Preview: Mead Gallery – Close and Far & The Unfinished Conversation

This January, the Mead Gallery welcomes not one but two innovative exhibitions into its discursivespace. Despite varying in mediums, both exhibitions maintain a narrative, as the curator Fiona Venables puts it “of a changing society”, ones that are coming to terms with cultural and ethnic advances. Close and Far, Russian Photography Now presents a collection of photographs and film envisioned by some of Russia’s most progressive contemporary artists whilst John Akomfrah’s The Unfinished Conversation video installation focusing on the work of established cultural theorist and sociologist Stuart Hall, is a wonderfully vivid depiction of the composition of identity.

Close and Far, Russian Photography Now

The curation of Close and Far, Russian Photography Now by the renowned Kate Bush, was sparked by her interest with the great under-representation of Russia in the field of photography. Centring on Russia’s Soviet Period, the exhibition examines the constraints felt within the arts by the nations censored ruling, at a time when other parts of Europe began to document realist photography.

Inspired by Sergei Prokudin- Grosky, a pioneer in the early development of colour photography, contemporary artists Alexander Gronsky, Olya Ivanova, Taus Makhacheva, Max Sher and Dimitri Venkow all demonstrate how photography has moved through Russia’s multi layered history, at times both progressing and backtracking. We are met with images simultaneously referencing a previous time, shoring the fragments of consumerist Russia, and depicting the social changes Russia has faced, such as it’s now predominant matriarchal image.

Ultimately, the exhibitions delving into Russia’s rich history will not fail to captivate as through the inclusion of Grosky’s early 18th century colour photographs of Russia, we are offered ‘alien’ snapshots of countries that are no longer part of the vast nation.

The Unfinished Conversation

Akomfrah’s investigations into the personal archive of Stuart McPhaill Hall in his film The Unfinished Conversation prove to be a bittersweet tribute in light of the celebrated intellectuals passing last year. Arriving in Britain from Jamaica as an academic, Hall was instrumental in changing the nature of education in Britain, and along with his directing of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, also became an Associate Fellow of the Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick.

Akomfrah’s interweaving of different cultural platforms of expression such as music, film and literature precisely display the intricate nature of identity, be it cultural, ethnic or personal. The nostalgic qualities of the grainy footage, along with a soundtrack varying from Jazz and Gospel music to songs referencing literary geniuses Blake, Dickens and Woolf fascinate, as we follow the motions of what makes up identity.

John Akomfrah, OBE uses his own filmic technical genius in his infusion of Halls footage with early 1960’s and 70’s news footage. Projected on three screens with each mini film stopping and starting erratically, the film is mesmerising to watch as Akomfrah drawing us into the true multiplicity of identity. Offering no fixed definition of identity, rather demonstrating its dependence on many factors, the film reiterates Halls own belief that identity and ethnicity is the product of an ‘ever-unfinished conversation.’

Part of the University of Warwick’s 50th anniversary celebrations, it goes without saying that The Unfinished Conversation should not be missed, honouring both the University and this pair of dynamic individuals.

The Mead Gallery once again provokes an evocative array of discussions through their upcoming exhibitions. Diverse in the cultures and regions that they focus on, the two exhibitions will not fail to prompt reactions both aesthetic and psychological. Definitely a must-see.

The exhibition opens on January 17 and runs until March 7.


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