with Inês Costa
‘… [my work] looks at the body, engaging with the relationship between the idea of the black psyche, the black body and how we exist within the city of London specifically … Looking at different stressors that affect people that live in cities, specifically black and brown people.’
Listen to the full interview here:
My name is Julianknxx, I’m a poet and artist, and my practice crosses the boundaries of written word, installation, music and visual art. Most of my work engages with personal histories, looking at oral stories and histories, things around me, at movement and migration. Home is a very important theme in my work. Movement and lineage, in the sense of my personal family migration and how we’ve moved through the world. I also think about my position, my location right now in England, London. I’m trying to interrogate: what does it mean to be here? What does it mean to make work and be alive right now? These are the things that I’m trying to meditate on, or I guess explore or ask questions about.
What are you showing as part of The London Open 2022?
I’m creating a body of work called Black Corporeal, which is three films and a collection of poems. For this show, it’s going to be Breathing by Numbers (2022). It looks at the body, engaging with the relationship between the idea of the black psyche, the black body and how we exist within the city of London specifically. There is this idea that we’ve moved to ‘make a better life for ourselves’, but there are things holding us back. The work looks at different stressors that affect black and brown people who live in cities, specifically air pollution, racism and their lived environments.
Music and costume play a big role in your films. Could you tell us about the relationship between these elements?
If you’re opening up a poem and you’re using cinema as a form to show work, for me it’s not enough to not think about what people are wearing, about what the body is doing in that space. Rather, to present oneself, the subject or presenting who I’m showing, is important. I work with the theme of choirs and a group of people in my work, so the idea of a chorus is important. If they are these in-between people, how do you present them? I think about what they would wear if they’re neither present in this physical time nor in the past? How do you dress them? That becomes a big part of it. Sound, the idea of music is important. Back home, when you tell a story, it comes with a level of rhythm and musicality, often done with drums at a wedding or a community event. In my work, when I’m presenting this language or presenting these forms, how can music elevate what I’m trying to say? How is music affecting the body, to enhance the feeling of what I’m trying to present? Music plays the role of pushing this language for me; what I can’t articulate — music helps me with that
Work in the exhibition:
Black Corporeal (Breathing by Numbers), 2022
Commissioned by Brixton House
Julianknxx (b. 1987, Freetown, Sierra Leone)
2012 BA (Hons) Creative Industries Management, Coventry University
Selected exhibitions, screenings and performances: Air, Utah Museum of Fine Arts (2022); Lux, 180 The Strand, London (2021); In Praise of Still Boys, 180 The Strand, London (2021); Nocturnal Creatures, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2021); The View From There, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2021); Contra La Raza (Against Race), Matadero, Madrid (2021); Roots & Roads, Franklin Street Works, Stamford (2020); In Praise of Still Boys, Now Gallery, London (2020); Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation, The Store, 180 The Strand, Prada Mode, London (2019)
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.