with Emily Butler
‘There’s a certain fluidity at play when you start looking at us as diasporic African peoples, in particular, whereby we’ve had to, out of necessity, reinvent and reinforce ourselves through the movements of our bodies and the rhythms at play.’
Listen to the full interview here:
My name’s Baff Akoto. I tend to work with moving image and cinema. Foundationally, I am a filmmaker and that has led me into exploring other forms of image making, most recently around immersive technology, and new ways of engaging audiences in conversations.
What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I am exhibiting a work called Leave the Edges, which I started making in 2018, a single screen moving image piece, which evokes different forms of cultural expression. The film interrogates how diasporic cultural formation happens, and how it expresses itself in different ways, in different forms and in different countries. I’m primarily looking through the lens of the African diaspora.
There seems to be emphasis in the work on the idea of movement, be it the movement of people, the African diaspora across the globe, or the movement of bodies in dance or rituals. The other very important aspect are beliefs. You’re looking very closely at rituals and their links to belief. Can you tell us about the importance of intertwining of these two elements in this work?
There’s that Stuart Hall question around culture. What is culture? And who gets to determine what is culture? And what’s worthy of being elevated to the status of culture and arts? I think there’s a certain fluidity at play when you start looking at us as diasporic African peoples in particular, through this work, whereby we’ve had to, out of necessity, reinvent and reinforce ourselves through the movements of our bodies and the rhythms at play. There’s something inherently foundational about that formation. I find that quite interesting and endlessly riveting to pick at and dig into and explore, whether you’re looking at the formation of flamenco through North African influences in Spain. Or looking at modern renditions of carnival culture in the Caribbean, in Guadeloupe, all of which are evident in the work.
Importance is placed on the non-verbal in your work. The rituals and movements of the body are intercut with narration, for example, a performance by a poet. Can you tell us about the importance of language in your work?
Leave the Edges was a chance to make work differently and look at different visual language. Coming from television drama and directing scripts and actors, this was a chance to have different types of conversations and work with different performers. Ritual and movement became way more prominent than the verbal and the spoken. In turn, because of that, texture and atmosphere also became very prominent as elements of visual language. And sonic language as well. Sound is very important in this piece. All of these add up to a way of making cinema that I had aspired to for a while and needed to dive into, coming out of the television world.
There’s an inscription at the beginning of the video, which is ‘a recurring dream’. Can you tell us why?
The significance of the recurring dream is two-fold really. Number one, it’s how I see things in order to make. I see before I make. I guess it’s a reference to vision in multiple senses of the word. What is it that compels the making of any work, any artwork? Because it isn’t easy to pursue this life. There’s a compulsion at play. That compulsion, for me, is very much like a recurring dream. It doesn’t go away, nor is it used. It grows, it festers and it needs an out. It needs an expression. And Leave the Edges was that. It’s also the name of my artist’s studio. It’s called Recurring Dreams.
Work in the exhibition:
Leave the Edges, 2020
Single-channel HD video
Baff Akoto (b. London, UK)
Selected exhibitions: Aesthetica Art Prize, Main Prize Winner, York Art Gallery (2022); Recontres de Bamako Biennale de la Photographie, Bamako (2022); Leave The Edges, BOM, Birmingham (solo) (2022); UP:RISE Augmented Reality public art exhibition, England (solo) (2021); BFI Experimenta (2020); BFI London Film Festival: EXPANDED, London (2020, 2021); Football Fables, ICA, London (2010)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.