The Jerwood/FVU Awards 2022
Caio Marques de Oliveira reviews cleave to the BLACK. by Michael. Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole reviews BXBY by Soojin Chang
Michael., "cleave to the BLACK", 2022. Commissioned for the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2022. Installation view at Jerwood Space. Photo: Anna Arca
The Jerwood/FVU Awards is a prestigious commissioning scheme that has supported early-career moving-image artists since 2012. The awards have established an esteemed role in the contemporary visual arts, by awarding £25,000 for exceptional artists to develop significant new artworks at a pivotal moment in their practice. In London’s Jerwood studio the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2022 premieres two newly commissioned moving-image installations by early-career artists Soojin Chang and Michael. The works are spread across three rooms with room 1 constituting the prologue with artist interviews and materials. Room 2 has Michael.’s installation, while room 3 hosts Soojin Chang.
Michael., "cleave to the BLACK", 2022 (still). Courtesy of the artist From the myriad ways one could feel Michael.’s three screen video piece cleave to the BLACK, it struck me at first with what I experienced as a breeze. On the screen on the left you can see a looping video of Black men climbing a staircase of a residential building; shot in black and white and slow-motion. The images enhance the idea that the Black Body acts on a choreography that repeats itself over and over but the fact you see it in slow-motion does something to you. It makes you expect something to change. The screen on the right are portraits, also in loop, Black men in the intimacy of their sleep, it is hard to know if the images are also in slow-motion but the fact that you can gaze at their breathing brings you to a meditative state. The center screen is the only one which is shot in colour and apart from a short take of a Black man sitting on a fallen tree, it only shows images of an idyllic place, intrinsically connected with nature. The tempo of this triptych intricates so delicately with the soundscape that makes you naturally understand the urgency to slow down to the pace of the film, as if you entered in Michael.s lucid dream and began dreaming it with him. And at the same time becoming a dream that you already had and didn’t know how to achieve.
Michael., "cleave to the BLACK", 2022 (still). Courtesy of the artist The slowness Michael. investigates goes far beyond the Black bodies sleeping or resting in a dark room or Black males going up, one after the other, the stairs of Breton House council block. The slowness depicted on the screen contests a heritage of always being alert as a Black male or the trauma that this alertness causes in the Black body. Constantly active as opposed to never resting. Michael. doesn’t propose either a utopian or a dystopian world but gives you the space for dream/experience a discontinuity to restlessness. While feeling the revolution the film was causing inside of me, the name of the film kept recurring as if a woodpecker was pecking on my head. What would ‘cleave’ mean in the context of the images I was seeing? If you would think of cleave as an intransitive verb it would mean to adhere firmly or closely to the BLACK. The other option would be cleave as a transitive verb which is to divide, separate or split to the BLACK. This uncertainty is maybe the key to the film. It could be either a daydream or a calling for an action. Both or none. In all the cases what cleave to the BLACK certainly addresses its complexities towards the light no matter how each one interprets it.
Michael.'s film is entirely shot on 16mm.
Soojin Chang ,"BXBY",2022. Commissioned for the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2022. Installation view at Jerwood Space. Photo: Anna Arca
Upon entering room 3, we had to leave our shoes behind. We stepped onto carpeted white floors in a white cube with a pale bench in the middle facing the screen. BXBY by Soojin Chang follows a hybrid alien form trying to recreate other similar beings – other kins. This takes us on a journey through beautiful landscapes and also in a domestic dwelling with vivid colored walls and grainy night shots, where we are confronted with a pregnant deer getting shot and her fetus removed to be combined with another DNA to create a hybrid life. The single channel installation uses the format of first person perspective, diary-like entries and full frames cinematography. In all the script is well written with an engaging storyline, held on in the middle with the idea of the grotesque. The installation does its best to be inclusive which also raises more questions than it answers. It is important to visit the installation in room 1 where there is an interview with the artist who explains their concepts and motives behind the film, which is billed as a performance. It answers some particular questions I had regarding casting a darker skin body to be the nurture for life to a light skin body. The artist explains that the figure is Yemanja but also associates this with the fertility experiments made on black women in the US and on Korean women in Japan.
Soojin Chang, BXBY, 2022 (still). Courtesy of the artist
I do understand what the artist’s intentions were, however in the film it again reinforces a stereotype as opposed to addressing it because of its casting choices. It had many memorable moments including the gamekeeper asking what the footage they were shooting would be used for, with the camera person responding with “the film I told you about” . I salute the artistic decision to leave this blooper in, further blurring the lines between fact and fiction and distorting our expectations of what to expect from the film. The film ends with a knitted elephant masked hybrid riding a moped at night overlayed with a monolog in Korean.
Jerwood/FVU Awards 2022 is open until 23 July 2022 and the admission is free.