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Conversations with NoiseJohn Akomfrah

November 10, 2021

One of five new films from Art21’s fall 2021 programming

Known for his visually stunning, multichannel video installations, artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah shares a lesser acknowledged, but equally vital component of his work: sound. From his London studio, the artist discusses the transformative and essential role that sound has played in both his artwork and his experience of the world.

Between sessions editing recently-shot footage, Akomfrah recalls his early experiences with sound. The artist witnessed the ways that music fostered the social connection at the nightclubs of his youth and co-founded the artist group Black Audio Film Collective, which saw itself primarily as an experimental auditory outfit. His seminal experience with sound came as a university student, when Akomfrah heard the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt for the first time. Pärt’s music reconfigured Akomfrah’s understanding of time and of himself within it, motivating his filmic work which weaves together footage from divergent time periods, histories, and themes. While aware that early critics of his work found his use of sound and music “vulgar,” Akomfrah retorts, “I like the vulgarity of it.” “That’s the point,” he adds. “The new comes into being via the pathway of vulgarity.”

In all his work since, Akomfrah has utilized overlapping audio tracks and a range of sounds, from musique concrète to opera, classical, and folk forms. The artist explains his interest in using noise to create conversations and suggest direction for images, as well as the role that sound plays in crafting narrative and conveying history. “The forms themselves and the range of uses change, but the investment in the sonic is as long lasting as the investment in images,” says the artist. “That’s not going to change.”

More information and credits

Credits

Series Producer: Ian Forster. Director: Ian Forster. Editor: Alex Tyson. Camera: Andrew Kemp, Christoph Lerch, and John Marton. Assistant Camera: Charlie Stoddart. Sound: Sean Millar. Colorist: Jonah Greenstein. Sound Mix: Collin Blendell. Artwork Courtesy: John Akomfrah, Black Audio Film Collective, Lisson Gallery, and Smoking Dog Films. Special Thanks: Ashitey Akomfrah, ICA Boston, and Venice Biennale.

Extended Play is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; Dawn and Chris Fleischner; the Art21 Contemporary Council; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Licensing

Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1957. A pioneering filmmaker, Akomfrah creates multichannel video installations that critically examine the legacy of colonialism, the Black diaspora, and environmental degradation. Akomfrah weaves together original footage with archival material to create stirring, layered narratives that juxtapose personal and historical memory, past and present, and environmental and human crises.

“I’m interested in the conversation between noise—the ways in which noise suggests direction for images.”

John Akomfrah


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