plum road tea dream (research)
Plum Road Tea Dream is the inner sanctum of Belgian artist Samuel Baidoo, built from scratch in the online video game Minecraft. What started as casual play during the first COVID-19 lockdown turned out to be an ideal way to process certain world events, such as the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed. It’s an ongoing project, as the world is anything but finished.
Initially conceived as a deeply intimate space for personal archiving, reflection, and healing, he’s currently researching how to best share the project with an audience. During Relive, you’ll be able to visit this personal world and discover everything he’s built and written, and maybe add to that. In a further stage, he plans to disconnect the world from Minecraft and rebuild the experience in his own proper video game.
About the developer
Samuel Baidoo is a Belgian artist and earned a degree in illustration and graphic design at Sint-Lucas Antwerpen before starting with the dance training at the Royal Conservatory Antwerp. Apart from researching Plum Road Tea Dream, he’s currently working as a freelance dancer for a.o. Michiel Vandevelde, Nat Gras, Agostina D'Alessandro and Tuur Marinus.
With the support of the Flemish Governement
Special thanks to Het Bos, Campo, C-takt, STUK, François Vincent and Sari Veroustraete
Interview with Samuel Baidoo
How does a dance artist come up with the idea to start creating a world in Minecraft?
There’s several reasons Minecraft is an ideal platform for my research. Initially, I was drawn to it out of curiosity as a player, I had never tried it before. Minecraft is a very accessible platform which makes it pretty easy to create things. My first creations were all made as a player of the game. At first, I didn’t use Creative Mode so that meant I had to collect all the materials myself. Later on I felt like Minecraft offered me a safe space. I started to look at my world as an extension of my own brain and inner world. A place where I had plenty of room to store memories, thoughts, dreams and trauma and to find healing. The next step was then to realize it could also be used as a space to tell stories that are currently underrepresented or undervalued.
You’re keen to stress that Plum Road Tea Dream is a research project. Why is that distinction so important?
Research projects give artists time and space to think and experiment without having to consider a final project. I think research projects are vital to rediscover your interests
as an artist. In my case it’s a way to take a retrospective look at my work, see what I have actually been creating, where my intuition has led me in order to more consciously choose the direction my work will take from now on.
I see it as a nutritious hummus layer upon which my future work and practices as artist can be built. After this research project it’s my hope to disconnect from the world of Minecraft and rebuild the experience in my own proper video game.
Was it always your intention to share your creations with an audience?
Not at all. At first I was just creating these things for myself. My Minecraft world was a place I could go to process both worldly events that happened at the start of 2020 and that spoke to me as black, queer artist as well as very personal experiences. This started with the pandemic, which also halted my work as a freelance dancer, but it was greatly accelerated by the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It was only later I figured it might be interesting to let people tour my world and showcase my work. I experimented with this for the first time during a weeklong residence at Campo in Gent. People were allowed to enter this world I had created, were able to walk past the structures I built and read everything I had written down. It was scary as it was so personal and therefore vulnerable, but it felt good at the same time. It was certainly interesting to see how people interacted with this world I had created.
Can you use some of your experience as a dancer?
You could say that choreographing and dancing is often about relating to space or creating spatial layouts and there’s a lot of that as well in Plum Road Tea Dream. Maybe directing the way players move through the world and what they look at in what order can be viewed as some sort of choreography. Of course, dancers usually aim to perform as close to the choreography as possible, whereas with players you have no control over that whatsoever. But that’s what makes it interesting again.
Another big difference between creating in the digital and the physical world is you can more easily undo things. Are you immediately happy with what you build or do you end up changing it a lot?
It depends. I won’t easily change a poem or diary entry I wrote. What’s interesting though is that you can keep adding things. One of the most important structures in my world is the ‘Sunrise temple’. It’s the monument I build after a 27 day long mourning ritual I performed after the murder on George Floyd. I had made a list of names of black Americans that had been killed by the police while innocent and between the death of Floyd and the start of summer on the 21st of June I would get up to witness the sunrise and hold a moment of silence. Each day for another person. It was an act out of a feeling of complete powerlessness. It was my way to search for new rituals where our society has neither the time nor the place for.
You constantly keep adding things to the world. Do you know if it will ever be finished?
I don’t have a roadmap of features I want to implement or things I still need to build. I don’t know if it will ever be considered finished, but I feel that I’ll know when it is. I don’t feel like it’s finished now in any case, and I don’t know yet what I’ll do when I get the feeling that it is finished. I guess that as long as I feel the need for this intimate space to be there I will keep on using it.
I’ve dreamed of building a wooden temple where people can leave notes, things they want to say goodbye to. Once the temple was finished we would burn it and see both the wood and the notes go up into flames. After that, out of the ashes and soil a whole forest would grow. Destruction in a digital realm is at the same time easier although a lot less permanent than in the physical world. Still I think it could be meaningful if at one point we could all build in Minecraft and write notes and light that temple on fire together.
Interview by Christophe De Bont
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