On view November 18, 2023 through February 17, 2024, 3WI is the first institutional solo exhibition of Dion "TYGAPAW" McKenzie, premiering a newly commissioned installation combining video, sound, and performance. 3WI, or Third World immigrant, is a phrase which McKenzie adopted to describe their experience of immigrating from Jamaica to the United States.
Informed by McKenzie’s experiences touring the world as an electronic music producer, the exhibition’s centerpiece is a live, solo modular synthesizer and drum machine performance taking place in Art Omi’s Newmark Gallery during the opening of the exhibition on November 18, 2023. An audio recording of the performance will be played back in the gallery throughout the run of the show, accompanied by video documentation of the event as well as an earlier live performance at an event in Brooklyn.
Dion “TYGAPAW” McKenzie: 3WI will feature a series of talks with writers and musicians exploring the critical discourse around techno. These talks will provide context for the exhibition by mapping both the history and conceptual concerns of techno as an art movement, as well as the ways in which the music is currently being historicized in academic and art world circles. McKenzie uses the formal language of electronic music to respond sonically to questions around access, migration, mindful listening, and historical erasure which are raised by the positionality of techno on the global stage.
Originating in the Black, queer, and trans communities of Detroit and its surrounding suburbs in the early 1980s, techno became popular in European metropoles such as Berlin and London in the 1990s and by the end of the decade was recognized around the world. Drawing on a variety of influences including disco, funk, and European electronic groups such as Kraftwerk and funk, the genre has spawned countless localized variants. The global migration of techno in many ways mirrors McKenzie’s own personal journey as a Jamaican immigrant to the United States and internationally recognized musician and artist. The ways in which techno has been hybridized and recontextualized are reflected in McKenzie’s singular style, which references many classic techno tropes while also incorporating a range of musical influences. By simultaneously existing as both a commodity in the nightlife economy and a hugely important and influential musical form connected to a rich lineage of Black music, techno is uniquely suited to frame an examination of the ways in which culture as a whole is instrumentalized, historicized, marketed, and celebrated.
3WI invites its audience to think deeply about the history and meaning which saturates the musical figures, timbres, notions of timing, and sounds that comprise McKenzie’s durational artworks. Through intentional engagement with these formal elements as well as the critical and historical discourse surrounding techno, 3WI levels an important critique of the ways in which the flow of cultural capital in a globalized gig economy often replicates broader systems of disenfranchisement, transphobia, and racism. The foregrounding of sonic and performance work in the exhibition reflects an acknowledgement of the ability of these disciplines to transform physical and discursive space while modeling new modes of interaction and understanding.
Curated by Guy Weltchek, Curatorial Assistant.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
TYGAPAW grew up as Dion McKenzie in Mandeville, Jamaica. Today, the artist, producer, DJ, and label owner resides in Brooklyn, New York, where they have spent the better part of a decade uplifting frequencies representative of the Black electronic music diaspora. Their sonic palette—informed by the dancehall of their hometown as much as it is the techno emanating from the warehouses of Detroit—has made them an indispensable figure in Brooklyn's electronic music scene.
Since 2014, McKenzie has been carving spaces in New York for queer people of color through their queer club night, and now label, Fake Accent. The platform is part of their broader mission to forge liberating spaces for marginalized people, particularly Black, queer, and trans people, an agenda embedded in the various layers of the artist's work. Early records like the breakthrough EP Handle With Care (2019), Ode To Black Trans Lives (2020), and their debut album Get Free (2020) established McKenzie not only as a skillful producer, but further as an emotive storyteller. Through their production, they are known to weave together stories of queer immigrant life, radical self-preservation, and Black communal joy.
Their music, much like New York, is a cultural stew made vibrant by influences as local as New York's ballroom community and as distant as Berlin's hard techno circuit. In 2021, one of techno's most vital institutions, the Berlin venue and record label Tresor, enlisted McKenzie to contribute to their 30th anniversary compilation, where the musician was in the company of techno luminaries like fellow contributors Juan Atkins, K-HAND, and Robert Hood. In 2022, McKenzie brought their visionary take on techno to life with a three-part techno opera, Devil Woman (Obeah Woman)—the first iteration of which premiered at New York's The Chocolate Factory Theater, and Queens Museum before the project traveled to Berlin.
In 2023, TYGAPAW's second album love has never been a popular movement, was released on fabric Originals in the spring. This album is a special one for several reasons: it is the first album the musician produced with hardware rather than Ableton, the first record that features their vocals prominently, and it also sees McKenzie try their hand at songwriting. In eight tracks that hopscotch across atmospheric techno and East Coast club, love has never been a popular movement addresses—with unshakable confidence—fierce self-love and TYGAPAW's journey as a Jamaican reckoning with their trans identity.
Art Omi’s programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. Additional program support is provided by the Ruth Foundation for the Arts.