This past weekend liquid blackness hosted a symposium, “Holding Blackness in Suspension: The Films of Kahlil Joseph” at Georgia State University that featured several events: a screening of short films and conversation with Kahlil Joseph; paper presentations by hip-hop, cinema, and visual culture scholars; and a gallery exhibition. The weekend also included two working groups discussing the methods and modes of production for liquid blackness research. All of these meetings came together around the around an intentionally ambiguous concept that emerged from Joseph’s films--suspension.
liquid blackness has been attracted to the term “suspension” to describe the surreal atmosphere in Joseph’s films, the way bodies appear suspended across time and space. We spent the weekend thinking about how spatial and temporal ambiguity affects the way blackness is visualized in these works. Regina Bradley addressed the quiet in these films as a space for openness and contemplation, Derek Conrad Murray considered the affective flows in the film that push against the history of black cinematic representation, Kara Keeling responded to expressions of ‘potentiality,’ Gregory Zinman addressed aesthetic shifts initiated by online video aesthetics, and I diagrammed the film’s post-catastrophe imagery. Collectively, we found the lack of narrative closure and the formal discontinuities and the tension that pervades Joseph’s work as a productive ambiguity that allows blackness to appear on screen in ways that keep it "safe" from overdetermination.
It is not hard to see suspension as an aesthetic operating in Joseph’s film, particularly in “Until the Quiet Comes,” but at each meeting during the symposium we returned to this theme in regards to our own scholarship. Unfortunately, identifying suspension in study is much harder. This was a highlight in the weekend for me because we are often asked what we study, but there is so little time to discuss how we study. This distinction is ultimately an ethical concern that is so vitally important for those who study race, who intend to reject the overarching narratives that define and devalue certain bodies without establishing a new set of assumptions. In this week’s posts, we will see more discussion of Joseph’s work and liquid blackness that find their own places to identify suspension as both a concept and a methodology. As a way to connect these posts, I would like to start the week by asking how the scholars featured this week and we, as a collective group, continue to make arguments about blackness and aesthetics that are suspended? And perhaps more importantly, how can we work in a way that is suspended?
I do not already have the answers to these questions, but I would like to offer this theme week on InMediaRes as a step in the right direction by helping us maintain the intellectual energy generated over the weekend and allowing our scholarship to ‘float’ between platforms. I hope this space helps presents some answers and (in the spirit of suspension) even more questions.