“I attempt to mediate between the present and a future that is constantly branded impossible”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
DW: I grew up in a smallish town around 45 miles from London, near the coastline of Essex (UK). Rather surprisingly, I went to a school/college that specialised in Science and Engineering and engaging in the arts was almost a reward for exceeding expectations in other subjects. I would say the earliest engagement with the arts started when I was very young, when my mother would take my sister and I on trips to free museums and galleries at every opportunity possible, and it was perhaps in this normalised accessibility that my mother created, that I yearned to see more and more faces like mine reflected in these spaces.
AT: When did it become serious?
DW: I would say quite recently in 2018. I was working and living in London when there was a shift between the hours I was working in a day job and the hours earning a living from my practice – I don’t think this is necessarily the only way that I would quantify the sincerity of my practice, but it did signify the shift in priorities, the voice that I was able to start to carve and space I could occupy. London is a tough city to survive in if you’re not rich.
AT: Are there any people who have been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
DW: There is a crew of folks who I am so blessed to have met soon after graduating in London back in 2015. Whilst I have lost contact with a few of them, many of us have now scattered beyond the British borders and some new faces have joined in recent years; these people know who they are and I will have the utmost love and respect for them til the end of time. I am so grateful for their presence, especially in those early years. C.R.E.A.M
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
DW: I would say that it’s rather hard to describe, as there has been an unhealthy shift due to the pandemic, the increasingly unrealistic demands of the art world and my travel schedule, but I would say that my practice starts in reading theory and listening to music. Often, I listen to a lot of jazz or techno whilst reading dense books on afrofuturism, Black Nihilism etc etc and then these thoughts, reactions or questions are then translated into sketches that are refined over time. It is very rare to see me without a sketchbook closeby and there’s often a stream of references, book excerpts and sketches strewn across the studio walls.
Hydra Decapita, by Dominique White, 2021. Installation views at VEDA, Florence. Courtesy the artist and VEDA, Florence. Photo: Flavio Pescatori
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
DW: I attempt to mediate between the present and a future that is constantly branded impossible.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
DW: Right now, kaolin clay, steam, mahogany and fire. I’ve been working nomadically throughout the pandemic due to my travel schedule, but there will usually be a trail of brilliant white clay footsteps that lead to my studio wherever I am. Also a pair of noise cancelling headphones or Bose speakers if the environment allows. Music is crucial.
AT: What do you feel while you work?
DW: Firstly, I tend to be in a state of deep exhaustion. A lot of the processes and methods to create the many fragments of the work are time-consuming, complicated and a little health hazardous. I’m usually in some sleep-deprived state anyway, but you can tell if a production is particularly taxing by how well I can hold cutlery or use a pencil – the joints in my hand tend to seize up due to the repetitive processes needed in the net weaving process. To give you an idea of scale, it takes me approximately 3.5 hours to prepare and weave 20m of twine, and last year alone, I wove almost 6000m of sisal twine. That’s just one aspect of the work! There’s also the weight too… I’m also probably exhausted from the negotiation process. For the purpose of this interview, I’m using the word ‘work’, but I don’t think that is a true representation of the forms that occupy these spaces. Sometimes, it really feels like these are living, breathing entities that are threatening the very space that the viewer attempts to occupy. To say that it is an emotional process would be reductive to say the least.
A fugitive you cannot find a record for is the most successful fugitive of all (2021), cast iron, mahogany, 250 x 130 x 80 cm
May you break free and outlive your enemy (2021), cast iron, null sail, sisal, kaolin clay, worn rope, raffia, cowrie shells, 485 x 320 x 420 cm
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
DW: ‘Finished’ is perhaps a word that I wouldn’t use in relation to my practice. There’s always scope for the work to transform autonomously – I’m just the mediator at this moment in time.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
DW: So many places… Visually, the short answer is the sea, particularly the deep sea. Shipwrecks, aquatic afro-futurism, hurricanes, cargo ships, dead ships, pirate ships, Hydrarchy, aquatic myths and legends… the list can go on and on.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
DW: Whilst my reading list is ever growing, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Fred Moten, Sylvia Wynter and Saidiya Hartman are at the top of new reads, alongside the works of Christina Sharpe, Kathryn Yussof, Tiffany Lethabo King, Aria Dean and others. I’ve struggled to read throughout the pandemic, but I really do find comfort in a book. The most powerful ones tend to be covered in clay fingerprints as it usually means something has clicked whilst I’m working. I tend to listen to a lot of music whilst I read and work too, with the works of Drexciya, Underground Resistance and Alice Coltrane being the most played. For me, music and theory have to happen at the same time and music acts as a bridge to a lot of theory that I find inaccessible and then this gets translated into sketches and beyond. There’s particular tracks that stick with certain works too. I can’t help but look at a haunting, a wake of sorts and think of the track Cascading Celestial Giants by Drexciya. I can already tell that U.A.F.W.M by Quay Dash will be played a lot during this production period.
The Hunted, the Betrayed, the Traded (2021), cast iron, sisal, kaolin clay, raffia, cowrie shells, mahogany, 200 x 150 x 165 cm
Fungibility evades capture (2021) cast iron, mahogany, 204 x 220 x 10 cm
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
DW: It’s a mixture of collecting references and also connecting me to folks in different countries.
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
DW: Financial insecurity and the blurring of the boundaries between work and ‘life’. In a quest to escape the 9 – 5, I now work all the time! and as a night owl and insomniac, you’ll also find me frantically sketching or reading my emails at 3am. I also worry about becoming bitter from certain aspects of the art world…Rewarding? I’m so grateful that I’ve been granted the privilege of travelling to the most incredible places to meet the most wonderful people.
AT: What do you do besides art?
DW: When I’m at home, I try to spend as much time near the sea. I like to take the ferry to Frioul, play some jazz and maybe even swim.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
To continue to be bold with the same tenacity that I entered the art world with.
A refusal to be contained, a refusal to die , 2021. Techno Worlds, Installation views at Art Quarter Budapest, Budapest (HU). Courtesy the artist, Art Quarter Budapest,Budapest, Goethe-Institut and Veda, Florence.
Dominique White (1993, London) weaves together the theories of Black Subjectivity, Afro-pessimism and Hydrarchy (from below) with the nautical myths of Black Diaspora into a term she defines as the Shipwreck(ed); a reflexive verb and state of being. White’s sculptures, or beacons, prophesy the emergence of the Stateless; “a [Black] future that hasn’t yet happened, but must.” (Campt 2017 in Yussof 2018).