the universe. And there’s a kind of liquefying of matter and all these gases liquefying and all these solids liquefying, so it’s both edges of the temperature spectrum. We - the phantom observers - called this particular stage, ‘melting’. Liquid Liquid
Liquid, liquid, liquid.
If only, I said. Water, I said. We are so thirsty. I said. Liquid. I said. I don’t think you heard me. It was like a night out and you’ve had too much to drink and the pub you’re in they kick you out and then you go to another pub and they start turning the lights out or on
or whatever they do and then you have to leave that pub. And the night disintegrates. And you haven’t got enough clothes on, you’re cold, trembling in the black vacuum. And yeah the night disintegrates. The night disintegrates. And accounts vary, but some would say this last bit was accompanied by noise, somehow the universe started to wail.
Yeah the death throes, the death throes.
To shrivel up like a neutron star. Unstable crust - all fission on the inside but with limited and ever decreasing, ever burning up patience and kindness. Unstable crust fucking caves in and all the matter compresses and there is this dense, squashed dead star staring out at a face with eyes begging for answers.
The death throes, the death throes.
Of a grieving human. Well the death throes of a consciousness. Because of course by now, life forms had really become body-mind consciousnesses. There was no real need of a body. Because everything around was melting. So solid matter didn’t make sense anymore. So you had these liquid conscience states that were also part of dying and losing their universe. So they were mourning it as well as dying themselves. It was like swimming. It was like the whole universe was a giant swimming pool with no lifeguards. And the lights are still going out. It’s like you’re in an outdoor pool at night and it’s completely dark. And freezing. And slowly, slowly, slowly you forget how to swim. And you realize that you are drowning.The universe and all inside the universe drowned. Yeah, it drowned in itself. It was like pulling the plug on a bath and it all went into... itself. It was like the bath was already empty and you take the plug out and the whole bathtub goes into the plug hole. Which in itself was the bathtub. And the whole went into the hole.
Epilogue And so the universe became unrecognizable and it stopped being called the universe. The universe formerly known as the universe. We - the universe - come up for air from the dank cavern of non-existence. Awakened by an impossible shockwave, after lying in dormant darkness. We - the universe - are gasping. We search. Will there be dew on the grass in the morning? Can there be day if there is no night? Is this the night?
We go on healing the static.
Whistling our merry tune - in spite of it all. How does it go again?
We fly and we are made. Assimilating the pre-matter into our present bodies. Bodies of dark matter. We - the resistance - begin.
w: www.blackholes.co.uk e: firstname.lastname@example.org f: /blackholesproject t: @SekeChim @AlexandrinaHem Black Holes is co-commissioned by Cambridge Junction, The Place and Chisenhale Dance Space. Supported initially by a 2016 Seed Commission for BAME artists from Camden People’s Theatre and supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Additional support from Trinity Laban and Greenwich Dance
An Afrofuturist history of the universe written by Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley between 2016-18. Part of their performance du...
Published on May 25, 2018
An Afrofuturist history of the universe written by Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley between 2016-18. Part of their performance du...