JOHN AKOMFRAH - LISTENING ALL NIGHT TO THE RAIN

BRITISH PAVILION AT THE 60TH INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION, BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2024

JOHN AKOMFRAH – LISTENING ALL NIGHT TO THE RAIN

AUSTRIA PAVILION AT THE 60TH INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION, BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2024

curated by Tarini Malik

Artist: John Akomfrah

Commissioned by British Council, UK

Thecnical Coordination and Pavilion Management

 

 

John Akomfrah’s monumental new commission for the British Pavilion, entitled Listening All Night To The Rain, continues the artist’s abiding interest in post-colonialism, ecology and the politics of aesthetics with a renewed focus on the sonic. Drawing its title from Chinese writer and artist Su Dongpo’s (1037 – 1101) poetry that meditates upon the transitory nature of life during a period of political exile, the exhibition is seen as a manifesto that encourages the act of listening as a form of activism.

Conceived as a single landscape or artwork organised into song-like movements or ‘cantos’ that are inspired by American poet Ezra Pound’s (1885 – 1972) journey through history in The Cantos (1925), the exhibition brings together eight multimedia and sound installations.

Bodies of water are a central motif and form a connective tissue that holds the many layered visual and sonic narratives together. Inspired by the work of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962)- notably The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language and the Cosmos (1960), for Akomfrah water is an endlessly generative image that provides a poetic language in which to think the world anew. In the UK, the artist filmed extensively in Scotland which he continues to be drawn to because of the haunting beauty of boat wrecks on the shoreline, and Yorkshire due to the complex socio-economic, cultural and
environmental impact following the decline of certain industries in the late 1960s onwards.

The exhibition weaves together newly filmed material from around the world with found still images, video footage, audio clips and texts from international archive collections and libraries.

Akomfrah juxtaposes these documented geopolitical narratives with imagined tableaux – often surreal or dreamlike in nature, in order to reposition the role of art in its ability to write history Curator’s Introduction in unexpected ways, forming critical and poetic connections between different geographies and time periods. Through methods of bricolage (the reuse of diverse materials in orderto produce new meanings), non-linearity and repetition, the artist tells stories from the five continents through the ‘memories’ of multiple filmed characters who represent the diaspora in Britain.

Metronomes are a recurring motif throughout the work that portray the rhythmic cadence of time, as well as images of bicycles that symbolise its passing.

Listening All Night To The Rain positions various theories of ‘acoustemology’: a portmanteau combining ‘acoustic’ and ‘epistemology’ coined by ethnomusicologist Steven Feld that denotes the study of how the sonic experience mirrors and shapes our cultural realities. The soundtracks to each of the Cantos layer together archival material with field recordings, speeches, popular and devotional music in order to extend the sense of hybridity in the filmic collages and reflect upon the multiplicity inherent in cultural identity more broadly. The musical genre of jazz as one example, specifically in terms of its improvisational quality and political associations in the black community, such as with Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane, continue to inform Akomfrah’s practice.

Evoking a sense of contemplation and reverie, Listening All Night To The Rain houses a series of sculptural installations with embedded screens that are inspired by the structure and form of altarpieces from religious architectures. Each gallery space layers a specific colour field influenced by the paintings of American artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) in order to point to the ways in which abstraction can represent the fundamental nature of human drama.

 

 

Photo Credits:

John Akomfrah, “Listening All Night To The Rain,” British Pavilion, 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photo: Jack Hems