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Nowhere Less Now⁷ | Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Wales | 15th October - 15th March 2017

 

Materials: wood, cardboard, polystyrene, metal, plaster, HD dual projection, stereo sound on headphones.

Sound in collaboration with Pendle Poucher (additional music David Dhonau); production and animation with Keith Sargent

 

Lindsay Seers spent her early childhood in Mauritius (a formerly uninhabited island off Madagascar). With the island’s mix of British, French, African and Indian cultures this colonial start to her life has had an ongoing impact on her work.

 

The Nowhere Less Now series of works pivot around the island of Zanzibar.

 

In the National Archives at Kew Seers discovered that her great-great uncle, a sailor in the British Navy, was born in 1866 on the same day as her but 100 years previously. Assigned to the anti-slavery mission in Zanzibar George Edwards, according to the ships logs, was often in Mauritius. Seers had inherited a photograph of him on the HMS Kingfisher taken in Zanzibar in 1890. The photograph has been the starting point for a number of historical narratives across an ever-extending episodic work. In this seventh version of the work we find connections between the travels of Glynn Vivian, Edwards and Seers in Zanzibar, Mauritius and Tasmania. Hence, the work travels across the globe through different historical epochs.

 

Before entering the ship, which fills the atrium of the gallery, one finds on its prow a figurehead: a pregnant woman with a covered face struggling with two serpents. She is Princess Salme of Zanzibar, The Princess was saved by a British sea captain from being stoned to death because of her illegitimate, unborn child conceived with a German merchant in 1866. (She later married her german lover and they lived together in Hamburg.)

 

Sculpturally the work features sea defences, also known as ‘tetra pods’ or 'groynes'; these are strange anthropomorphic structures, which stand like totems in the gallery. The objects are placed either side of the figurehead. The role of these concrete forms is usually to dissipate the violence and energy of the sea. The future voice of George Edwards in the filmic element of the work speaks of 'the storm of images', of the contemporary onslaught of representations, which envelops the viewer to the point where she/he has no critical capacity to recognise the manipulation of these technically produced images.

 

There is a small ship's door at the back of the wreck. Once inside the dark belly of the upturned ship, the watcher finds a radio mast with spherical and hemispherical receivers transmitting information. Some of the data comes from a future world and some from the past. In this dark interior space, in the headphones placed on a seating bank, the visitor will hear a crackling recording of a voice from the past, which is the equivalent of a medium's voice, channelling words from Glynn Vivian. GV senses and expresses the critical observations of contemporary society towards him and the barbarism, racism and exploitation of the colonial times he lived in, yet he reflects on the state of our society (which he can see and watches from beyond the grave). He suggests that the current presence of slavery and exploitation of both people and the environment has escalated in our times and continues to extend in subtle and differing ways far beyond the scope of GV’s own time. Yet he believes we do not see our continuing inhumanity to man and that senseless wars continue to devastate our world; he thinks that we mistakenly believe we have 'progressed' and are less ignorant than the people of the past.

 

In this early recording of GV he also speaks of his medical condition (which may have been a form of epilepsy). He remarks upon the strange stasis that overwhelms him that seems to mirror the effect photography also had on him. (He travelled with a large camera photographing landscapes and people, developing the images on site.) When he became ‘unwell’ GV describes (in the film) these moments of seizure as seemingly being present but frozen and locked out in an extended moment, as if in a photograph.

GV also reflects on his blindness, which he claims was predicted to him by a fortune teller in the Zanzibar archipelago on the island of Pemba. (Zanzibar is known as the centre of magic in East Africa.) He claims that this advance warning of an impending darkness made him collect more and more, knowing that eventually he would no longer be able to see the objects he so loved.

 

The future voice in the work's sound track identifies himself as a George Edwards of the future. GE describes a world in which still photography no longer exists. In this world stasis is a criminal offence; one cannot be in possession of a still image or a document of the past. Everything must remain in a state of flux. He says how society is built on the premise of speed and there is no time to stop, that we are drowned in a storm of images that is relentless and that the images must never be repeated. This new future society believes there is a 'vacancy' of the past and the present and future is always located in ‘now’. But GE believes there is nowhere less ‘now’ than the ‘now’ being presented. This future voice describes himself as part of a disruption trying to break with the modus operandi of his times. He longs for a 'conscious evolution' in which mankind will find their way – instead of constantly echoing the past's problems in an endless spiral of repetition.

Technically the 15 minute film is played both forwards and backwards. The lower section shows the film being played forwards and the upper section shows it in reverse. Conceptually this is to address the idea that every moment is in fact unique and can never be repeated. History is cast in this work as something that continually re-writes itself in every moment. However, the future cannot exist without its recourse to the past, the past, present and future circle one another in a non-linear form, recasting each other continually at each turn.

 

There is a synchronisation point in the centre of the film embedded in the ship structure where the images swop position from top to bottom. Not only do the pairs then read differently but the narration over them shifts their meaning. (These notions refer to the work of the philosopher Henri Bergson, who is inferred in the film).

The experience of watching/listening to the installation is disturbed, as the viewer’s attention will potentially shift to different meanings/ideas due to the density of the work's imagery and sound track, but also its spatial dimension has its effect on the experience of time.

(The viewers will also discover featured objects and images in the context of the collection either before or after the film).

 

In conclusion, as we set to sea in a ship doomed to wreckage, we wonder where we are going now, what this will all come to? Will we be reach safe harbour? Are we all enslaved as GV suggests?