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Ellen Gallagher: Don’t Axe Me, New Museum, New York

There’s a certain thematic polyphony to Ellen Gallagher’s work, leaping, as it does, from Atlantean creation myths to Afrofuturism, psychoanalysis and post-Minimalism, which has led some commentators searching for musical analogies to compare it to jazz – the Scottish poet Jackie Kay likened a piece of Gallagher’s to ‘jazz on a canvas’. But this reference, as well as the affinity that Gallagher’s work is said to have with the music of defunct Detroit techno duo Drexciya, actually misdirects attention. Follow the jazz line and you walk backwards along a well-trodden hermeneutical path, through post-black identity politics to the Harlem Renaissance. And while it’s true that Gallagher has used Drexciya’s namesake and the band’s narrative of a black Atlantis, peopled by slaves drowned during the Middle Passage, as inspiration for her own oceanic myth, their actual music – evoking a Kraftwerkian world of post-industrial paranoia, alienation and existential parody – also leads to another impasse miles from the organic, briny mysticism of her art...

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