UK premiere of John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea

UK premiere of John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea


John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea (still), 2015. © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

January 8, 2016

John Akomfrah
Vertigo Sea

16 January–10 April 2016

Preview: Friday 15 January, 6:30pm

16 Narrow Quay
Bristol BS1 4QA
Twitter / #JohnAkomfrah

Arnolfini presents Vertigo Sea, a solo exhibition of new and recent work from internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker, John Akomfrah. 

Centred around the major three-screen video installation from which the exhibition takes its title, Vertigo Sea marks the UK premiere of this piece. Part fiction, part natural history documentary, part film essay, Vertigo Sea (2015) fuses archival footage with newly shot material and readings from classical sources to create a narrative of obsession: personal, political, sociological and environmental. Taking the viewer on an immersive aural and visual odyssey, encompassing the greed and cruelty of the whaling industry, the transatlantic slave trade and the current refugee crisis, this intricately woven piece provokes both broad and specific debate.  

As a companion to Vertigo Sea, Arnolfini is also showing a new work, Tropikos (2016). Presented as a single-channel video, Tropikos is a period costume drama in the tradition of Bertolt Brecht’s theatre of alienation. Set in the sixteenth century, the point in history when Britain’s economic exploitation of Africa began, this work focuses on the waterways of the South West and reveals the part they played in the slave trade as well as contemplating the legacies of maritime power and colonialism. 

Placed in the context of Bristol, both works create a conversation with the city’s complicated maritime history and its position as port—a point of both the start and end of epic journeys in the past and the present. More universally, they relate to current issues around global migration, the refugee crisis and ecological concerns. Taken together, these lyrical and elegiac films propose a “voyage of discovery,” a meditation on water and the unconscious, and offer poignant reflections on mortality. 

Arnolfini’s presentation of Vertigo Sea is supported by an award through the Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund. During 2016 and 2017 the work will tour to partner venues in the UK including Turner Contemporary in Margate and The Whitworth in Manchester.

Tropikos is a 70th Anniversary Commission for the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London, with the River Tamar Project and Smoking Dogs Films.   

John Akomfrah (b. 1957, Accra, Ghana) lives and works in London. He is an artist and filmmaker whose works are characterised by investigation into personal and collective histories, memories, and identity. His approach is essayistic and discursive rather than narratively motivated, often constructed from a combination of original footage and archival material, and driven by an urge to give voice to the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA. 

A founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, his work has been shown internationally including the Liverpool Biennial; Documenta 11, Centre Pompidou, the Serpentine Gallery; Tate; Southbank Centre, and MoMA, New York. A major retrospective of Akomfrah’s gallery-based work with the Black Audio Film Collective premiered at FACT, Liverpool and Arnolfini, Bristol in 2007. His films have been included in such international film festivals as Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance. He has recently been shortlisted for the Artes Mundi 7 prize, the winner of which will be announced in January 2017. 

A public programme will accompany the exhibition including work with local youth groups and community groups. Visit for details. 

Programme highlights:

John Akomfrah in conversation
Saturday 16 January, 11am
The artist will be in conversation with academic, editor and writer, Anthony Downey.

In the Absence of Ruins There Will be Innovation
Sunday 21 February, 2pm
A performance event featuring personal reflections and provocative politics echoing absent archives, unseen material and distant voices through the mediums of poetry, prose, audio and spoken word.

The Sea Inside—panel discussion
Saturday 27 February, 2pm 
Guest speakers include Melanie Keen, Director, Iniva, writer Philip Hoare and academic Adam Elliott-Cooper.

Screening: Young People’s Film Project
Sunday 10 April, 2–4pm
Join us to celebrate the creative outcomes of a collaborative project between young people from Full Circle Project, St Pauls and artist and filmmaker Shawn Sobers. 

Arnolfini presents UK premiere of John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea
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January 8, 2016

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