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Artist’s video works brings new depths to gallery

Thousands of pebbles will transform the University’s Talbot Rice Gallery as it hosts work by acclaimed artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah.

Some 15 tonnes of small stones will cover the floor of Talbot Rice’s Georgian gallery space as part of Akomfrah’s first solo exhibition in Scotland.

Following immediately from his acclaimed solo show in the Barbican’s The Curve gallery, London, Vertigo Sea features two epic video installations that capture the beauty and the cruelty of the sea.

Immersive soundscape

It includes the most ambitious presentation to date of ‘At the Graveside of Tarkovsky’ (2012 / 2017), which has been reworked for this show.

The Georgian Gallery will be filled wall to wall with the pebbles, inviting the audience to walk on them. The University of Edinburgh’s Sound Design department has worked with Trevor Mathison, Akomfrah’s regular collaborator, to re-engineer the soundtrack and create an immersive three-dimensional soundscape.

The work creates a tapestry of sounds extracted from Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s films to compliment a film Akomfrah made on the islands of Skye and Maui in Hawaii. It is a meditation on disappearance, memory and death, reflecting the personal loses Akomfrah suffered when he first visited the islands.

Overlapping stories

Talbot Rice’s White Gallery, painted a dark aubergine colour, will feature ‘Vertigo Sea’, one of the most celebrated works at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and which lends its name to the exhibition.

This three-screen installation captures the power of the sea to transport, displace and erase. It weaves together footage shot by Akomfrah in Scotland, archival news footage, excerpts from nautical books such as Moby Dick, and selections from the BBC Natural History Unit to overlap stories of slavery, whaling and the current refugee crisis.

Inspired by a radio interview with a group of young Nigerian migrants who had survived a crossing of the Mediterranean, it captures what it is like to be at the mercy of something vast.

Pioneering artist

Since the founding of the Black Audio Film Collective in 1982, Akomfrah has become one of the the UK’s most pioneering artists. This year he won the Artes Mundi Award, the UK’s biggest award for international art.

Both films use the sea as a metaphor for those lost to both recent and historic memory. In the face of recent political events, Vertigo Sea presents an opportunity to meditate upon our place within the world, against the immense spaces and epic timescales evoked by the films. It reminds us of our interconnectedness and the diverse, ghostly community that shapes who we are.

James CleggExhibition curator

The free show runs 21 October 2017 to 27 January 2018.

Vertigo Sea is presented with the support of Arts Council England, through the Strategic Touring Fund, and Creative Scotland. The Vertigo Sea UK Tour is led and managed by Arnolfini, Bristol, produced by Smoking Dogs Films and supported by Lisson Gallery.

Related links

Talbot Rice Gallery