And Then It Got A Bit Weird, 2021, three-channel video installation, 6 mins

Chloe Abrahams

with Wells Fray-Smith

‘The work discusses a traumatic incident and explores the therapeutic nature of performance.

Listen to the full interview here:

I’m Chloe Abrahams, a British-Sri Lankan moving image artist based between London and New York. My practice spans moving image, sound, writing, and more recently, spoken-word performance. The themes of my work deal with memory, trauma, the everyday and the intersections between them.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

I began this work by using a voice note that I had sent to a friend two days after my drink had been spiked. I used the transcript of this voice note as a monologue and auditioned numerous actors over Zoom before deciding to work with Chris. It was made entirely over the lockdowns in 2020–1 and was an incredibly therapeutic experience for both me and a number of the actors who I worked with.

One of the key elements of this work is that your experience, your testimony, is performed by a man. What did this shift from female to male do for you, and what does it mean for you in the work?

When auditioning the actors I was very sure that I wanted to have a discussion with as many different kinds of people as I could – of all genders, races, ages. As the process went on, I noticed that I seemed to believe the men more than I believed anyone else. This realisation made me question a lot about myself and what I’ve felt about the world. I hope that viewers might question their own internalised sexism and racism when viewing this work – how did you think the story was going to play out when you started watching, and why?

Can you say more about the healing potential of performance?

In 2018 I began exploring an aspect of my family’s story in my project Mama – an experimental documentary about my mother and her older sister who had been kidnapped as a child. When I began developing Mama, I had been curious about the therapeutic potential of performance in documentary. A few key documentaries that inspired me at that time were The Work, The Act of Killing, and You Have No Idea How Much I Love You. All of these capture a form of therapy, the latter two specifically playing with the idea of performance. Expanding on these themes, I decided to use an audio recording of a conversation between my mother and aunt talking – for the first time in their lives – about how my mother discovered that she had an older sister when she was 15, and their experience of meeting for the first time a few years later. I turned this conversation into a verbatim script, which my sister and I performed on camera numerous times. The final work is a two-channel video which cuts between our performed conversation and our real conversations.

Showing Mama to my family members opened up a channel of communication between us. For each of us, possibly all for different reasons, it had been too difficult to talk about these known family secrets, but Mama gave us a reason – or an excuse.

When treating difficult material as a script it implies something fictional, which adds a helpful barrier between you and the material. After my experience making Mama, I felt confident that I’d be able to work with my own trauma as subject matter through the guise of a fictional monologue and actors in And Then It Got a Bit Weird (2021). I externalised my trauma and was able to feel compassion for the actors who were reading my words, and therefore compassion for myself, which had been previously lacking.

Your work often uses your lived experience or the experience of your family members as a starting point to address personal and intergenerational trauma, and the range of human emotion that it elicits, including pain and love. Why is sharing personal stories important to you?

A wonderful filmmaker I know, Isidore Bethel, says that he likes to work on projects where people use filmmaking to make sense of overwhelming experiences. This sentiment resonates with me strongly – making work to me often feels like a necessity in order to find something coherent in an otherwise overwhelming and confusing world. My hope is that by sharing my personal story I can not only work through it myself, but I can hopefully give space for someone else to think about a similar difficulty in their own lives. I’ve found that sharing can be healing, and hearing someone else share can give you courage to share, too.

Work in the exhibition:
And Then It Got A Bit Weird, 2021
Three-channel video installation
6 mins
Performed by Chris Steward

Chloe Abrahams (b. 1994, London, UK)
2022 MA Moving Image, Royal College of Art, London
2018 BA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London
2016 Video & Media Art, Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto

Selected exhibitions: RCA WiP Show, Royal College of Art (2021); The Hot Seat (Performance Lecture), Central Saint Martins, London (2018); Central Saint Martins Degree Show (2018); Untold, 2 Northdown, CSM Interim Show (2018); Testing Testing, CSM Interim Show (2018); Antidote, CSM Interim Show (2018); Tate Exchange, Tate Modern (2017); Connect, OVADA, Oxford (2014)

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.