A new work by Akomfrah The Airport is a three-screen film installation which recalls the work of two filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick and Theo Angelopolous. The work is epic, beautiful and transcendental and a visit to see it at the marvellous Lisson Gallery, London, is a revelation. His work is given the space it deserves and requires, the screens and seating areas are appropriate to the scale of the work. The poetic and politically charged work grapples with race, politics, identity and postcolonial attitudes. Filmed in the Southern Greek landscape, within an abandoned airfield, the narrative, complete with a wandering and meandering astronaut and a prowling and stalking gorilla, contemplates the significance of empire.
The film has a flexible and expandable sense of time, like much of Akomfrah’s work, where characters from different eras encounter one another. In so doing the artist creates ghosts which linger in our consciousness, both physically through the architectural ruins and metaphorically through the traces and histories of the previous generations.
The film installation, shown at Lisson Gallery, is an experimental costume drama set in the sixteenth century. The film was made in Plymouth and the Tamar Valley, locations which have significant connections with the expansion of European power and darker history of the river. The artist’s starting point was the connection between the waterways of the south west and the slave trade. In the film we see the first British encounters with people from Africa. The fictional narrative reflects on the global seafaring power and the bleak history of the British Empire.
The film draws on the writings of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, stories of seafarers, and loosely on Bertolt Brecht’s notion of ‘epic theatre’. The actors in the film, in sixteenth century period costumes, appear in a series of tableauxs where African and European landscapes and characters overlap.
This is a powerful work, where we feel quite stranded and distressed. It is not costume drama but the presentation of history. I am sure it will have many parallels with the artist’s Vertigo Sea, fresh from the Venice Biennale, this film installation is now touring the UK, including venues in Bristol and Manchester.
The first UK solo exhibition by the Brazilian artist is shown at The Photographers Gallery where she presents slides salvaged from the archives of photo journalist Aurelio Gonzalez.
The images were made between 1957 and 1973, for the Uruguayan Communist newspaper El Popular, in anticipation of the ensuing military coup. Gonzalez hid the archive in a wall cavity for thirty years, only going to retrieve them at a time he felt safe to do so. This story is remarkable in itself and the archive offers a rare visual record of that time, showing scenes of unrest, poverty and decline preceding the coup.
The beautiful, dramatic and yet simple installation harnesses the power, sound and temperament of 20 vintage analogue projectors. Adding to the atmosphere the installation clicks, whirs and thuds away using these handsome machines that were sourced from South America and date back to the time that the images were made. The audience are free to press the go button to show the slide as they move around the interactive installation.
The exhibition highlights the overlooked narratives during this time of great upheaval. The work explores suppressed memory and the collective memory loss that perpetuates South America’s twentieth century history.