In the sixteenth century, Giordano Bruno intuited that our solar system might not be the only one. He was burned as a heretic. Today, infinity informs theories of everything from quantum physics to cyberspace—all themes woven into Aria Dean’s Suite! (2021), a site-specific video installed at REDCAT. On a gracefully curved, crudely constructed projection screen, a dance troupe of computer-rendered, anthropomorphized kudzu vines swoon and spin in unison, their moves balletic and vaudeville in turn. The weird routine is embellished with modal guitar riffs and dissonant electronics, layered with Dean’s sometimes breathless recitation of fragments of scientific and literary texts (from Bruno’s treatise on “infinite worlds” to lines from Death in Venice) as well as original writing.
Kudzu, an invasive species introduced to the American South in the nineteenth century, is now synonymous with the region’s humid Gothicism. In Dean’s hands (here as elsewhere), kudzu, a visually and literally proliferating organism, stands for Blackness: promoted to counter soil erosion, the plant and its story softly echo the hard trauma of the African people kidnapped, transported, and forced to work these same fields. Kudzu’s wild spread also recalls the “entwinement of Blackness and memes” in a digital diaspora, explored in Dean’s 2016 essay “Poor Meme, Rich Meme.” Copied and pasted like selections from an infinite set, merging and splitting with a particularly virtual disregard for bodily limits, Dean’s kudzu dancers seem like sock and buskin stand-ins for a lineage of apostate ideas—ones more clearly articulated in the video’s soundtrack, where a fecund strain of words and references to radical thought entwine with affective musical swells. The result is intellectual ambiance. Human history appears punitive and inevitable, the catalyst for a stark, cyclical struggle against a vague, reactionary power. At the video’s climax, as Dean speaks of “a great wind of insurrection in the world, a cold, harsh arctic wind,” the vines immolate. It’s a romantic and ambivalent moment: how should we feel, watching these undying dancers crumple and writhe on a digital floor? Then the video starts again.