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martedì 13 novembre 2018

“In the Middle is a Good Place to Be”: an Interview with John Akomfrah

My Art Guides, 13 Nov 2018

"In the Middle is a Good Place to Be": an Interview with John Akomfrah


For the occasion of the press preview held at the Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon for the screening of "Purple", we interviewed London based artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah.

Giulia Capaccioli: Before talking about the current exhibition, I'd like to talk about the beginning of your career. In 1982 you founded the Black Audio Film Collective and then co-founded in 1998, together with Lina Gopaul and David Lawson, Smoking Dogs Films. Tell us about the origin of these projects. How did the idea come about?

John Akomfrah: Black Audio Film Collective was made up of eight people from different areas of interest but all related to humanities. Most of us met in what is now Portsmouth University but about half of us had known each other since the late 70s, when we were young students. We were all studying things that suggested that you go out on your own, to make your own work. But I think that we must have known this unconsciously and deduced that things were not going to be completely successful on an individual basis. It was a kind of premonition that we needed to work together, and in fact things generally seem to work better when we were working collectively and that was the case culturally, certainly the case politically and aesthetically as well. That sense of having a manifesto around which a group of friends or at least acquaintances could work together seemed the best way forward. But at some point either you achieve something that is on your list or someone on the other side doesn't agree… and by 1997 we had a combination of those things. Because, you know, when we got together in 1982 the idea of a Black Collective of artists was a conceptual impossibility, it just hadn't been explored before but by 95/96 it was clear that we could do it. Many of the people who weep in it were not necessarily interested in pursuing time based work and that's why I then became part of a new collective Smoking Dogs Films. It was based on a joke that was told us by a friend about laboratory dogs in a tobacco factory. And it seemed to be so similar to the position where we were in because everyone was fed up in a way and we were also located in a lab where you couldn't stop smoking… (that's why I smoke electronic cigarettes now! he laughs…).

Giulia Capaccioli: In "Purple", you explore the effects of climate change and its consequence for biodiversity on the planet's different communities through both archival footage and newly shot film. When was the moment you felt the urgency to investigate the relationship between man and nature? Where do you position yourself between nature and humanity?.

John Akomfrah: The distinction between nature and culture as a demarcation is very recent in historical terms, three, four centuries ago and into that demarcation natives and people of colour were thrown somewhere in the middle. For most of the last century people of colour were fighting to take themselves out of this inter zone to become human. I am now really keen to explore what is like to sit in that middle space out of choice. I think you have insights into the demarcation itself, the division that is necessary and important to understand when you sit in the middle. I'm not trying to say that everything is the same but I don't believe anymore that there' s a hierarchy of being at which some human being sits at the top of this apex. In the middle is a good space to be, in the middle is a space where someone grasps the distinction between the natural and the cultural. And I think is important to not have this binary of what constitutes the natural and what constitutes the cultural in which culture is always above and nature is underneath…. It's not an interesting way to look at the planet! Of course it matters to me that carbon monoxide emissions are poisoning the planet but I'm not only interested in carbon monoxide emissions just because it affects human beings but I'm looking to see how that shapes how we behave on a planetary or global level as part of a chain, this is what is important for me to understand, the chain of things.

Image on top: John Akomfrah

Read the full interview on My Art Guides.

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