AHEAD STILL LIES OUR FUTURE
QUAD Gallery, Derby, UK
24 March – 11 June 2017
Lida Abdul | Lisa Barnard | Ursula Biemann | Kenta Cobayashi | Hannah Darabi | Sohrab Hura | Zhang Jungang | Wanuri Kahiu | Ester Vonplon | Sadie Wechsler
The 2017 edition of FORMAT, the UK’s largest photography festival will explore the theme of HABITAT. The biennial festival, now in its 8th edition, is a showcase for emerging talent alongside established artists. FORMAT17 will display work by over 200 international artists and photographers across 30 exhibitions, alongside a photobook market, portfolio reviews and a series of innovative events and performances.
Rapid changes in the environment caused by human impact on the Earth has pushed us into a new cultural geographical epoch known as the ‘Anthoropocene’. Ahead Still Lies Our Future brings together 10 international artists whose diverse work encourages speculation on global imagined futures. This is the focal exhibition of FORMAT17, curated by Hester Keijser and Louise Clements, in response to the festival’s theme of HABITAT.
The artworks range from Ester Vonplon’s requiem for the melting glaciers in her native Switzerland, to Lida Adbul’s video installation in which she returns to her homeland of Afghanistan to ask how the individual can deal with memories of a country so marked by war and tragedy. Especially for FORMAT, the Japanese transmedia artist Kenta Cobayashi will recreate his immersive and VR installation Island is Islands and Lisa Barnard’s exploration of gold, its mythology, influence and impact will be shown for the first time.
Ursula Biemann documents a series of landmark legal cases that brought the Amazonian forest to court to plead for the rights of nature in her video Forest Law, while Sohrab Hura captures life in the twilight moments of the extreme summer heat in a small village of Central India, and Zhang Jungang tirelessly photographs the ever-changing view from his tiny balcony of the bridge over the Song Hua River in Northern China. Hannah Darabi compiles photographs of a ‘new town’ under construction near Tehran with excerpts from J.G. Ballard’s short story Waiting Grounds in a series of the same title. Other artists create alternative worlds – Wanuri Kahiu explores a dystopian future in her film Pumzi, and Sadie Wechsler’s images show constructed fantastical landscapes.
Collectively, these 10 artists explore the interconnected nature of the human spirit and the habitat that it encounters or creates.
WORKS ON DISPLAY
What we have overlooked is Lida Adbul’s monumental video installation in which she returned to her homeland of Afghanistan to explore how the individual can deal with the memories of a country so marked by war and tragedy. Filmed by a lake near Kabul, the video shows a man, voiced by subtitles, in the lake holding flag, progressively slipping underwater. The project examines the relationship between the individual and the nation, represented respectively by the man and the flag. Man, voice and flag finally vanish under the surface of the lake, suggesting the high price paid by nationalist feeling – the annulment of the individual.
The Canary and the Hammer, new work by Lisa Barnard, considers the omnipresent nature of gold – concealed in our technology, a barometer for the economy, a global potent symbol of ultimate value, beauty, purity, greed and political power. In response to the financial crisis of 2008, Barnard’s photographs strive to make connections between very different stories focusing on the United Kingdom, and both North and South America. Exploring mythologies of the discovery of gold and the mania of the gold-rush, the brutal world of mining and sexual politics of the industry,. Barnard investigates how gold has become an indispensable component in engineering and electronic industries and offers solutions to a range of global health and environmental challenges.
Forest Law by Ursula Biemann is a synchronized video shot in the Amazonian rain forest in 2013. The oil-and-mining frontier in the Ecuadorian Amazon— one of the most biodiverse and mineral-rich regions on Earth – is currently under pressure from the dramatic expansion of large-scale extraction activities. At the heart of Forest Law is a series of landmark legal cases that bring the forest to court and plead for the Rights of Nature. One particularly complex trial has recently been won by the Kichwa Indigenous People of Sarayuku based on their cosmology of the Living Forest.
Japanese artist Kenta Cobayashi will recreate his immersive and VR installation Island is Islands. In 2011, Cobayashi started to post photographs on his blog which were then duplicated, converted, and referred to across the internet. His photographs are the product of the process of transitioning, bred through a repetitive cycle of interaction and transformation. By altering the size or zooming in on the images on the Internet, the image infinitely breeds by a simple finger movement. Each new iteration of Islands is Islands experiments with visual live performance alongside new prints and visual images.
Waiting Grounds by Iranian artist Hannah Darabi is a photographic series about an under construction ‘new town’ near Tehran. Inspired by a J.G. Ballard short story of the same title, the work combines photographs and the cut-ups of text from Waiting Grounds. The main character in Ballard’s story lives on another planet and learns that life on Earth is terminated. All that remains is history written and engraved on gold columns in a code language. The protagonist decides to wait for the future – a future that “whatever it is, it must be worth waiting for”. Darabi’s work aims to represent the state of waiting in a country where history has been rewritten over and over again and where each version of the history has its glorious past which become an example for a possible future.
The Song of Sparrows in a Hundred Days of Summer by Sohrab Hura is a series of photographs taken in Barwani, the central state of Madhya Pradesh, one of the hottest regions in India. Since 2013, Hura has been photographing the summer in Savariyapani, a small village secluded amongst the barren landscape of this region. With little rainfall and extreme temperatures, life in Savariyapani can take on an unexpected reality in the twilight moments of the heat.
Bridge and Nearby Scenery is a series of photographs taken between 2013 and 2016 from artist Zhang Jungang’s tiny balcony in the Northern Chinese city of Harbin. The balcony has a view of the bridge over the Song Hua River, and the vista changes almost every day, with variations in light and air from moment to moment. With long winters and short summers, there is always a new view for Zhang to capture and the resulting series of photographs is his reaction to the infinite richness of the world.
In Pumzi, a film by Wanuri Kahiu, nature is extinct, the outside is dead and the protagonist, Asha, lives and works as a museum curator in one of the indoor communities set up by the Maitu Council. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she plants in it an old seed which starts to germinate instantly. Asha appeals to the Council to grant her permission to investigate the possibility of life on the outside but the Council denies her exit visa. Asha breaks out of the inside community to go into the dead and derelict outside to plant the growing seedling and possibly find life on the outside.
Sadie Wechsler’s constructed images re-imagine landscapes, blurring historical and rational states to create alternative worlds. Some of the fantastical images depict landscapes where something is a bit off-kilter, in another a girl obscured in a shaft of light looks at the camera in an artificially perfect forest, and in another, a group of tourists stands and watches a dramatic forest fire. The images suggest photographic tropes such as stock imagery, sunsets, and holiday landscapes with unsettling, ambiguous undertones.
Ester Vonplon’s large-scale photographs are a requiem for the melting glaciers in her native Switzerland. To protect the glaciers from shrinking further they have been wrapped in giant, white reflective sheets. The photographs, however, do not depict unspoilt natural beauty, but instead the snow is filled with sediment, grit and ash, smoke-stained and grubby. The cloth started as pristine but has ripped and decayed into the melting ice of the glacier. These natural, pure monument, diseased and decaying, are mortal.
FORMAT was established in 2004 and organises a year-round programme of international commissions, open calls, residencies, conferences and collaborations in the UK and Internationally. The 2015 festival welcomed over 100,000 visitors from all over the world. The biennale edition incorporates over 30 of Derby’s most beautiful buildings and key landmarks including: QUAD, University of Derby, Derby Museum & Art Gallery, Derwent Valley World Heritage Sites, Market Place and satellite venues in nearby cities.
Further information and full programme on www.formatfestival.com from early 2017.
FORMAT is directed by Louise Clements, organized by QUAD and the University of Derby Supported by Arts Council England, Derby City Council and multiple partners from the UK and international origins.