Michael Salu


With a professional background deep in visual culture, I now work with a variety of media to develop ideas and areas of research.

Much of my process is continuous and over recent years I have developed thought and experimentation that extracts distillations of translations between forms, driven of course, by technology.

My research is underscored by a primarily literary and artistic practice, but these interrogations overlap with art history, ethnography, sociology, linguistics and philosophy as I try and find ways to engage with fine textures of the human condition.

Computational explorations of the space between western and non-western ontology

Transhumanist ideology of a singular ontological history implies a determined "post-human" future. Active colonial legacy and extractive economies are bound up in the etymological architecture and product infrastructures of programming languages facilitating this development. With a universal 'morality' built from this same ontological history, there is no room for indigenous cosmologies of thought in a virtual "post-humanity" created from data of the living and dead. This artistic research asks how can alternative cosmologies be better represented within the virtual "metaverse".

Red Earth appropriates these methodologies to synthesise new pathways between divergent cosmologies and new codices from West African thought.

The project has two points of origin: 1. Dante's allegory of falling autumn leaves; his insistence that each damned soul is individual helps to think about synthesising data of the living and dead in the Covid era. 2. Difficulty with arguments in Chinua Achebe's 1977 essay, An Image of Africa, where Achebe neglects to critique the power structure holding up the very 'morality' he appeals to while denouncing the racism of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, even though Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, takes on the invasion of this disingenuous 'morality'Achebe also fails to mention Conrad's metaphysical alienation from this environment.

This is addressed through a personal narrative exploring a lack of touch with one's 'home' due (in part) to the current moment. Machine learning is used in a controlled manner to translate an original work of prose written by Michael Salu into a visual data topography. Inspired by Yoruba oratorical thought and traditional manifestations within physical objects, this data is used as raw material to sculpt a series of virtual totems, geological sculptures for a codex, distilling the exchange and visualising the connection between text and data, colonial and inherent language. These make one part of a triptych of forms.

There is a process of interpretation between this triptych of forms. The translation process reveals the possibility of extractions or distillations that can be used as an 'ore' to begin exploring alternative codices within the "metaverse". Data derives directly from the tension between one's western and native ontologies and physical and digital language. The physical, namely, the body and its gestural functions, significant in manifesting the oratorical beginnings of Yoruba thought and religion versus Christianity deployed as a colonial weapon and wholeheartedly adopted by many Nigerians. This project aims to ask what of the physicality of language; voice, form, gesture and touch as seen through Yoruba, can be re-imagined in a virtual afterlife.

The process begins with a series of photographs taken just before and during Covid, inspiring an original book-length work of prose that explores the metaphysical dissonance from existing between virtually and geographically disparate realities. This is prose forms the central panel or vertebrae of this project. Subsequent translations from text sections provide enough data to create meshes detailed enough to mould into virtual (physical) sculptures.

The outcome of this process intimates the beginnings of new manifestations of language in an open-world virtual context, beyond the traditionally figurative, with the potential to develop new codices for equitable knowledge exchanges between cosmologies of thought, between post-human and humus.

RED EARTH exhibition, Studio Hanniball, Berlin 11/11/21 - 07/01/22
FLAT Journal (UCLA), November 2021
Berfrois, September 2021
Archive of Forgetfulness: Exhibition March 2021, Goethe Institute South Africa
Early Preview, "Artist no. 7", Blake and Vargas Gallery, Berlin.

Apollyon's Ghosts
Poetry in space. A poem about technocracy in the UK told in augmented reality. The poem and AR presentation explore the socio-political implications of increasingly centralised power's agency to edit 'reality'. 'Real world' sound fragments build on the spatial augmentation. This project was created before and while the pandemic changed our lives, obviously noticeable in the changing use of public space. The poem first appeared in text form in the inaugural issue of The Dark Preview, a research collective.

Apollyon's Ghost was exhibited as a multimedia installation in the group exhibition, Midnight Sun at Black Tower Projects, London 2021.

A digital film currently in development.

Malcolm and Mao explores a future world beyond the physical self and asks questions of what our historical interpretations of the past will mean for how we manage race in a supposedly post-human future.

Shot with volumentric video in combination with archival imagery and shot in an entirely virtually designed speculative work environment, Malcolm and Mao is an experiment in storytelling.

Here's a video of my reading from an extract entitled 'Lazarus' from my novel We Do God's Work. I read this during our evening of 'Body Texts' at Blake and Vargas Gallery in Kreuzberg Berlin. reading alongside Brazilian Poet Ricardo Domeneck, we used the evening to explore corporeality, temporality and cyber-reality.

I closed with thoughts on claustrophobia, within the body, within space, within the hegemonic realities both physical and digital. Lazarus is the story of an unnamed person that wakes up in a box in a morgue after a lynching and ruminates what it means to be alive, with no memory or comprehension of pain or the ravages of history.

The City of London is undergoing rapid transformation. The sand sacks that occur in large numbers on the streets of the city are overlooked by-products of the monumental building works currently reshaping London. This 'objet trouve', almost worthless but containing multiple ambiguous meanings is the centre of this work.

Artist and academic Rut Blees Luxemburg, working together with the writer and artist Michael Salu, instigates a series of 'bill boards' that feature the ubiquitous sacks.

Continuing our collaborative work, process Blees Luxemburg and I explored the semantic data inherent within our urban landscapes and wondering whether an ephemeral deployment of the most rudimentary but ubiquitous linguistic form [in text and image], can itself be subverted to instead draw attention to the lost intangibles that must survive these city spaces as they evolve and consume without pause.

The Golden Sack exhibition was part of Urban Photo Fest 2016.

Exhibition photos © Stefano Carnelli

Lolli Editions brings 18 international writers together in special book object designed by Studio Ard – Chuard & Nørregaard. A meteoric publishing project, the volume has been produced in response to Covid-19.

Tools for Extinction brings together 18 international writers in a collective response to the open-ended period of social distancing, closures, and illness caused by Covid-19. Compiled during the initial lockdown in Europe, this special collection is a meteoric publishing project with contributions from some of the most exciting and innovative authors working today.

Meditating on notions of distance and closeness, sameness and alterity, extinguishing and kindling, Tools for Extinction considers how a common pause might give rise to new modes of domesticity and shift experiences of time. What gestures and actions are we willing to perform to make ourselves, and each other, feel at ease – or at work? What tools and objects are useful, or unprecedentedly useless, to us in the process? And as our species' trademark proclivity for projecting ourselves into the future is disrupted, might we come to see the buildings, animals, plants and foodstuffs around us in a new light?

Compiled, edited and with a foreword by Denise Rose Hansen

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A Film by Michael Salu.

36 mins single channel, or 3 mins 12 channel multiscreen installation.

Cinematography by Jacob Robinson.

"One may say that the Negro in America does not really exist, except in the darkness of our minds." James Baldwin

Shot in a single unscripted take, Yesterday is personal reflection on the hypersexualised and lucrative commodity of the black male image. Globally, yet most explicitly in America, the image or representation of the black male forms many of the building blocks of the economic infrastructure and gains of today's consumer class. From a privatised penitentiary system, right through to corporate conglomerates such as Apple, the image and the narrative of the black male is that of an indefatigable commodity within the American dream. This is probably most explicitly witnessed within the evolution of Hip Hop over the last twenty years from street-level oratory urgency and anger to becoming the defacto, benign middle class corporatised 'urbanity'. High fashion's appropriation of said urbanity and even the proliferation of 'ebonics' within internet vernacular also adds to this discourse of a perpetually prolific commodification.

Yet, but no different to 'yesterday', the black male image is almost completely disconnected from its lucrative economic value, increasingly so today given the top heavy trickle down from the large corporations buying up the language of the street and reselling their own voices back to them at a 500% mark up. Brilliantly re-affirming the unattainability of the American Dream.

The sheen of high fashion markets the parallel tropes of fear and desire of the black image back to us, the broader consumer market led principally by white male patriarchy allow us to consume this image, adopt its stance and its language, without ever really thinking about its restricted social or economic position within our globalised consumer society. The 'Thug Life' meme phenomena is an acute observation of this reality.

The sheen of high production and inevitable inherently politicised sexuality also masks the core experience within this film. We do not see this male's real experiences beyond the mediatised (desired or demonised) version of him. We do not see him vulnerable, or lonely, or even just having a haircut. Even the hair that is being cut comes with an inherent mystery still prevalent in conversation as why try to understand what dreadlocks are.

The film could only be really made once, as such a ritual would take another ten years or so to reproduce organically calling into question the relevance of materiality or authenticity. The ritual itself takes a flagellatory stance, questioning the codes of representation and ultimately the futility of chasing a visual representation of identity within an image culture the black male has little control of.

Asked within the film through its length, subject and static frame, is whether socio-economic position of blackness is escapable? Can there ever be a psychological reprieve from something systematically part of the foundations of how our modern world was built? Can you sit with this film through its banal duration and maybe also reflect on that which is inescapable from the black male who can not click away or close the browser window, as witnessed in the lives of many and those we've seen through the mediatised filter witness their own end through this hegemony. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. They were clearly not cut in on the deal and nor could they just look away.

A one shot musing on the procreative power of insomnia. Extracted from this private moment is an intimacy in its purest and somewhat illicit form with something one might hold dear. Do we ever see what the artist is feeling? A special artist commission for Piano Day 2016.

In 2016 I set out on a research project on my interest in the relationship between text and image. In this case I used early machine learning models to analyse digitally found images. The machine learning model would analyse the images and deliver keywords based in what is recognised, and it produced a kind of stilted poetry. It helped me probe questions about the cognitive impact on a delirious, constant feed of images.

In Walker Evans and James Agee's 1936 book "Let us now Praise Famous Men", Evans and Agee conspired to illustrate the life of American sharecropper's plight during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal highlighting the struggles of Americans living during the dust bowl years and the resulting poverty that ensued. Saccharine to the point of decay, the assignment was funded by Fortune magazine for which Evans worked.

Presently, Brad Feuerhelm has taken the iconic photo-literary tract of Evans and Agee and has appropriated the tract to inverse the use of the photographic image in a political dialogue through the act of violent destruction by physically shooting all 200+ copies of the book point blank with a glock .45 in the summer of 2014. The author was in his words "at war with the obnoxiously persistent and tentacled filament of the military industrial complex in America and the societal Disneyland (absurdity) that has invoked complacency over the mechanics of it at large".

Perhaps direct and somewhat abusive, the bullet that pierces each of the pages transcends the nominal photo-book into that of an anti-iconographic relic. The book becomes object in which violence has occurred and each of the portraits becomes a transgressive display of intolerance towards societal disregard for the economic war machine. Heads of several multi-national arms corporations, both domestic and international find their own image torn asunder by a violent act. The irony of which is that the book itself becomes an object to be re-sold to an audience pointing at the cyclical and futile irony of the presiding problem of complacency within the ever-expanding pursuit of capital largess through arms and military equipment sales.

Possibly the first book to be physically shot in such a manner, the accompanying text by Feuerhelm and Michael Salu point combatively to the problems of becoming complacent under life at its extremes.

A special commission for Vinyl Me Please and Nils Frahm for a special limited edition of his already classic album 'Spaces'.

Nils Frahm uniquely merges classical melodic forms and an underlying modular geometry, which is something these algorithmic images responded to.

Taking lead from mathematical patterning found in flora, each are generative works that use mathematical formulas of repetition to create densely layered aesthetics. Nature has an inherent algorithmic structure whether that be the composition of a plant or that of a sound.

S.O.U.L: Systemic Obfuscation of User Liberalism
S.O.U.L is an umbrella term for my ongoing research project on the impact of technology on social behaviours, visual culture, identity and language. Started in 2014, I have gradually developed a series of talks, essays, artwork and ephemera that aim to catalog and provide discerning critique on our shifting consciousness and mechanised selfhood. This research launches a series of art projects and culminates in a book of fiction entitled We Do God's Work which is currently represented by Seren Adams at United Agents.

A special stage adaption a of a merging on two recently published stories that centre around an alternative digital realm I've created called S.O.U.L. (Systemic Obfuscation of User Liberalism). Performed with stage actor Nathan Ives Moiba and images provided by Rut Blees Luxemburg as part of Local Transport at Southbank's London Literature Festival.