In the pandemonium of image
I present you with the universal Blue
Blue an open door to soul
An infinite possibility
Becoming tangible 
A hue of all encompassing blue fills the space within the gallery of Turner Contemporary where John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo Sea’ is on display. The three screens emanating the colour jolt my memory to Derek Jarman’s 1993 film ‘Blue’ and provoke my association of the shade with a sense of melancholic tenderness. The reminder resonates all the more strongly as the film plays out and I, by default of being human, realise my relation to the greed, horror and cruelty humanity has created and cast off throughout the world.
As Akomfrah’s film score builds the screens cut between shots of archival material and newly filmed footage. An image of an empty boat on the shore is juxtaposed by a capsized boat on the next screen along: ‘there were 27 on board.’ The recognisably removed tone of a reporter’s voice enters the space, fading in and out in the manner of the undulating waters: ‘14 dead bodies.’ The word ‘bodies’ lingers, as I question why and how the person connected to that body is lost in their death. ‘Jesus save me,’ another voice fades into hearing, stranded at sea. The all too familiar reality of conflict and escape is present in these images: the boats, the bodies, the shores, the voice and the cuts to the shots of the epic earth, the painterly skies, the huge mass of the ocean and the life that exists within it. Each accentuates the feeling of a planet fraught with danger.
Stark beauty swills with reoccurring images of historical horrors in Akomfrah’s video installation. The work cuts between past and present in a manner that demands the two be examined together. The cruelty of the whaling industry is met by footage of African migrants crossing the ocean via dangerous journeys, timely reminders of the continuing crises faced today. This mixing of time is acknowledged in the soundtrack that ticks and tocks in and out of the operatic tensions. One screen displays a beach littered with clocks, while another depicts a lighthouse. In another shot, a woman sits in painterly stillness, nodding towards the complex tensions of Virginia Woolf’s lamentations. Akomfrah provokes but does not appease the human capacity for change. The fusion of visual material with readings from classical sources such as Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ and Heathcote Williams’ ‘Whale Nation’ provides a series of cohesive meditations of the relationship between the human and the sea.
Staring into the three screens it is impossible to forget that behind the walls of the gallery the waves crash upon Margate’s own shores. I imagine for a moment that the screens turn to windows and we face out towards the North Sea, all the while facing ourselves and questioning our understanding of the histories from which we are all born.
 Derek Jarman, ‘Blue’ (1993)