John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea — Jill Glessing

[Summer 2021]

John Akomfrah
Vertigo Sea

The Design Exchange Trading Floor, Nuit Blanche, Toronto

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
10.02.2021 – 4.04.2021

By Jill Glessing

The sea, wild and wet, the womb that bore us, from which we slithered eons ago. We return to that birthplace – for crossings, sustenance, profit, and pleasure. Even as mysteries still dwell beneath those expansive liquid surfaces, our anthropocenic impulse seeks to control and, perhaps, destroy it.

John Akomfrah’s three-channel film essay Vertigo Sea (2015) provides an immersive environment in a panoramic span – a powerful montage of overlaid, overlapping still and moving images and sound. The words “Oblique tales on the aquatic sublime,” appearing on a solid blue field, open the film, serving as subtitle or description. It is the first text to punctuate Akomfrah’s sound-image orchestration and contribute to the film’s thematic grazing. Rhythmic audio pulses, suggesting a clock ticking or a hammer hitting, accompany and strengthen the idea of “aquatic sublime” – we are asked to consider the longue durée here: the primordial brains of whales, the centuries of fertile abundance before humans began their industrial carnage. In the central image of the film’s first triptych, framed by two overhead views of the great blue sea, a hand cradles a clock. This is a universal story: the sea as site of history, of beauty and bounty, which, wrought by human forces, becomes a scene of disaster. This watery basin, once brimming with life, becomes, over human time, a graveyard in which our crimes are buried. Vertigo Sea offers a memorial for the enslaved, trafficked, and migrant bodies passing through it and centuries of pillaged sea life…


See the magazine for the complete article and more images: Ciel variable 117 – SHIFTED