John Akomfrah’ Purple at the Barbican
Winner of the 2017 Artes Mundi Prize | British artist and filmmaker, John Akomfrah creates his most ambitious piece to date – an immersive six-channel video installation addressing climate change, human communities, and the wilderness.
At a time when, according to the UN, greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are at their highest levels in history, with people experiencing the significant impacts of climate change, including shifting weather patterns, rising sea level, and more extreme weather events, Akomfrah’s Purple brings a multitude of ideas into conversation. These include animal extinctions, the memory of ice, the plastic ocean and global warming. Akomfrah has combined hundreds of hours of archival footage with newly shot film and a hypnotic sound score to produce the video installation.
For his new commission, British artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah mediates on the effects of the Anthropocene ̶ the era in which humans’ impact on Earth is the dominant influence on the changing environment. Following on from the acclaimed Vertigo Sea(2015), Purple forms the second chapter in a planned quartet of films addressing the aesthetics and politics of matter. Symphonic in scale and composed across six screens with an immersive soundscape, the film charts the incremental shifts in climate change across the planet and its effect on human communities, biodiversity and the wilderness.
Akomfrah’s films are characterised by a rich, multi-layered visual style that is often non-linear in approach. At the core of his practice is montage – in which he selects, edits and pieces images into a series of mesmerising vignettes – allowing his films to unfold and inviting the viewer to consider previously hidden relations between different types of imagery. In the six ‘movements’ that form ‘Purple’ Akomfrah has spliced fragments from hundreds of hours of archival footage with newly shot scenes from ten countries, from the hinterlands of Alaska and icy Artic Greenland to the Volcanic Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Each location prompts the viewer to meditate on the complex relationship between humans and the planet.
The exhibition also features Preliminal Rites (2017), a series of six tableaux made of two triptychs, which questions our notion of permanence – be it the transience of natural resources or the longevity of human mortality – as a momento mori of our precarious times.
Towards the Curve’s middle section, Akomfrah has created a large, ‘cloud-like’ installation made from recycled plastic cans suspended above the visitors’ heads, illustrating human’s fervent consumption and the inevitable contamination and destruction of our planetary system. At a time when greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities are at their highest levels in history and the effects of more extreme weather events becoming more pronounced, Akomfrah’s Purple is a timely look at the planet in which we live.
John Akomfrah Purple at The Curve, Barbican /// —The Barbican Centre