Scotland + Venice presents Alberta Whittle and 'deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory'
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Scotland + Venice presents Alberta Whittle and 'deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory'
deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory, 2022 Installation shot photographer Cristiano Corte, © Alberta Whittle. Courtesy the artist, Scotland + Venice.

VENICE.- The Scotland + Venice partnership is presenting Alberta Whittle and her new body of work deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory at Biennale Arte 2022. At a time in history when it is not enough for the world to merely acknowledge global injustice, this remarkable exhibition invites us to unravel contested and difficult histories and creates an open space for conversation, hope, healing, and reconciliation.

Presented within the purple washed walls of the exhibition, her work rings out as a beacon of hope to a world crying out for change. Unveiling three new pieces of work in film, sculpture, and tapestry, deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory is an opportunity for all who enter to confront the tough realities of police brutality, colonisation, gender and race politics and climate change. In presenting us with these uncomfortable truths, deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory seeks to enable restorative justice and self-healing.

Building on themes established in previous work, this new exhibition demonstrates the artist’s unmatched ability to tell difficult, and often painful, stories with empathy, vulnerability, and an abundance of love, something the artist is intentional about.

Alberta Whittle:

“The luxury of amnesia is a really potent idea in my practice. For so long there was this complete reluctance and avoidance in discussing Scotland’s role within slavery and within plantation economies. There’s this sense that racism and police brutality is an English problem or an American problem, something that isn’t happening on these shores. There are ways in which the luxury of amnesia has been nurtured by Governments, by the stories we tell ourselves, by ways we find to avoid our own complicity with our own privilege – and it’s interesting to think about the conversations that are still missing.

“There’s a numbness that can happen when you just see names and that endless footage of George Floyd being murdered. I wanted to find a way to think about these ideas without retraumatising myself or retraumatising the audience, and I think there are other ways to do that – and that led me to really return to love. I wanted there to be that place for love in the work because it ends at such a place of sorrow when I think about the endless list of names that are growing.

“I wanted us to really remember the names we hear in the news; we have to resist becoming numb to them. I think there needs to be a reckoning with these ideas if we are really going to make change, including re-assessing the power we give to the police – that unchecked power – and also institutional racism which is a huge part of why all of this happens.”

With much of the art world asking tough questions about what needs to be done to address its own systems of oppression, Alberta Whittle’s commission for Scotland + Venice comes at a time when cultural organisations across Scotland and the world seek to decolonise the sector.

Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts at Creative Scotland and Chair of the Scotland + Venice partnership said:

“The Scotland and Venice partners are delighted to be presenting this major new body of work by Alberta Whittle at one of the world’s most prestigious festivals of contemporary art, La Biennale di Venezia.

“Alberta draws us into a space where contested histories and difficult truths can be understood within frameworks of love, healing and reparation. Alberta insists that we acknowledge the enduring damage and pain caused by slavery and colonialism and that we reject the toxic legacies of violence and oppression that still impact on the lives of Black people today. Creating space for reflection, remembrance and conversation she encourages us to imagine and make possible new and alternative futures.

“La Biennale is a unique environment for the sharing of contemporary art and ideas, and it’s the perfect arena for us to share Alberta’s work and to welcome people from across continents and cultures to share their experiences and perspectives. It’s been a privilege to work with Alberta, and the many brilliant collaborators, partners and supporters who have made this project possible. We give thanks to all involved and look forward to welcoming visitors from April through to November.”

This spirit of collaborative working is central to much of Whittle’s practice. Much like the chords in the textile fabrics of Entanglement is more than blood – a tapestry handwoven at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh and hand tied by the artist to its Biennale resting place. Embellished with glass trading beads, whaling rope, and cowrie shells, the woven fabric tells a story of maritime trade, womxn of resistance, and nature as a protector of the oppressed.

Voices from the past and present also collide in Lagareh – The Last Born, a 40 minute film shot across multiple locations in Scotland, England, Italy, Sierra Leone and Barbados. Co-commissioned and produced with the support of Forma, this is a moving and affecting piece that raises important questions about the effectiveness of the prison system and draws attention to the racial injustices, violence and death experienced by Black people at the hands of the police. As with much of Whittle’s work the trauma is a gateway for audiences to pause and consider the full humanity of the peoples her work captures; their hopes, their fullness, their experiences – and in doing so she presents a dialogue of renewal and love beyond the violence that is often focused on by media.

A series of sculptural gates act as framing devices in the exhibition, holding the tapestry, the film and the viewer in the space. Fabricated in steel at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, the deep green colours of the metalwork are offset by stained glass panels in almost water-like purple and pink that nod to the colours of the glass lamps that shine across Venice. Holding formal qualities that remind us of the architecture of punishment, incarceration and human bondage the gates create moments in the space for pause, remembrance and reflection.

The artist has talked often of being drawn to the water noting that bodies of water hold the stories, lost lives and dreams of migrants, refugees, and enslaved peoples. In this work the place of water and womxn through ancestral figures such as Mami Wata are brought to life. The Mami Wata tradition survived the centuries-long Transatlantic slave system and entwined with elements of Indigenous Caribbean worship, continues to express itself in a variety of ways across the Americas. Her worship created a sense of strength and unity to fight against enslavement and retained respect for womxn as healers and leaders.

As climate change continues to demand a collective response from humanity, exploitative and hierarchical systems such as capitalism and colonialism are brought into question by deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory. With displaced communities, people of colour, and womxn most impacted by these global systems of oppression, Whittle speaks for the thousands of lives that find a place in her work – and offers self-compassion as a radical act of resistance.

Echoing the artist’s ethos of care and healing, visitors to the space will be offered items of comfort such as handmade blankets and herbal teas – created by family, friends and collaborators. With students and early career practitioners from across Scotland and South Africa invigilating the exhibition and providing a very warm Scottish welcome to all that come to the experience of the exhibition.

Culture Secretary, Angus Robertson said:

“The Venice Biennale offers a wonderful opportunity for artists to showcase their work on the international stage and I’m delighted that Alberta Whittle will be representing Scotland at this prestigious event.

“Her thought-provoking installation, ‘deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory’, uses tapestry, film and sculpture to explore the contested and difficult histories around the legacies of slavery and racial injustice in a space that offers hope, healing and reconciliation.

“Following this year’s Biennale, we can look forward to seeing Alberta Whittle’s new work at the National Galleries of Scotland and the film of her exhibition will be screened in cinemas across Scotland.”

A key aim of the Scotland + Venice partnership is to enable audiences in Scotland to engage with the work being shown in Venice. In partnership with LUX Scotland, from late 2022, the film Lagareh – The Last Born will tour art and screening venues across Scotland. Forma will lead on a subsequent international tour of the film. Plans are also being made for the artist’s presentation to feature at the heart of a major solo show of her work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2023. Offering a compelling insight into the artist’s career to date, it will include works in a range of media alongside those shown in Venice giving the audience the opportunity to experience first-hand the ambition and breadth of Alberta’s practice.

The exhibition is presented at the Docks Cantieri Cucchini, S. Pietro di Castello, 40, 30122 a fully accessible space located between the main sites of La Biennale, the Giardini and Arsenale.

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