Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Zineb Sedira: Seafaring at the John Hansard Gallery

Within the darkened, low ceilinged gallery, MiddleSea appears that much more mesmerising. This single screen projection from 2008, later companion piece to Saphir which also features in the exhibition Zineb Sedira: Seascapes at the John Hansard Gallery, traces the enigmatic voyage of a ferry across the Mediterranean. In the eerily quiet setting of endless seascape, empty corridors and abandoned passenger lounges, ambulates a lone traveller, inscrutable, pythian, distant. The title MiddleSea and the North African appearance of the man are the only clues to situate the sequence in time and place. The camera focuses at times on his face in close up, on the distant horizon, or rests languidly on details of sea and ship. The attention given to editing and photography is evident. The pace is measured, images tantalising and poetic. The soundscape by Mikhail Karikis accentuates certain sounds or becomes suddenly silent as spumes of water froth along the side of the ship. The pride of position is given to MiddleSea but the exhibition also features three other works: Remnants of a Scattered Vessel (2009), Saphir (2006) and Beyond the Sea (2008). Zineb Sedira: Seafaring thus offers the opportunity to view these four connected works in the one space. The John Hansard is large enough to accommodate all the artworks allowing each to stand out, and thanks to a free-flowing and paired down approach to the curating of the show, without lessening the clarity of the connection between the one or the other.
The exhibition features a piece commissioned by the John Hansard gallery, an installation of photographic lightboxes entitled Remnants of a Scattered Vessel similar in subject matter and approach to that exhibited recently at the Rivington Space. Beyond the Sea, an earlier lightbox installation proves to be an interesting counterpart. It mirrors the propensity for photographic detail and specific iconography found in MiddleSea, whilst illustrating by comparison to what extent the other photographic installation is staged in an emulation of its subject matter. Indeed, whilst Beyond the Sea is conventionally hung and represents apparently disconnected images, Remnants of a Scattered Vessel fragments the image of a vessel itself in fragments. The installation is comprised of a crowded and unruly group of lightboxes spewing forth trails of cable. The installation features the wreck of a vessel that, aggressed by an implacable sun and cauterised by saline waters, is little more than twisted rusting metal. The ship graveyard pictured is near Nouadhibou, Mauritania’s economic hub and a site of passage for migrants. The hulls of the ships washed up on shore seem to echo the desperate eventuality of some journeys. Sharing themes of migration, of mobility and voyage, MiddleSea and Saphir display rather a sense of longing, of sythian waiting, however.
There is a stillness throughout all four pieces which seem to echo with the absence of any human presence, save for a man and a woman in Saphir, waiting for something unknown, paths crossing but never meeting. The passport control on the boat in MiddleSea is closed and barred, and the crowds that on any passage normally mill in front of the window-counters are not to be seen. A dream like state or space disconnected to any sense of time is created.

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