Vertigo Sea by John Akomfrah

Vertigo Sea by John Akomfrah


This week a major exhibition by John Akomfrah arrives at The Exchange in Penzance, in between stints at The Arnolfini in Bristol and Turner Contemporary in Margate.

Vertigo Sea is a three-screen, 48-minute meditation on humankind’s relationship with the sea, and an exploration of its role in the history of slavery, migration and whaling. It explores various themes which affect contemporary coastal communities around the world, including migration, sustainable fishing and the ecological impacts of pollution and climate change.

During the exhibition, The Exchange will also host local groups who will provide information and talks on some of the issues raised, helping to create debate, discussion and open up potential courses of action.

Vertigo Sea combines footage from the BBC’s acclaimed Natural History Unit based in Bristol, with archival material from the British Film Institute and newly shot tableaux from the Isle of Skye, the Faroe Islands and Norway. The artist also takes inspiration from two books which have helped shaped our concept of ‘the sea’: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) and Heathcote Williams’ epic poem Whale Nation (1988).

According to organisers, the immersive footage “explicitly highlights the greed, horror and cruelty of the whaling industry, evoking memories of the slave trade, whilst juxtaposing sequences of migrants making a terrifying and dangerous journey across the ocean in search of a ‘better life’.”

John Akomfrah is an artist and filmmaker whose works are characterised by their investigations into personal and collective histories and memory, cultural, ethnic and personal identity, post-colonialism and temporality. Importantly, his focus is most often on giving voice to the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA.

The exhibition is at The Exchange 30th April – 25th June.