Multimedia Artist Envisions Future in Debut Piece


Courtesy of Boychild

Multimedia artist Elysia Crampton looks contemplatively into the camera. Crampton will premiere her conceptual work, Dissolution of the Sovereign, at Fairchild Chapel Saturday night before touring the piece in Europe.

Luke Nikkanen

Elysia Crampton’s Dissolution of the Sovereign: A Time Slide into the Future is a multimedia exploration of a possible future — one that is freed from the reign of a Eurocentric grasp on history and whitewashed political narratives. Her performance Saturday at Fairchild Chapel will be the debut of the Bolivian-American trans artist’s conceptual opus.

“In her email, she was talking about how her live performance includes acting, poetry [and more] — just an entire multi-media event,” said College junior Sam Meier, who booked the event. Crampton’s means of expression are often unpredictable. “I really have no idea what to expect, honestly,” Meier continued. “I knew that I hadn’t seen anything like [Crampton] while being at Oberlin, and so I really wanted to bring something that would be totally unique and incredible.”

The bizarre history told in the narrative performance follows the severed limbs of Bartolina Sisa, an Aymara revolutionary. Told from the perspective of the limbs, the story shifts to a far-away future, in which the remains have turned to stone, the sun has died, the prison industrial complex is nonexistent and trans humanoid arachnids rule the world.

The mystery surrounding the event is certainly a source of intrigue for many on campus. The bold yet unrevealing nature of the event posters fuel this. “I’ve seen the posters for the show all around Oberlin and thought they looked really interesting,” College sophomore Isaac Goldman said. Angie Vaaler, also a College sophomore, shared similar sentiments. “I’ve seen this event advertised in class and was really interested in the political nature of the show. A title like Dissolution of the Sovereign seems to suggest big ideas of liberation, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s expressed.”

For Meier, booking Crampton was not an easy process. “I discovered her music at the beginning of a mix I heard a while ago,” Meier said. “I tried tracking her down. All last year I tried booking her but couldn’t quite figure out a time that worked. I wanted to make sure it would be a priority for this year.

“She’s just one of the smartest people I’ve encountered,” Meier continued. “She does everything in such a particular manner, whether it’s in her music, writing or execution of live shows. She’s focused on presenting what she wants to present.”

Crampton’s compositions evoke a sense of detachment from any sort of tangible time or space. They combine oral traditions from Aymara theater and histories of colonialism with music and sound that highlights Crampton’s trans femme vision of the future. Just as she layers times and places, her music also layers sound. Some of her music has combined R&B vocals, cumbia beats and digital manipulation of the sounds. Yet her techno music also has a distinctly spiritual quality. Her work speaks volumes about her nonconformity and her adherence to a unique creative vision. Her imaginative performances have achieved international recognition. “She … is planning a European tour around [Dissolution of the Sovereign],” Meier said. “But we figured we could premier it at Oberlin, which is crazy.”

Crampton’s layered narrative work has reached many people. “What really struck me when I first found her music was that it wasn’t music for the club, as it was really personal music that told a story and took different parts of her identity and laid them out in such a raw way,” Meier said. Her album American

Drift, released this past summer, received critical acclaim from Pitchfork, FACT Magazine and SPIN, all of which seemed attracted to the dissociative qualities of the music that evoked feelings of lost identity.

“Even though I cannot understand her music on a level that might [be] relat[able] to other people — whether they are Bolivian-American, trans or [ from] immigrant families — it’s still so apparent that [her background] is there in a way that isn’t with a lot of other music,” Meier said.

A creative vision as distinctive as Crampton’s deserves to be performed in venues that reflect the intentions behind the performance. “One of the things I was really thinking about when organizing the show was the space it was going to be viewed in, especially in relation to the other events that Concert Board books, like at the ’Sco and other music venues,” Meier said. “I [have] found myself in spaces where there’s incredible artists, but the crowd isn’t totally respectful of that. I hope that in Fairchild Chapel, there will be a respectful, engaged audience that will be able to learn from [Crampton] and take in what she has to say.”

Vaaler agreed. “The ’Sco definitely brings in a different kind of energy, and I feel like Fairchild has this spiritual nature to it,” she said.

Goldman shared similar sentiments. “I think Fairchild Chapel is going to be a really interesting venue for a performance like this. It’s a really intimate but also powerful place,” he said. “It’s important to see different people being brought to Oberlin who have different stories to tell,” Meier concluded.

Crampton’s Dissolution of the Sovereign looks to be a commanding performance that will immerse, engage and, above all, challenge those in the audience to reflect on pre-existing political narratives and envision an alternate future.