The South London artist brings her new album to life at the world-renowned gallery.
This summer, the Serpentine Gallery in London commissioned Junya Ishigami to design the Serpentine Pavilion, a cave-reminiscent structure meant to act as a "refuge for contemplation." It was a fitting home for Klein to debut her intimate multi-sensory performance, "Lifetime."
Klein's body of work is candid, introspective and brimming with stories that are elevated in a live setting. This performance built upon themes of her new album, also called Lifetime. Her intention was to explore the "fragility of one's culture through memory and loss using this performance as tool of preservation." It was a deeply personal undertaking, and as a fellow child of the Nigerian diaspora, I was contemplating what emotions the experience might stir.
I arrived early, enjoying dusk in the Serpentine's lush green surroundings. Circling the Pavilion, I caught the last of Klein's soundcheck. Laughing and chanting "shake yo' ass to the beat" before swiftly executing a tender vocal riff, it was a glimpse into what to expect that night: an emotive performance with a touch of humour.
We were handed torches and ushered under the Pavillion. Stark red lights dominated and the air was smoky. Amid high anticipation, two performers disrupted the scene, jerking their way through the crowd. The album's bonus track, "Big," resounded as layered gospel vocals soared beneath their interpretive dance.
Klein finally took the stage looking like the sixth Spice Girl—Naija-Goth Spice—with a head of white hair adorned with Union Jacks and a headset. Carolin Schnurrer's technology input turned Klein's hands and guitar into midi-sound controllers. As Klein sat in front of her laptop, we were placed firmly into her personal space. It was tense, her face illuminated solely by a laptop screen and the audience's torches. We were voyeurs bathed in red, creeping into her creative process. Discordant guitar lines reverberated as she stroked the instrument and switched between iTunes and Ableton tabs. You got an insight into her workflow, interrupted by what could be called her memories and reflections.
In one scene, Klein and her co-performer wailed, fought and partially undressed onstage against galactic soundscapes. The spirited display was almost reminiscent of the Nollywood dramas I grew up on. Another nod to the diaspora came in the form of an aunt figure comically recounting a story about Google Home. It lightened the mood after the previous enactment and I found myself laughing, once again reminded of my upbringing. Crowd expressions were wide-ranging, illustrating Klein's strength as a storyteller.
As Klein left the stage, she thanked the audience and demanded that they "shake their booty." She played "Claim It," one of the album's more rhythmic tracks, and the crowd and performers melted into one. Energy levels peaked as torches flickered, people cheered and, as commanded, shook their booties. This was the moment of release everyone was waiting for.
The energy dissipated just as quickly as it had built, and the show came to an abrupt end. It took time for the concept to sink in, but the crowd were hanging onto every element. Though the performance left you with questions, its brilliance lay in everyone's individual interpretation. Klein gave us a glimpse into the latest chapter of her spirally world, and it was just as raw and exciting as ever.