Inspired by quantum physics and the teachings of human rights advocate Grace Lee Boggs, an arts collective in Detroit is rethinking activism for the 21st century. Complex Movements creates extraordinary multimedia experiences that engage citizens and support social change. Blending the talents of graphic designer and fine artist Wesley Taylor, music producer and filmmaker Waajeed, lyricist, performance artist and activist Invincible, designer and engineer Carlos Garcia (L05), and producer and cultural strategist Sage Crump, their work defies categorization, preaching change through a kaleidoscope of artistic mediums.
Their latest project is Beware of the Dandelions, a sci-fi parable that’s part immersive art installation, part trip-hop puzzle game. Set in a bleak, futuristic land, the piece chronicles the Dandelion Revolution, an imagined uprising against greedy elites known as Dome Dwellers, who live in one of the last unpolluted places on Earth. The Dome Dwellers eat special immortality apples, farmed by lower classes dependent on the elites for water rations and other resources. When an elder goes on a hunger strike in protest and dies, it sparks an underground uprising to restore power to the oppressed.
But while Beware of the Dandelions weaves a fantastical narrative, the piece is really about what happens when communities organize and how they navigate the intricacies of advocacy. “How do communities, when they’re organizing for change, internally handle the contradictions and different approaches that prevent them from challenging inequities in more effective ways?” Invincible asks The Creators Project. Boggs worked closely with Complex Movements before she passed away last year, and her philosophies around the effectiveness of neighborhood-based, “particle-level” activism informs the work.
The whole performance takes place in a futuristic pop-up structure called the Pod, designed by architect and artist Aaron Jones, which accommodates around 35 audience members per show. Projections on the walls of the Pod guide viewers through the narrative. To “unlock” more of the story, the crowd participates in a series of interactions, like self-sorting into groups and clapping out a dueling rhythm. Music brings the video art to life; as the story unfolds, Invincible and Waajeed perform each track live, while L05 mixes visuals in real time.
When not in “performance mode” the Pod enters “installation mode,” which maps community testimonies of resilience and resistance onto its walls. Beware of the Dandelions was developed over the course of five years before embarking on tour to three US cities: Seattle, Dallas, and Detroit.
“Each community applies the metaphors of the piece differently,” Invincible says. “When we were in Seattle, everyone was like, ‘Wow, this is like how Amazon is taking over right now.’ When we were in Dallas, people applied to some of the corporate displacement occurring in their different neighborhoods.”
One of Complex Movements’ core goals is to shine light on under-reported, but equally momentous, human stories. “A lot of artists creating work about police brutality are doing it on a national scale, and a lot of the people who were murdered on a local scale just weren’t having their stories told,” Crump explains. “So Beware of the Dandelions brought a lot of these people together and had artists create work based on these very personal stories.”
“One of the things about this piece that is so interesting for me is that the focus is not on the oppressors who are doing bad things, but rather on how real activism within communities looks and works,” she says.