The creative partnership between Joshua Chiundiza and Yann Longchamp is an unlikely one. Joshua, a Harare native, poet, and audiovisual artist, and Yann, an interactive design student and musician based in Geneva, come from very different parts of the world. A fact hard to ignore as I sat down with the duo on lake Geneva the day after their show, bundled up in winter clothes under the sunshine, frosted Alps peeking up over the horizon. We met as a part of the Antigel Festival, a two week event driven by the discovery of cultural heritage and reimagining of spaces. Antigel has a way of making the improbable beautiful.
So was the performance of Joshua and Yann. The show began with Joshua in a traditional mask, reading a book under lamplight, while Yann created an ambient soundscape with his many synthesizers, samplers and music machines. Soon Joshua removed his mask, stood up, and recited original poetry to the building music.
“Sometimes I wonder why we exist,” Joshua begins, “when will then answers come?” As the music intensified, found its bottom and the rhythm kicked with a bodily bass, the answers punched in. “We are all just the same,” Joshua proclaims, “we are all just the same.”
Yann and Joshua were brought together for an artistic residency of the same principle. Headed up by SHAP SHAP, an organization connecting the hemispheres through artistic collaboration, the two artists were commissioned to participate in an exchange that would culminate in their Antigel performance. Due to travel restrictions, Yann couldn’t make it to Zimbabwe, and the two had to work together online and in the two week window Joshua had in Geneva.
“I’m of Chewa, Shona and Nguni heritage so I like to explore elements of my cultural background and I do that through audiovisual art and performance,” Joshua explained to me, the day after the show. “We both discovered as part of this whole process a real appreciation for our points of view.” Elaborating on the foundations of the collaboration Joshua continues, “It didn’t make sense for me to push Yann to make something from Zimbabwe and it wouldn’t make sense for him to push me to write about Switzerland. We’re building on a foundation that we’re two different people and that’s okay.”
Yann chimed in, “We tried at some point to share our respective cultural backgrounds, but then we quickly switched, deciding we’re not obliged to talk about where we come from.” He continued, “Me as a Swiss guy and Josh as a Zimbabwean guy, we’re just two people born on different parts of the Earth. What we bring to the project is just our story, our dreams, our values.”
The performance is dream-like. With a stage design that looks like a splintered crate and a visual projection both abstract and visceral (“shoutout to Sophie Le Meillour on set design” Joshua mentions) everything is hypnotically repetitive, and Yann finds a way to shake listeners out of expectation. And the values are human. Joshua’s spoken word returns again and again to the “so many lines” that seem to separate us, lamenting those who have “suffered the sword” and reminding us that, “if you cut me I bleed blood as red as yours.” As Joshua moves back to his chair, puts on his mask, and opens again his book, Yann takes the soundscape to a crescendo of synths and thumping bass. The moment is cathartic. Everyone, for that moment, shared the same awe.
Back again to the next morning on the lake: “It seems like nowadays we’re really focusing on differences and the more we focus on those differences we create an element of separation,” says Joshua. This year Yann plans to complete the exchange, traveling to Harare to continue developing their artistic vision and working in Joshua’s studio where he is creating a space for young artists to train their digital skills. More lines soon to dissolve.
An exploration of differences ends in a common vision of shared humanity. I bid the duo farewell and booked it for the train station to catch my ride back to Paris. Listening to music in my headphones made halfway around the world, I thought of what Yann said towards the end of our talk, “For me sound directly makes you travel in your head. If I put on music now, you’ll project yourself somewhere. So it was natural that it was sounds that touched me and Josh the most. I think that’s something that speaks to everybody.”