Effective dreams are dreams that can change the world. ‘To Dream Effectively’ at Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea is a group show based upon the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin, bringing together alternative narratives for the future of our planet, both online, within the gallery, and upon Big Screen Southend.
The title of the show is inspired by Le Guin’s ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ (1971); the main character within the novel, George Orr, possesses a peculiar ability to “dream effectively”. Set within a world troubled by severe overpopulation, Orr’s therapist, Doctor Haber, tries to use and manipulate this power to eradicate the problem. Haber’s interference upon the world’s delicate symbiosis quickly turns catastrophic. At one point, Orr refers to Doctor Haber’s distorted morals as being out of touch with the world. This lack of connection aptly describes our present moment, and a relationship with the earth that is incredibly disturbed by global capitalism and its ailments. The works within the show collectively seek to put us back in touch with the world.
Emilija Skarnulyte’s new video installation, ‘Abyssal Plains’ (2020), speculates about a future where toxic technologies, such as nuclear reactors, are subsumed by rising sea levels. This makes for a powerful reflection upon the effects of extractive processes upon our ecosystem as the ocean appears to take back control. A black mirrored ceiling reflects the image of the film, extending out across the darkened gallery to create a sense of immersion. Likewise, Rosie Grace Ward’s series of resin and aluminium sculptures embody a mesmerising liquidity. Respectively titled ‘Tree on the Common’, ‘Trade Routes’, ‘A Dog and his Tail’, and ‘Moving Devil’ (all 2020), each panel appears otherworldly, like an abstract tableau vivant from a world not yet known – perhaps of a future also sequestered by rising sea levels.
If sea levels were to rise, Southend-on-Sea would be part of the first 10% of the country to be underwater. In such a case, one would have to pull up in a dinghy to view the long list of films screened on Big Screen Southend (a suspended outdoor film-screen adjacent to Focal Point). Each film delves into a play of perspectives that problematise our geopolitical condition. Highlights include Larry Achiampong’s Afrofuturist videos ‘Relic 2’ and ‘Relic 3’ (both 2019) from his multi-disciplinary project ‘Relic Traveller’ (2017-19), which takes the decline of the global West as a way to imagine a future that proactively learns from historical oppression. Other notable features include a series of short film clips by the Alliance of the Southern Triangle (A.S.T) (all 2020), each accompanied by a printed wall text on the nearby gallery window by Diann Bauer, one of the four A.S.T members. The most pertinent of these is ‘002_TERRITORY’, which proclaims territory as no longer something fixed, but a process; the film calls for more innovative territories and alliances in the face of new urgencies, such as the recent pandemic.
Back inside the gallery, Tabita Rezaire looks into the past to expose how the origins of binary mathematics, or the genesis of computers, might have first lain within African divination in her film ‘Premium Connect’ (2017). Shown on a multicoloured backlight TV, Rezaire refutes the notion of the West as the dominant hand of progress by forming connections between manifold systems of knowledge. Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s interactive video ‘Resurrection Lands’ (2019) – installed within the gallery with several outdated computers and available to view online – propositions the viewer to be either “Pro Black & Pro Trans”, or a mere “Consumer”. Once you have selected a team per se, you head into an animated archive with six separate videos exploring how Black Trans bodies have been, and continue to be, disparaged under various hegemonies. Both works appeal for a non-binary future: dreaming up worlds and spaces that work outside of dichotomies, such as East and West, or male and female.
Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote within ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’ (1986) that a novel can be thought of like a sack, or a bag: ‘To Dream Effectively’ appears to follow suit.This vastly ambitious exhibition is a carrier bag of sorts, containing multiple, urgent reminders of how our relationship with the earth needs to be rewired in new and thoughtful ways if we want a future upon this planet.