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ENTREVISTA


John Akomfrah. Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Purple, 2017. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Purple, 2017. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Purple, 2017. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Purple, 2017. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Purple, 2017. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Purple, 2017. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. 


John Akomfrah Mimesis : African Soldier, 2018. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.


John Akomfrah Mimesis : African Soldier, 2018. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.


John Akomfrah Mimesis : African Soldier, 2018. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.


John Akomfrah Mimesis : African Soldier, 2018. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.


John Akomfrah Mimesis : African Soldier, 2018. © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery.

Outras entrevistas:

JOÃO GABRIEL



RUI HORTA PEREIRA



JOHN AKOMFRAH



NUNO CERA



NUNO CENTENO



HUGO CANOILAS



MEIKE HARTELUST



LUÍSA JACINTO



VERA CORTÊS



ANTÓNIO BARROS



MIGUEL GARCIA



VASCO ARAÚJO



CARLOS ANTUNES



XANA



PEDRO NEVES MARQUES



MAX HOOPER SCHNEIDER



BEATRIZ ALBUQUERQUE



VIRGINIA TORRENTE, JACOBO CASTELLANO E NOÉ SENDAS



PENELOPE CURTIS



EUGÉNIA MUSSA E CRISTIANA TEJO



RUI CHAFES



PAULO RIBEIRO



KERRY JAMES MARSHALL



CÍNTIA GIL



NOÉ SENDAS



FELIX MULA



ALEX KATZ



PEDRO TUDELA



SANDRO RESENDE



ANA JOTTA



ROSELEE GOLDBERG



MARTA MESTRE



NICOLAS BOURRIAUD



SOLANGE FARKAS



JOÃO FERREIRA



POGO TEATRO



JOSÉ BARRIAS



JORGE MOLDER



RUI POÇAS



JACK HALBERSTAM



JORGE GASPAR e ANA MARIN



GIULIANA BRUNO



IRINA POPOVA



CAMILLE MORINEAU



MIGUEL WANDSCHNEIDER



ÂNGELA M. FERREIRA



BRIAN GRIFFIN



DELFIM SARDO



ÂNGELA FERREIRA



PEDRO CABRAL SANTO



CARLA OLIVEIRA



NUNO FARIA



EUGENIO LOPEZ



JOÃO PEDRO RODRIGUES E JOÃO RUI GUERRA DA MATA



ISABEL CARLOS



TEIXEIRA COELHO



PEDRO COSTA



AUGUSTO CANEDO - BIENAL DE CERVEIRA



LUCAS CIMINO, GALERISTA



NEVILLE D’ALMEIDA



MICHAEL PETRY - Diretor do MOCA London



PAULO HERKENHOFF



CHUS MARTÍNEZ



MASSIMILIANO GIONI



MÁRIO TEIXEIRA DA SILVA ::: MÓDULO - CENTRO DIFUSOR DE ARTE



ANTON VIDOKLE



TOBI MAIER



ELIZABETH DE PORTZAMPARC



DOCLISBOA’ 12



PEDRO LAPA



CUAUHTÉMOC MEDINA



ANNA RAMOS (RÀDIO WEB MACBA)



CATARINA MARTINS



NICOLAS GALLEY



GABRIELA VAZ-PINHEIRO



BARTOMEU MARÍ



MARTINE ROBIN - Château de Servières



BABETTE MANGOLTE
Entrevista de Luciana Fina



RUI PRATA - Encontros da Imagem



BETTINA FUNCKE, editora de 100 NOTES – 100 THOUGHTS / dOCUMENTA (13)



JOSÉ ROCA - 8ª Bienal do Mercosul



LUÍS SILVA - Kunsthalle Lissabon



GERARDO MOSQUERA - PHotoEspaña



GIULIETTA SPERANZA



RUTH ADDISON



BÁRBARA COUTINHO



CARLOS URROZ



SUSANA GOMES DA SILVA



CAROLYN CHRISTOV-BAKARGIEV



HELENA BARRANHA



MARTA GILI



MOACIR DOS ANJOS



HELENA DE FREITAS



JOSÉ MAIA



CHRISTINE BUCI-GLUCKSMANN



ALOÑA INTXAURRANDIETA



TIAGO HESPANHA



TINY DOMINGOS



DAVID SANTOS



EDUARDO GARCÍA NIETO



VALERIE KABOV



ANTÓNIO PINTO RIBEIRO



PAULO REIS



GERARDO MOSQUERA



EUGENE TAN



PAULO CUNHA E SILVA



NICOLAS BOURRIAUD



JOSÉ ANTÓNIO FERNANDES DIAS



PEDRO GADANHO



GABRIEL ABRANTES



HU FANG



IVO MESQUITA



ANTHONY HUBERMAN



MAGDA DANYSZ



SÉRGIO MAH



ANDREW HOWARD



ALEXANDRE POMAR



CATHERINE MILLET



JOÃO PINHARANDA



LISETTE LAGNADO



NATASA PETRESIN



PABLO LEÓN DE LA BARRA



ESRA SARIGEDIK



FERNANDO ALVIM



ANNETTE MESSAGER



RAQUEL HENRIQUES DA SILVA



JEAN-FRANÇOIS CHOUGNET



MARC-OLIVIER WAHLER



JORGE DIAS



GEORG SCHÖLLHAMMER



JOÃO RIBAS



LUÍS SERPA



JOSÉ AMARAL LOPES



LUÍS SÁRAGGA LEAL



ANTOINE DE GALBERT



JORGE MOLDER



MANUEL J. BORJA-VILLEL



MIGUEL VON HAFE PÉREZ



JOÃO RENDEIRO



MARGARIDA VEIGA




JOHN AKOMFRAH


 

John Akomfrah is a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explores the experiences of migrant diasporas globally. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. 
Akomfrah (born 1957) lives and works in London. He has had numerous solo exhibitions including Imperial War Museum, London, UK (2018); New Museum, New York, NY, USA (2018); SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA, USA (2018); Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain (2018); Barbican, London, UK (2017); Tate Britain, London, UK (2013-14) and a week long series of screenings at MoMA, New York, USA (2011). His participation in international group shows has included: 'Unfinished Conversations', Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA (2017); ‘The 1980s: Today’s Beginnings?', Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2016); ‘All the World’s Futures’, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2015); ‘History is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain’, Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2015); Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (2013); Liverpool Biennial, UK (2012) and Taipei Biennial, Taiwan (2012). He has also been featured in many international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA (2013 and 2011) and Toronto International Film Festival, Canada (2012). 
From 2001-2007 he was a Governor of the British Film Institute, and from 2004-2013 a Governor of Film London. Akomfrah has received honorary doctorates from Goldsmiths, University of London; the University of the Arts, London; and Portsmouth University, from which he had originally graduated in 1982.


Interview by Dasha Birukova

Lisbon, November 6, 2018

 

 

 

>>>

 

  

 

Dasha Birukova (DB): I would like to start from the very beginning when you were part of the Black Audio Film collective that developed an idea of black cinema, of giving voices to different racial identities, but if we look at the phenomenon of black cinema from the position of classical cinema studies, then I, for example, would use more or less the same approach to analyze the oeuvres of Sergey Eisenstein, Derek Jarman or BAFC, based on context, discourse, cinematic language, aesthetical concept etc. So what kind of particular vocabulary should we have to analyze black cinematography? And do we really need to make this division?

John Akomfrah (JA): There was a time in the 80s when we spent a lot of time chasing that holy grail. Now I think it was almost wholly a waste of time, but the journey was important and necessary. I don’t think that you need to have, for any specific cinema, a distinct set of vocabularies which are wholly unique to that cinema, it’s not necessary. This is an important point because it does mean that if someone says they are interested in formulating an approach that one could call "black cinema", then they can take from either Eisentein, Tarkovsky or Pudovkin, on one hand (collapsing them together they of course have differences), to Fritz Lang and German Expressionism on the other hand, and then also to the Latin American cinema of the 60s.
It’s perfectly possible to marry an approach that takes any of those approaches to time, to montage, to framing, to the use of landscapes etc. You can take from things to formulate a new approach without it necessarily having to make totally new language. I think it’s a false trail. So, it’s interesting you mention Jarman; Jarman is a name checked by a whole host of young queer filmmakers at the moment. Does he have anything specifically in common, I mean, is there a queerness? No, of course not. There is almost certainly a sensibility, for sure. But if you look at the work of Jarman – Blue is definitely not the same as The Angelic Conversation, which is not the same as Imagining October, that is absolutely not the same as Sebastiane. There are huge differences between all of the works. So, one could say the question of authorship need not to be arrived at by something distinctly cinematic that you could associate with the person in order for you to have a “cinema”. But it’s almost impossible to stop the desire to form a school or a movement and I don’t think that’s just a racial thing either. There isn’t a month that goes past when somebody doesn’t want to set up a film festival in some remote region in West Africa. It just seems to be the way in which we derive comfort from our intimacy in cinema, that there is this desire to name it always in new terms. Is it new? Not really. But it offers a kind of comfort to add the means of a voice for people. I don’t have a problem with that.
I’ll give you an example, when you grow up in Britain and you study cinema in Britain, you are aware that this desire for difference is not just the privilege of minorities, so throughout the 20s and 30s, right up to the Second World War in the 40s, Britain struggled to find a place for itself vis-à-vis American cinema. So, reports after reports asked how can we make a British cinema? Should we define it in economic terms, in political terms, in cultural terms? And so, whenever there is a much bigger portrait of the image, of cinema, of culture that feels like it is making too big a shadow over an area, somebody inside that shadow will raise another flag. And it’s almost as natural as the sun coming up and going down.
In some ways it’s even more pronounced now, now that everyone feels that everything feels the same. The desire to be different is even stronger now, all over the world.
So, I know what you mean but I think the militancy of the call for any cinema needs to be taken seriously, but it also shouldn’t be taken seriously in the sense that it is asking for something quite innocent, which is almost as normal as breathing.


DB: I read in one article in the Guardian that «The collective was heavily informed by film and psychoanalytic theory, by political discussion and debate» - what kind of psychoanalytic theory did you use at that time and do you still use it in your works?

JA: We were very interested in it of course. I think a lot of cinema studies were interested in psychoanalysis because of the question of identification. But we were very interested in psychoanalysis not just from the Lacanian or Freudian school, but also in a kind of a black sense (laughs). Especially in the work of the French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, because Fanon described a process of becoming aware of your differences, that a lot of us were very interested in because it seemed to be real. For instance, when I was younger I was aware that there was kind of a stalker, a “doppelgänger”, a double of me (metaphorically speaking) walking around, because there was always talk of these young black people causing trouble. So, for a long time, you would think that this is somebody else, not you, and then at some point you are confronted by this recognition that the “young black people“ they are talking about, is you. It’s a weird mirror moment which feels like the Lacanian mirror stage. So, the question of becoming black, which is not really one’s choice I have to say, has this psychoanalytic dimension, especially growing up in the advanced industrial world in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, you are aware that there is this machinery of naming, and at some point, you stop being this individual “John Akomfrah”, you are this black kid John Akomfrah. And you fight for a long time to avoid this, because you know what it means; when you are seen as one of the collective, you need to take off other stuff which is negative. So that was one of the reasons why psychoanalysis was really important to us because we were aware that the question of identity has this psychoanalytic dimension. Am I still interested in it? Yes, because I still think it’s important.

 
DB: I asked that because in regards to the postcolonial discourse as a phenomenon of collective trauma, would it be more effective to overcome its consequences focusing more on psychological science? That humanistic aim of art could be more effectively realized by psychoanalysis, don’t you think?

JA: Yes and no. Yes, because I don’t think there is a detour that you can make which bypasses the psychoanalytic dimension. Yes, there is definitely an individual subjective component to this which is psychoanalytic, you can’t avoid that. But at the same time, it seems to me that the attempt to make the psychoanalytic or “psychological” categories purely individual is wrong, because if you have a generation who experience the same mirror moment then it ceases to just be psychological. The psychoanalytic realm is not wholly private. It is almost certainly with its private solitude dimension but is not wholly or completely private. And the overlap between the public and the private is one that psychoanalysis helps us negotiate with, but it can’t answer all the questions raised by THAT overlap. What I am trying to say is that I could decide in 1981, as a 20-year-old, to go study art history and decide that: I’m just a human being, I don’t want to be black, white, yellow, I just want to go to art school. But is that possible? It certainly wasn’t possible for me, because the structures, the narratives, the regimes of truth that organized my life were not the ones that I had complete control over. So, it’s almost impossible really. This isn’t to say that you are automatically one thing or the other, but to make the object of your quest one of denial, I’m not sure exactly.


DB: I tried to ask if we should start from the social agencies to talk about postcolonial discourse, to cultivate normal human behaviour between all race and not to provoke this traumatic sensuality?

JA: Indeed, I agree one hundred percent with it. The only thing that I would add always is the narratives of historicity or… (trembling noise from the hall behind) … do you see what I mean? We want to have a conversation… are we able to do it? No. Because of other dramas, of another agency impacting on us. Maybe this could answer you more than I can say.


DB: With Black Audio Film Collective as well as with you with Smoking Dogs films, you have a massive body of work that have a very wide diversity of themes. Could you tell me more about this way of choosing themes for your films? Do you have a distinct vector of working?

JA: We had people inside of the collective (both Smoking Dogs and Black Audio Film Collective) whose heritage was quite diverse, from the Caribbean, West Africa and Asia, – so the subjects from those regions, were quite diverse. I wanted to do something about Ghana because my parents were from there, others wanted to do something about Jamaica because that was their background. So, I think that diversity of subject matter tended to mirror the diversity of interests and preoccupations inside the collective itself. But there were consistent themes in terms of the approach that we wanted to take. And almost all of it is characterised by a kind of reflective mode. Quite a lot of it involved the use of archival material, not all, but quite a lot, and much of it was a sort of conversation between the past and the present, it had a sort of historical dimension and those were just common interests in the outfits that I’ve worked in and now I carry those on.


DB: There is a theory that all films by Tarkovsky have a golden ratio at their composition that defined a particular time for important semantic moments in films. (But there were no written evidences that it was a conscious decision). Do you have a particular system or structure for how you work on your films?

JA: That’s a difficult question. Not because it’s not true that there is a system, but it seems to shift. Anyone who knows my work will tell you that I am always talking about Andrey Tarkovsky and Mirror in particular. I have admired the work enormously since I was 15/16 years old when I saw it for the first time and its influence will stay with me until I die. Of course, when you have such a deep admiration for someone, the way they work influences how you work as well. And there are a few people like that, who work in that way, not many, but there are a few: Michelangelo Antonioni, Ouseman Sembene, Santiago Alvarez. What they defined for me in their practice as the urgencies, the emergencies are still what I think are important. So, I am very interested in using either sound, single screen or multi-screen works, to explore questions of temporality and I am very keen on works that are about the traffic of memory. I am very keen on works which are about the memorial as opposed to memory, how one inaugurates / curates memorials etc. And I’m interested in questions of diaspora, not just African ones either. And for me what defines each work depends on what the clusters of interests are at any moment. So Purple for sure would not be possible without the interest in moments of works, Mark Rothko’s work was absolutely very important for me as was the opening to Antonioni’s Red Desert - just the opening, not all the film; that’s how my work in film happens. You start a dialogue not just with yourself, but with fragments of the things you admire and have liked and the works emerge from this conversation, this dialogue with the fragments. So, it depends. I don’t know how it comes to this junction but it always does.


DB: It is obvious that the main characteristic of your works is a certain way of using archival material. In this sense I would like to ask: how do you work with it? How do you deal with an idea that the archive could be personal or could be created for different reasons such as anthropological or political ones? Does this idea of objective vision of our history really exist when we look at archival materials?

JA: I start from the assumption that everything that I use or take comes with a promissory note. The important thing is not just the people outside of the archival materials; directors, camera people, etc., but the people inside the material. Every person who has consented to being filmed is giving the future a kind of note, saying “when you see this tomorrow – that’s me”. I try to find as many of these promissory notes and then I have to get them together but in the present. “I know you said you want to be in the future, but would you like to be in this future with that guy or this woman?” I have to try to seduce each fragment to make a promise to another fragment, because without that, it’s impossible to have a narrative.
Do I think that images embody a certain kind of objective truth? Yes, they do, but not the ones that people think. There is an objective facticity to the image, even manipulated images. I look at all the archival material I have, every frame captures a moment. That moment is either real or fictitious, but it captures it all the same. Can that moment stand for the truth of all moments in that moment? No, it doesn’t, it can’t, and it doesn’t claim to do that. I’ve just finished working on a project on colonial soldiers in the First World War (Mimesis: African Soldier). When you look at the majority of the images that I found, they were Russian, Belgium, French, British soldiers fighting, mainly white, almost wholly European or North American – so that’s what the images tell me - “We (white soldiers) fought in the war”. Were they the only ones who fought in the war? No. However, because you don’t see any people of colour in the images, there's a perception that they were not there. But the images are not lying to me. They are telling me what they know. That’s it. And it’s up to me to find other ways of complementing what they are telling me in order to arrive at “the total picture” images, I don’t think they should be blamed for the absolutist claims that we make for them; they don’t in themselves make those claims, because basically what they are trying to say is something very humble; I am a record of this moment. Directors, producers, TV stations, states, governments can try to make them say many other things, but they in themselves don’t set off to say that, “they” say something very prosaic, almost banal; “I am just about a moment.” That’s it.


DB: I would like to talk about polyphony in your films. This notion came from music, but was appropriated by literature especially after Mikhail Bakhtin defined it as a cultural dialogue where the position of the character and position of the author is separated and independent, so by exploring this polyphonic speech we could analyse an image of character as well as an image of an author. So, my question has two parts – first, how do you work with polyphony from a musical point of view (as sound has been an important part of your work from the very beginning) and secondly, how do you represent your position of author in your works especially when you use so many archival materials?

JA: I like what I call “the double movement.” And for me the double movement is like trying to have your cake and eat it. And it’s related to your question about polyphony, because polyphony is precisely a way of using fragments. It’s about how to create a whole by using different fragments, and those fragments are in the dialogue with each other. The object of the exercise is to arrive at something that appears seamless via the fragmentary. In the African musical tradition, they call it the “call and response” – and you can change the balance of the call and of the response, but the point is the same, to arrive at a melodic or harmonic understanding of a fragment using the fragment itself as a structuring device. That’s important in my work, so I don’t think I’m either in or out of the works - I am involved in the orchestration of these fragments. There is nothing in there that is just objective, because at the very least there is a selective process going on that I am making, I am saying that these images are important in this way in combinations with this sonic arrangement, so I am there all the time. But I am not arrogant to assume that not everything that I want to happen is what happens. I merely facilitate a certain arrangement – sonic and spatial, that’s it.


DB: Now I want to talk about using multi-screen projections in your works. Why do you use this new (in comparison to classical cinema) type of organisation of the space-time continuum? This multi-screen principle goes back to hagiographic icons with an idea of simultaneous narration as well as the idea that it could create accidental narratives. What do you try to provide to the audience by using multi-channel installations? Moreover, audiences watching a film and audiences watching the video installations have different characteristics of perception. At some point you went to the gallery space and therefore changed the audience. Was it an intentional desire to change your way of talking to the audience? And does the audience perceive your works in a way you want to and do you express this dialogue with the audience?

JA: Some of the audience for the work in the single screen variant have to come along, some are clearly new, but the thing is that I have changed the locations in which the work is deployed. 
So, previously, people would have assumed that our work would always only be shown in the cinema or television format, but I had always made works that also played in museums and in the gallery space. And now I want to work more inside the gallery and the museum system, because it gives me the ability to work with the multi-screen format much more so than the cinema format does. And the multi-screen variant means something very different in these two spaces. If I work with multi-screens for cinema it means that I am basically (Sam) Peckinpah or it’s an exercise in montage, but inside the gallery space the use of multi-screens is a philosophical proposition in its own terms. Of course, the screens are edited together, but it doesn’t mean that one screen can’t exist without another, they all exist and they are all independent from each other, but it’s just better if you see them all together. Single screen montages in which the screen is divided is not the same and it’s trying to tell you something about how editing works and that is not what I am doing. 
The spatial montage and the acoustic arrangements with the multi-screen projections, are very important. And the position of people vis-à-vis the objects is also the same. There’s something very authoritarian about the cinema where you should watch a film entirely. I want to provide more flexible ways of perception.


DB: How many times have you been in Portugal?

JA: Not many times in the last 20 years, I think I come back every four years.


DB: Do you have favourite Portuguese filmmakers?

JA: Everybody has! (laughs) Like Pedro Costa, I like his work a lot. But Portuguese speaking cinema is something different, because you have a whole Brazilian component, so I have more favourite filmmakers who are Brazilian, because of the early access to the third cinema.

 

 

 

  

:::

 


Dasha Birukova (b. 1985 Russia) is a curator and writer based in Lisbon. She graduated from the Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia, art history department and at the Russian State University of Cinematography (VGIK), Moscow, Russia, cinema history department. Her specialisms are experimental film, video and media art.
Birukova curated the “New Media” programme at the National Centre for Contemporary Arts (Moscow) and co-curated the Festival of Media Art “VideoFocus” organized by NCCA (2014 and 2015).
She was a co-curator of the exhibition “Error Message” that was part of the 4th Moscow International Biennale of Young Art, 2014.
In 2016, Birukova joined the team of the high-profile project “Geometry of Now” curated by British artist Mark Fell, organized by the VAC Foundation in Moscow.
In 2017, she curated the exhibition “Pink Flamingos” at the art space BLEEK in Belgium.
In 2018, Birukova was a lecturer at The Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia, Department of the art history and at the British Higher School of Art and Design, Moscow, where she curated the exhibition «BRITANKA_coop: ritual», special project of 6th Biennale for Young Art, Winzavod, Moscow.