SCREEN: Wha Ha Happened Was… by James Bantone

July 6 – 29, 2020

James Bantone

Wha Ha Happened Was…, 2018
3:58 min., HD video, no sound, featuring Basile Lusandu and Karim Manneh. Courtesy of the artist

Selected by Elise Lammer

Originally conceived as a four-channel video installation, Wha Ha Happened Was… (2018) is a silent video collage that combines sequences of the American reality TV show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta and their reenactment by two queer male performers. The viewer watches the glitzy characters of the original show as they evolve in lavish interiors, in the middle of what seems to be powerful verbal exchanges, displaying emotions ranging from anger, astonishment and sorrow. Creating a stark contrast, their counterparts wear sober clothes and make-up, while carefully replicating each scene against a neutral white backdrop. Partially abstracted once stripped from all cultural markers, the dramatic action proceeds mostly via exaggerated bodily interactions and facial expressions, which produces the central narrative aspect of the work. Remarkably Wha Ha Happened Was… translates the implicit presence of Bantone, who never appears, but whose behind-the-scene work as author, choreographer, and producer channels and filters his own identification to references including American pop culture, the African diaspora and photography. By deconstructing, via the abstraction and interpretation of gestures that popular culture has largely normalised, the work addresses the lack of representation of queer men of color in popular media outlets.

James Bantone (b. 1992, Geneva) graduated from the Zurich University of the Arts in 2019 and is currently following the Work.Master program at HEAD (Geneva University of Art and Design). Solo exhibitions include HIM, Plymouth Rock, Zurich (upcoming) and IM LIVIN, Dynamo Project Room 13, Zurich (2019). Recent group exhibitions include Decode Dress Code, Goethe Institute, Paris (upcoming); Plattform20, Kunsthalle Fribourg, Fribourg (upcoming); 5 Academies: European Photography Award, Cité internationale des Arts, Paris (2019); Camp Fires, UV Studios, Buenos Aires (2019); Goodbye Plastic, Longtang, Zurich (2019); Nouveaux Sacrés, Voiture 14, Marseille (2019). Bantone is nominated for the Kiefer Hablitzel/ Göhner Art Prize 2020.