In conjunction with Southbank Centre
s WOW - Women of the World Festival a solo exhibition by London-based, Iraqi-born artist Jananne Al-Ani opened at Hayward Gallery Project Space. This exhibition focuses on Al-Anis interest in the landscape of the Middle East, its archaeology and its visual representation in the West. The films and photographs exhibited explore the aerial reconnaissance and mapping techniques of modern warfare while replicating the point-of view of the fighter plane or drone.
In her work, Al-Ani explores representations of the Middle Eastern landscape, from 19th century Orientalist painting and photography to media images of the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, which depict the region as uninhabited, barren and without sign of civilisation. This presentation includes the film Shadow Sites I (2010) and Aerial I-VI (2011), a selection of stills from a sequence of aerial photographs which form the related video Shadow Sites II (2011). Both films are part of Al-Anis body of work The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People. Shadow Sites I takes the form of an aerial journey scanning traces in the landscape, from natural to man made marks and from ancient to contemporary sites. The term shadow sites is borrowed from aerial archaeology and refers to sites whose outlines are revealed from the air only when the sun is low in the sky and casting long shadows. By adopting this process, Al-Ani challenges the cartographic and depopulated images produced by the technology of military reconnaissance. Shadow Sites I (2010) is part of the Arts Council Collection, which is managed by Southbank Centre on behalf of Arts Council England.
The exhibition also includes the first UK showing of Al-Anis recent multi-channel video work Groundworks (2013) comprised of subtly animated aerial photographs shot on flights over the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, USA. This work takes a further step in abstraction and investigates the landscape as archive, focusing on how the earth is inscribed with the history of human activity, from military training and weapons testing to open cast mining and industrial farming. An additional element, shown on a tiny monitor in the last room, is a re-mastered edition of her 16mm film Excavators (2010), featuring ants building a nest in the sand. This work explores notions of scale and the single perspective of this elevated yet limited vantage point. It is reminiscent of footage shot by fighter pilots in action and sets up a tension between a microscopic view on the ground and a long-distanced cartographic view from the air. It continues Al-Anis examination of how specific forms of visual imagery act to dislodge and erase the body.