The following edited transcript of a conversation between John Akomfrah and Anthony Downey took place at the Barbican Centre’s Curve Gallery on 12 October 2017. The event coincided with Akomfrah’s installation of his six-channel film Purple in the gallery (6 October 2017 – 7 January 2018) and begins with a discussion of the film’s main ideas and how the artist’s interest in ‘clearing the stage’ enabled him to invite new elements into both the film and into his working practice. Although Purple has a starting point in aspects of Akomfrah’s biography, its subject matter is much broader and far-reaching taking in, as it does, the so-called Anthropocene epoch. The latter term is being widely used to designate a period in which human activity has shifted from being a ‘biological agent’ ‒ impacting on a specific and largely localised environment ‒ to becoming a ‘geological agent’; capable, that is, of radically altering the world’s relatively stable climate patterns.
If the disavowal or absence of legal and political representation before the law is a feature of being a refugee in an era of political exceptionalism, then what happens when artistic representation is inserted into this already compromised regime of visibility? In an all too amenable substitution that can often reconfirm the apparent absence of legal accountability, this lecture will suggest that cultural forms of representation are increasingly compensating for — if not replacing — the very systems and procedures of political and legal responsibility that are being denied refugees in the first place? This culturalisation of political debate has, in turn, effected one of the key aims of neoliberalism: the de facto co-option of culture so that it ultimately answers to and performs, rather than opposes, political debate.
BAR is a live-work space for artists/collectives looking to develop projects in a stimulating environment. The goal of the program is to facilitate collaboration between international as well as local artists. During their time, residents are encouraged to diverge from their usual practice and experiment with new ideas with the comfort of knowing that they are not expected to produce finished work at the culminating Open Studio event. The BAR team hold weekly meetings with artists to help them locate materials, connect with local art figures and generally find their bearings in this multifaceted city.
The jury for choosing artists for 2019 included Fouad Elkoury, Anthony Downey, Ziad Antar, Sandra Dagher, and Bernard Khoury. For more information, see here.
Bringing together artists, therapists, critics and criminologists, the symposium will consider how prisoners and the criminal justice system are perceived by the public, politicians and media and the potential for artists to influence these perceptions. Presentations and discussion will address the following: the representation of prison(ers) in the media and discourse about criminal justice; the representation of prison(ers) in art and cinema; the role of art and creative therapies in prison and rehabilitation.
Anthony Downey will be in conversation with Edmund Clarke at 16:00 on the 11 March. For further details, see here.
The Future of Image Production in the Middle East: Critical Practices and Digital Networks
In this workshop, Anthony Downey will address how images circulate within the context of the Middle East today. He will examine how computer generated images are not just replacing the “real” of events in the region, but determining the means by which history is been represented and archived. A key element here is the extent to which new and social media are being presented as transparent means for political ends in contemporary art practices and how cultural production is made to stand in for political action and social commentary. These processes have given rise to politicized archives and interpretive anxieties about virtual evidence and image-based historiographies, nowhere more so than when social media and digital platforms are being used as evidentiary tools to explain conflict across the Middle East.
Who Benefits from the Work of Art: Political Exceptionalism and the Refugee Condition
A lecture by Anthony Downey
If the disavowal or absence of legal and political representation is a feature of being a refugee in an era of political exceptionalism, then what happens when artistic representation is inserted into this already compromised regime of visibility? In an all too amenable substitution that can often reconfirm the apparent absence of legal accountability, this lecture will suggest that cultural forms of representation are increasingly compensating for — if not replacing — the very systems and procedures of political and legal responsibility that are being denied refugees in the first place? This culturalisation of political debate has, in turn, effected two of the key aims of neoliberalism: the depoliticisation of debate and the de facto co-option of culture so that it ultimately answers to, rather than opposes, political debate.
The conversation will be in English with simultaneous translation into Russian. For further information, see here.
“On 2 March 2012, the precincts of the City Civil Court in Bangalore, erupted into mayhem as a pitched battle broke out between members of the judiciary and local media groups. These skirmishes quickly degenerated into acts of vandalism and the local police force waded in with a lathi-charge — or baton charge — to restore order. Three months before these events, the same judicial advocates had staged a boycott of the courts, following an unprovoked attack on one of their members by police. This attack was part of a pattern of intimidation and harassment that, as far as the judiciary were concerned, was impeding their ability to carry out their duties. Infuriated by police harassment and, at the time, the adverse media coverage of their strike (which they considered both legitimate and necessary), the judiciary turned their anger towards the media”.
“Where to Now: Imminent Impermanence in the Work of Sheela Gowda”, is a catalogue essay published on the occasion of Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, November 2017.
An edited version of this essay, also titled “Where to Now: Imminent Impermanence in the Work of Sheela Gowda”, was included in the exhibition catalogue for Sheela Gowda’s retrospective show, Remains, at Fondazione Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, April 4th to September 15th, 2019, with other critical essays by art historian Geeta Kapur and writer and curator Pablo Lafuente, a text on the show by the curators as well as well as contributions by Roger M. Buergel, Grant Watson, Abhishek Hazra, Jessica Morgan, Zehra Jumabhoy, Marta Kuzma and Tobias Ostrander.
In October 2019 an adapted version of this show will travel to Bombas Gens Centre d’Art, Valencia.
Join us on Wednesday 25 October for a conversation between Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and writer and academic Anthony Downey. On the occasion of Ai’s first monographic exhibition in Belgium, they will talk about pressing issues including privacy and surveillance, the global refugee crisis and the critical potential of photography in the age of social media. The exhibition at FOMU runs from 27 October 2017 until 18 February 2018.
A full transcript of the conversation will be available in February, 2018, from Third Text.
For tickets and information: https://www.facebook.com/events/120248605322937/
To coincide with new video installation Purple, John Akomfrah will be in conversation with academic, editor and writer, Anthony Downey.
Staged across a variety of disappearing ecological landscapes, from the hinterlands of Alaska to desolate, icy Arctic Greenland and the volcanic Maquesas Islands in theSouth Pacific, Akomfrah’s new film prompts the viewer to meditate on the complex relationship between humans and the planet.
The Barbican Presents: On Photography and Politics Today
Featuring renowned photographers who critically address history, conflict and the issue of representation, this discussion revolves around photography’s role and responsibility within our current political climate. Including artists Edmund Clark, Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen and Ahlam Shibli. Moderated by Anthony Downey (writer, Birmingham City University). Curated by Alona Pardo (The Barbican) in close collaboration with Unseen Amsterdam.
1014 DD Amsterdam