At the End of the Anthropocene:
John Akomfrah's Video Installation "Purple" at ICA Boston

Purple grew out of constant frustration and dissatisfaction, says John Akomfrah. He wanted to do something about histories of chemicals, weather systems, or species: "This is not the eighteenth century any more, it’s not unlimited landscapes and unlimited space to explore ad infinitum, wasting away, trashing away as we go along. Game over. And that sense of game over, of finitude, and the encroaching closure, is the animating impulse behind works like this."

In his immersive video installations, the London artist, author, and activist engages with memory, postcolonialism, and experiences of the global diaspora. He combines documentary archive material with staged scenes to create complex filmic compositions in which essay, narrative, and poem overlap. His most recent work, Purple (2017), is his most ambitious to date and was commissioned by six institutions, including the Barbican in London and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where it will now be presented to the American public.

As in his acclaimed video work Vertigo Sea (2015), in Purple Akomfrah combines the history of human oppression and exploitation of the earth with climate change, the destruction of nature, and the effects of this on societies worldwide. Akomfrah says his video work is a response to the Anthropocene, to the age in which mankind became one of the most important factors influencing the earth's biological, geological, and atmospheric processes. And consequently, in Purple the human and non-human move closer together. On six screens, accompanied by a hypnotic-minimalist soundtrack, the video work in six "movements" develops an interwoven, symphonic narrative about the disappearance of ecologically intact landscapes – from Alaska and melting icebergs in Greenland to Tahiti and the volcanic Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Akomfrah works with material he finds in British newsreels or nature documentaries as well as with sequences he shoots himself. Again and again, it is about the price that not only nature but also the human community pays for ever-increasing consumption, global trade, and mobility. A recurring motif is children standing and waiting motionless under high-voltage power lines that stretch endlessly across monoculture fields. Akomfrah confronts the destruction of the environment, the decay of social and ecological systems, with images suffused with sadness and fragile beauty – flowing streams and swarms of glowing jellyfish. But it is precisely this beauty that makes clear what is at stake.

John Akomfrah: Purple
Until September 2, 2019
ICA, Boston