The second edition of ‘Jerwood Solo Presentations’ showcases three separate, newly commissioned bodies of work. These works, whilst not unified by a curatorial theme, share a political pertinence and urgency, exploring ideas of privacy and visibility, what connects and unites us, and what is imposed to keep us divided.
‘Victoria Deepwater Terminal Estate Gallery’ by Ben Burgis and Ksenia Pedan is a fully furnished two-bedroom luxury sewer conversion, the latest in industrial chic. A metal grill separates the living quarters from the waste water below, or at least the dried debris left behind: clumps of hair, toilet paper and unidentifiable matter. Aside from this, the flat is the model home. Upstairs a child’s bedroom features posters of puppies, and downstairs there is stylish modernist furniture, an Eero Aarnio-ish Bubble Chair, an Eames La Chaise-esque wire mesh chair, and nesting side tables – perhaps Albers inspired. Everything is make-shift and improvised, a stage set, that on 27 January will be activated through a performance by Kiera Fox and Adam Christensen.
Alongside the sewer conversion there is a sofa, coffee machine and desk, recognisable from any estate agent’s reception. The installation presents a speculative culmination to the current absurdities of the housing market and precarious London living, where space is at a premium and as soon as alternate modes of living emerge, they are made fashionable, marketed and commodified.
The sound from Imran Perretta’s film ‘brother to brother’, leaks from the darkened room in which it’s screened. A naked, hooded figure is contorted in a restraint position within a blank, almost clinical room. A spattering of colourful cross hairs map targets across his body, feathers are thrown over him, followed by an ineffective pummelling of smoke. The screen cuts to darkness and the audience experiences a modicum of sensory deprivation; indistinct scuffling sounds, then white noise, then silence.
The head and shoulders of the same hooded figure reappear, slightly out of focus. Text across the screen narrates an encounter Perretta had with a security officer at a London airport. This overlays footage of mud huts and workers in the fields, which gain significance as the narrative unfolds. In some shots we see from the drone’s eye view, in others faces are pixelated, exploring the violence of state surveillance and hinting at the hidden hierarchies that determine who can remain anonymous and who is seen.
In 2016 Perretta collaborated with Milo van der Maaden to create a performance in Victoria Park for Chisenhale Gallery, using aural storytelling to explore the local community’s experiences of precarious housing and labour conditions and the normalisation of xenophobia post-Brexit. Interestingly, in the Jerwood commission we do not hear Perretta’s narrative but instead read the text, which is tracked and centred on the screen. The screen becomes a device, through which our image, thoughts and words can be tracked and observed, raising the question of whether power lies in being represented or in being allowed to remain anonymous
Language, storytelling and identity are also all key elements of Anna Bunting-Branch’s installation, which is based on Láadan, the feminist language developed by linguist Suzette Haden Elgin in her science-fiction trilogy ‘Native Tongue’ (1984-1994).
The centre piece of Bunting-Branch’s installation is ‘The Labours of Barren House – The Linguists’ a fan fiction animation set within a domestic interior, which takes elements of Elgin’s work to create a spin-off story world. Female hands join in a séance and hover over a Ouija board. Tongues lick different shades of lipstick across lips that incant phrases in Láadan. On a table broken fragments from a sculpture of a woman are laid out – some of which reappear on a monumental scale in the gallery.
The ending of the short film is highly effective. The green monitor of an early computer translates certain phrases from Láadan to English such as “opposite of alienation”, “to withhold without evil intent”, “fertile and creative”, which evoke the subtlety of emotion and elements of women’s lives, experienced yet inexpressible in English.
Through using science-fiction tropes Bunting-Branch’s work presents alternative relations to feminism and its histories. In ‘The Labours of Barren House’ the power of language to connect but also make certain thoughts possible is explored. Alongside the exhibition, on 30 January and 20 February, Bunting-Branch is hosting two Native Tongue reading groups, to further explore how Elgin’s writing resonates with our contemporary experiences and needs, and the space it provides for coming together and community.