Jessica Wright reviews our current exhibition from artists David Blandy and Larry Achiampong, Finding Fanon Sequence. This exhibition is available to view at Plymouth Arts Centre until 2 September 2017.
Finding Fanon Sequence is the fruit of David Blandy and Larry Achiampong’s shared search for their identities and examines reality, race, and parenthood. It is the duo’s sixth joint show.
During their talk at the event preview, Blandy spoke about how they were inspired by the poetic, fragmented approach to language in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952), and compared it to their own approach to filmmaking – one of the several mediums the pair work in. He explained that personal anecdotes (some told through one of the artists’ five FF Gaiden films, Delete) become a part of a person’s philosophy.
Achiampong explained that Black Skin, White Masks drew a lot of parallels for him, which is for me, epitomised in his GLYTH works. GLYTH (personal photographs of home interiors, featuring censored family members, masked with identical black circles with red lips) hides the faces of the people in the photos, preventing one person being told from another. Visually, the GLYTH series represents how race and identity can be imposed from outside, and how this can get internalised, becoming a part of a person’s psyche.
Blandy’s twitch.tv character Emoticons appear intermittently between Achiampong’s GLYTHs, their shiny vinyl backdrops drastically contrasting the muted 70’s hues of the family photographs, alluding to ideas of how racism has changed, but hasn’t disappeared even when we look to the future.
Fanon was not Achiampong and Blandy’s only inspiration, however; their love for video games, comic books and hip-hop is also evident through their work. David Blandy described himself as a “UK lover of the US scene”; talking about how he felt “alienated” from the thing he loved. It is interesting to note here that Grand Theft Auto, the game that features so heavily in Achiampong and Blandy’s films, was originally released by DMA (now Rockstar North), a video game company based in Edinburgh – and therefore a British company – emulating and parodying elements of US culture.
FINDING FANON is playing in the space to the right as you reach the top of the stairs. It is one of three core works. In the video, the artists work through simple, quiet tasks in the film, in an endeavour to understand one another – taking the form of playing traditional African games, and wandering empty coastal landscapes. Historic photographs and film relating to past events that Achiampong and Blandy feel distressingly relevant to their own pasts are forced together, a female voiceover talking of trade, forced labour, and the taking of materials from Africa – home. There is an element of ritualism and reconciliation of the present moment, manifesting issues of race, showing the artists in a post-apocalyptic-like space, surrounded by objects from their personal histories. They go through this ritualistic exploration of the items they are surrounded by, playing out the mancala games, as the narrator explains that without origins, there is no home.
FINDING FANON 2 takes all of the downstairs gallery, spare the walkway where one is faced with (one in the series of) David Blandy’s Emoticons, opposed by Larry Achiampong’s GLYTH7. ‘E-waste’ is strewn across the floor in the foreground of the film, giving it an apocalyptic, futuristic feel to the barren, deserted landscapes the avatars roam. These scenes are matched closely to the shots in FINDING FANON. Here, the notion that skin colour can change experiences of reality echoes through the work. Wearing matching outfits and shooting the two protagonists in these empty plains accentuates the fact that they are of two different ethnicities. Appropriating a virtual reality from Grand Theft Auto gives the viewer the impression of an imagined future, a prediction or idea of another reality far from the one we are living in.
Finally, FINDING FANON 3 is shown in the space to the far left of the stairs. The film considers ideas of parenting, in the present – now, in this imperfect world. Achiampong’s mother’s life lessons are told throughout, and narrated again by his partner. It is clear that her involvement was “crucial” to the work – the importance of family being a central theme. Arguing that the future can never truly be discussed unless children are allowed involvement, the artists’ children feature in the third film.
Here, the artists come across most of all as time travellers, still searching for a reality they described in their talk as “always one step ahead, and something we could never reach”.
In order, the three films discuss identity and race in the past, the future, and the present, and show that the reality we are living in now is far from perfect, and in fact a lonely, isolated world until the human race can truly come together as one.
Jessica Wright is a visual artist living and working in Plymouth.