Turner Contemporary presents the first major solo exhibition by artist Larry Achiampong, clearly the most ambitious to date with retro games and sculptures, exploring colonialism, empire and belonging and empire, the exhibition includes the newly commissioned feature length film WayFinder, Achiampong’s directorial debut follows a young girl’s journey across England, set in a pandemic she wanders through landscapes searching for self.. Conversations around class and culture collide and meet, where does it end, Larry never minces his words when it comes to speaking truths. There is a depth of subjects in this exhibition that speak loudly to our most urgent conversations, conversations we try to avoid. But Larry takes you on a journey through space and time with his imagination and somehow it all seems more digestible. (main image: WayFinder (film still), 2022. © Larry Achiampong. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022. Courtesy the artist and Copperfield)
Achiampong says: “This project feels like a poignant moment for me, not just professionally and as a maker of films, but also personally. It has felt very important and necessary, especially at this point in time to be able to bring this range of subject matter and conversations to the table at what is increasingly becoming a contentious moment of our times.”#
Within this exhibition Achiampong has also curated a display of paintings by JMW Turner and collaborated with Turner Contemporary to create a retro gaming room for all the family or maybe older members of the family who grew up in the nineties. It feels like a break out space and you can actually play the games seated on large bean bags: The gaming rooms remind us that we all have so much in common despite it all, Larry himself a self-professed gamer.
WayFinder‘s (2022) Wanderer, is played by Perside Rodrigues, on an intrepid cinematic journey across England. Engulfed by huge landscapes beautifully shot by Achiampong.
Travelling from North to South, she passes through different regions, towns and landscapes, encountering people, stories and situations on her way. Across six chapters, including ‘The North’, ‘The Big Smoke’ and ‘The Kingdom of the East’, this epic film builds a dialogue about class and economic exclusion, belonging and displacement, cultural heritage and the meaning of home.
The Wanderer acts as a witness to accounts, conversations, places and histories. Setting out from the ancient paths of Hadrian’s Wall, she explores many environments, from a housing estate in Wolverhampton to E. Pellicci Café in Bethnal Green, and the National Gallery deserted at night, eventually reaching the sea at Margate.
A road movie of sorts, WayFinder draws on British traditions of travel and exploration to reflect on division and crisis in this nation today. Addressing an unreconciled history of empire and inequality, it asks who is allowed to feel that they belong.
“I am so excited to share the expansive vision of this story which marks a new and exciting stage in my art practice. I never set out to create a film of this size, but due to the scope of ideas that evolved along the way, it increasingly became inevitable that this would become my first feature film.”
The film combines sweeping shots with poetic voice-over narratives, real ‘vox pop’ testimonies, field recordings and an original orchestral score composed by Achiampong. It features the former athlete Anita Neil, who was the first female Black British Olympian, actor and musician Mataio Austen Dean who plays a griot, and voice-overs by Ma Toshie and Russell Tovey among others.
WayFinder will be shown within a sculptural installation comprising a giant map of the UK divided up into parts. Inspired by the floating UK weather map on This Morning, the map can be sat on and explored by visitors, echoing the cinematic journey of the Wanderer and the themes of the film.
The exhibition includes the largest UK presentation of Achiampong’s Relic Traveller project (2017 – ongoing). This multi-disciplinary work envisages a pan-African alliance of travellers who explore landscapes of the near future, collecting testimonies of those who have been historically oppressed by colonialism, capitalism and globalisation.
The installation incorporate all five Relic films, Relic flags and a new series of life-size Relic Traveller figures (The Relic Travellers’ Alliance: Assembly 1 & 2, 2021).
Other works in film, sound and collage which are striking, leaving a strong visual imprint are Achiampong’s Glyth collages (2013 – ongoing). The faces of each black person in family photos, (using an array of different frames) have been replaced with cubist like circles and red lips in these works, referencing experiences of racism growing up in East London, the Robertson’s Golliwog mascot still in circulation until 2002, and the Guy Fawkes mask from Alan Moore’s comic V For Vendetta.
JMW Turner, curated by Larry Achiampong
Throughout the programme artists are invited to explore the legacy of namesake, JMW Turner, creating new routes for audiences into both historic and contemporary art.
Alongside his exhibition Achiampong has curated a display of paintings by JMW Turner. He has selected a group of oil paintings, watercolours, engravings and sketchbooks, predominantly from Turner’s British tours and including locations which feature in WayFinder.
Creating a dialogue with Achiampong’s work, and WayFinder in particular, this display explores place, belonging and visions of Britain; empire and slavery; industrialisation and class; the sublime, landscape and the sea. Achiampong has described his approach to curating this display as like creating a ‘mix tape’, weaving together aesthetic languages, wider histories and personal experiences.
The Gaming Room
As part of the exhibition, Turner Contemporary showcases many of the video games that have influenced Achiampong’s work, examples include; Ico, Journey, Inside, Legend of Zelda and Ori and the Blind Forest. It includes The Gaming Room playable consoles, a workshop area, a stage for talks and game soundtracks. The space will be free to access.
Working with BAFTA Young Game Designers (BAFTA YGD), The Prince’s Trust (The Prince’s Trust) and Into Games (Into Games) the gallery will offer game design workshops and talks for families and schools, to inspire people from every background to discover careers in the games industry.
Larry Achiampong (born 1984, London) works in film, sculpture, installation, sound, collage, music and performance. Drawing on popular culture and his communal and personal heritage, his work explores post-colonial and post-digital identity, and the deeply entrenched inequalities in contemporary society.
A nice day out as the Turner Contemporary is on the sea front: not a bad location to take in an meaning for show that asks the questions we need to ask and addresses the societal wrongs…
Trains to Margate from London start at £12:80 more here