Review: Journal at ICA, London

Journal, currently on show at ICA is an immensely engaged and often strikingly personal collection of works. The show features five major contemporary artists in the gallery proper alongside a series of other projects and events of “equal status,” which run concurrently with the central exhibition. The artists collectively take as a starting point, social and historical events both on a global scale (like the 2011 Tsunami in Japan) and of a more intimate nature (Paulo Nazareth’s personal journey across the African continent), and from these come a series of works, incorporating a variety of different media and in some cases created over many years, which draw the viewer in and build connections and collective points of reference between them.

On the ground floor, Japanese artist Koki Tanaka’s work consists of two further pieces in his ongoing series ‘Precarious Acts,’ entitled  Precarious Tasks #8 ‘Going home could not be daily routine’, (2014) and Precarious Tasks #9 ’24hrs Gathering’ (2014). The first uses the 2011 London riots and the Japanese Tsunami as starting points, trying to draw a line between the experience of people in Japan after the natural disaster and those who were affected by the riots. The five videos follow individuals walking home through the streets of London, a reference to the sometimes lengthy walks home that some faced in Japan after much of the infrastructure was destroyed. The four individuals are followed through their respective Boroughs, while a fifth video consists of interview segments where the participants muse on their experience of the riots.

The second work was a participatory event where several invited guests came together to take part in a loose series of performance and actions over a 24 hour period in the gallery. The work serves as a response of sorts to something which happened after the Tohoku Earthquake, where an artist friend of Tanaka’s exhibiting in downtown Tokyo ended up spending several days inside an art gallery with an employee and several attendees after the disaster. Tanaka’s work roughly reframes this as a series of questions about how we would respond to being trapped in a gallery space with several strangers, and how we might relate to those around us.

On the other side of a partition on the lower gallery floor, Paulo Nazareth’s ongoing work Cadernos de Africa (Africa Notebooks) is spread out across the walls and floor, consisting of posters, toys, bags, peeled off water bottle labels and other ephemera. Alongside these objects, which are spread out almost like some sort of scientific dissection are two videos. The work is part of Nazareth’s project, began in 2013 in his native Brazil to walk north through the continent of Africa, beginning in Cape Town, South Africa. The work as it is presented here is very much a personal documentary of his progress so far, with his role as the artist posited as a connector, or bridging force as he meets different people along the way. His own African roots and heritage are a factor in his explorations of race and political ideology, as well as the mechanics of everyday life.

Throughout the space at ICA are scattered images from Edson Chargas, whose series Found Not Taken was part of Luanda, Encyclopaedic City  at Angola’s Pavilion during the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 (for which it deservedly won the Golden Lion for Best Pavilion). His contribution here takes the focus of his work at the Biennale and sets it against a London backdrop, again photographing found objects against the backdrop of the city. One image in particular which stood out to me was one of the small blue composting bins which houses in the UK have, set against the backdrop of a stark grey fence. The image touches on notions of ecology, domesticity and familiarity within the sometimes grim and faceless reality of its urban setting; beautifully shot and displayed here they act as a bridge between the upper and lower gallery spaces.

Upstairs, Cyprien Gaillard’s large video installation Artefacts (2011) is another highlight. The footage was shot in Iraq on an iPhone before being transferred to 35mm film. The massive projector in the centre of the room whirs away, while a looped section of the song ‘Babylon’ by David Gray plays out of two speakers at the back of the gallery. The combination of sounds and images is hypnotic, thanks in no small part to the looped soundtrack which feels slightly unhinged the longer you listen to it. The work is said to address the idea of myth and reality in the post War environment of Iraq, a country famed for its intensely diverse history as both the cradle of civilisation and war-torn political plaything of foreign powers. The city of Babylon, with its long list of rulers and dynamic place in the history of the region serves as a focal point for Gaillard’s explorations, and even the scope of his materials feels like a crucial part of this.

The final artist of the five which make up the central exhibition is Italian Rossella Biscotti, whose installation Title One: The Tasks of the Community (2012) addresses the proliferation of nuclear materials and the place of the Euratom Treaty of March 1957 (from which the work takes its name).  The work consists of recycled materials from the decommissioned Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania, spread out across the floor in geometric configurations, posing questions about residue and the long lasting effects of these materials, their creation and use. As a companion of sorts to Gailllard’s work in the adjacent room, the installation feels fitting.

Biscotti’s video work Dalla Stazione Marittima al Ministero del Lavoro e Politiche Sociali (From the Seaport to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy) (2010), is also included here. A documentary of a performance, the work shows a man walking along the port of Naples to the Ministry of Labour and Social Politics while carrying a heavy golden brick made of brass. The brick here is meant to symbolise both manual labour and rebellion, situating people within the larger mechanics of this international economic and environmental picture. It’s a humanising moment which touches on the similarly everyday themes of Chagas’ and Nazareth’s works, giving the exhibition a real sense of cohesion under its apt title.

Journal at the ICA and its program of concurrent events, performances, works and talks has been extended, and will now run until September 14 in London.

Will Gresson, London

Image credits: Installation view of Journal at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, June 25 – September 14, 2014, Photo: Mark Blower

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