Music journalist and biographer David Katz describes Lee “Scratch” Perry as a “a mass of contradictions. A devout Rastafarian who believes in extraterrestrials, he advocates black supremacy while living with a white woman in Switzerland. He is also one of the few to truly deserve the title of living legend, his contribution to popular music is immeasurable.” The invitation to present his work in a contemporary art institution for the first time comes in fact from Switzerland—more specifically, from the Swiss Institute in New York, in the shape of a solo exhibition curated with Lorenzo Bernet.
Rituals, and a ritualistic approach to life both on and off-stage, can be the key to understanding Perry’s long and peculiar career. On a bootleg cover of his seminal album Kung Fu Meets the Dragon, signed under his alias The Mighty Upsetter, we found a quote from a Chinese wise man supposedly from the 3rd century BC: “The meaning of ritual is lofty indeed. He who tries to enter with the violent and arrogant ways of those who despise common customs and consider themselves to be above other men will meet his downfall there.” Beliefs, creeds, symbols and myths emerge as forms of cerebral content or conceptual blueprints throughout his artistic production. “I’m a robot, I’m a computer,” he was constantly repeating when we met him the last time a couple of years ago, while filming himself through his laptop’s webcam.
So, the question is: how would you frame Lee Perry’s rituals—ongoing by definition—within an institutional museum context? How can you block a mirror and its reflections?