Afternoon Dust

looking

John Akomfrah — Vertigo Sea

An onslaught of images: boats sailing, drifting, floundering; waves surging and crashing; schools of fish and flocks of birds darting and dancing in shapes and patterns that sometimes resemble whales comprised of hundreds of individual gleaming parts; pineapples and coconuts hanging from branches by pieces of string; extremely graphic scenes of whales being slaughtered and butchered, huge slabs of meat the size of breezeblocks being pushed down holes or suspended from crane hooks; people dressed in exquisite period dress, posing almost immobile in a series of tableaus vivantes, dozing and dreaming on picnic rugs, or writing intensely with quill and ink; fat rain drumming on an intricately-decorated silver helmet, making a dull pinging rhythm.

Precarity, risk, and the domesticity of war

Across town at Grand Union, They Are Here (Harun Morrison and Helen Walker) have established a Precarity Centre with an interdisciplinary programme of talks, videos, performances, and installation exploring the theme of precarity. Half of the gallery space is taken up by an enormous floor-to-ceiling sculpture by Ioanna Pantazopoulou, which resembles a precariously-stacked pile of giant Flumps. Helene Kazan’s stop-frame animation ‘Masking Tape Intervention: Lebanon 1989’ is on display on a tiny tablet screen behind the office, and the artist dropped by last night to deliver a performance lecture that gave further insight into her practice and her perspective on the subject of precarity.

Cloud Mountain

After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, today is a tumultuous mix of rain, hail, high winds, and occasional blue skies. Right now, in the distance beyond the bedroom window, I can see two lines of clouds. The closest is thin and wispy, moving across the rectangular cut-out field of view at some speed; the second, over the edge of the distant hill, is thick and puffy, and moves ponderously (though this apparent difference in speed might just be a trick of perspective). This latter cloudline slopes upwards into peaks, a snowy mountain range crested with yellow winter light.

Office blocks

Office blocks on Holloway Head. Maybe it’s the cold weather with its light dusting of snow, or the apparent signs of low occupancy, but to me these buildings seem to have taken on a strange sort of quietness. They weren’t quiet when they were built — they were the brave new future of society. They have become quiet, through some process I don’t understand.

Hannah Lees — Let us go then, you and I

Two summers ago, I was sat at a table in a Sea Cadet hall on the Kent coast, sharing bread and wine with friends and strangers. The moment was memorable for being both strongly immediate and simultaneously somehow timeless. Tonight there is also bread and wine, faces familiar and new, but the setting and context is different: a wet winter night, a gallery space, a vitrine filled with a clay landscape strewn with bone, shells, leaves, and incense sticks. Both occasions were instigated by the artist Hannah Lees.

Wasteland

Near where I live in central Birmingham, there’s a patch of waste ground, maybe 150m square, surrounded by a metal fence. Left untouched by developers, tall grasses and shrubs have flourished, and magpies and other birds can often be seen hopping about looking for insects to munch. Here, in late summer, the constant drone of crickets drowns out the traffic on the main road a stone’s throw away; the autumn sunsets, unobstructed by tall buildings, are spectacular. A wide variety of rubbish has accumulated on the east side of the fence, including an empty suitcase and bottles and cans of all descriptions.

Holes

In a densely occupied city like Birmingham, sometimes you have to strain your neck to see the sky, tall buildings blocking the view on almost every side. Sometimes, however, a demolition will clear a wide open path to the clouds. Coming across one of these views, where I’d gotten used to seeing another brick or concrete façade, can be quite jolting. The above space used to belong to a leisure complex offering ten-pin bowling and skating; now it is a hole, filled with sky. A billboard at the end of the street indicates that it is destined to become student housing.

Jumana Manna — A magical substance flows into me

Western media representations of the inhabitants of Palestine tend to divide them neatly into two groups, Jews and Arabs, with the occasional vague reference to Christians of unknown origin and denomination. As is usual with such things, the reality is much more complex, with many different groups occupying and overlapping in a highly contested geopolitical and cultural space. Jumana Manna’s film A magical substance flows into me (2015), currently showing at Chisenhale Gallery in London, introduces us to some of these groups through an exploration of their music. Having researched the work of German-Jewish ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann and the pioneering series of broadcasts of Palestinian music he made in the 1930s, Manna sets out to find the communities featured in the broadcasts and re-record their music.

British Art Show 8

The British Art Show, a national touring exhibition of new art organised by Hayward Touring at London’s South Bank Centre, recently opened its eighth edition at Leeds Art Gallery. Works by 42 UK-based artists were selected or commissioned by curators Anna Conlin and Lydia Yee, and this scale made taking in all that was on offer something of a challenge, especially as many of the works were films of quite some length. As a result, I don’t think I was able to give each and every work the attention it deserved, but here are some of the highlights that stood out.

Zarina Bhimji — Jangbar

Zarina Bhimji’s film Jangbar was shot on location in Kenya, at and around various train stations along the Kenya Railway line. In a series of long static shots and slow pans, a series of dilapidated and seemingly abandoned buildings is depicted: train station tickets offices and waiting rooms, signal boxes, houses, and a church. These are interspersed with numerous shots of the surrounding landscape. Bhimji chooses to focus in on details such as the paint peeling off a wooden bench, the broken keys of an old piano, and the bark of a tree. The soundtrack to the film was created separately to the images, and includes both sounds directly related to the image being presented (e.g. wind rustling through trees) and also a whole host of others that have no visible source: voices chattering and hollering, bangs, clatters, and rattles, strains of music, fragmented excerpts of recorded speeches, and so on.