British Art Show 9 takes a critical look at art produced in Britain, from 2015 up to the present moment, a period that begins with Britain voting to leave the European Union and closes with the still unfolding Covid-19 pandemic. The exhibition was shaped after meeting with over 230 artists in 23 cities in the UK and beyond.
Responding to this complex time, the 47 artists in BAS9 look at how we live with and give voice to difference, while also extending our understanding of identity to beyond the human. Their projects often blur the boundaries between art and life, and imagine alternative futures. Through their works, they propose alternative economies and ways of living together that emphasise commonality, collaboration and care. They do so through film, photography, painting, sculpture, and performance, as well as through projects that don’t sit easily in any one category.
The exhibition is curated by Irene Aristizábal and Hammad Nasar and is structured around three main themes: healing, care and reparative history; tactics for togetherness; and imagining new futures. These themes were agreed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the global recognition of racial injustice sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020. All three are even more relevant now.
Mandy El-Sayegh will present the animation Windows live (states), 2021. Windows live (states) begins with an urgent call for action, handwritten by the artist in blue ink.
Its words are from a policy document issued by the American Movement for Black Lives, demanding cuts in US military expenditure and re-investment in community wellbeing. Its demands, in support of free speech, protest and ending the occupation of Palestine, include a fight against the proliferation of bills opposing boycotts of Israel. As the text grows, it becomes enmeshed in a rapidly spreading system of lines that eventually fills all available space. For El-Sayegh, this passage is a point of departure to explore the interwoven fabric of solidarity movements.
Within this viral expansion, the original message is obscured by abstract imagery and spoken dialogue. The sound element, composed by collaborator Jonny Tanna, draws on El-Sayegh’s conversations with friends and family including Tanna, Saudi-American artist Samar Al Summary, and the artist’s parents. The voices recount experiences of displacement and identification, from the heart-rending lyrics of an Arabic song, to empathy with plants, and the feeling of being removed from one’s home. Pulsing through the dialogue is a radio signal known as the Russian woodpecker, used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War to detect foreign radars and disrupt broadcasts. As with the signal, the rapid growth of the line drawing interferes with our understanding of the text. Meaning is lost within a non-descript mass.
Windows live (states) forms part of El-Sayegh’s ongoing blue ink Windows series, which she has produced over the last decade. Within the intricate pen and ink drawing the repeated and unevenly spreading pattern recalls biological growth and replication, a recuring motif in her practice. The Windows works also take inspiration from the patterned interiors of envelopes designed to protect sensitive information. Embedded in their surfaces are concealed messages, barely visible and partially erased. With this new animated work, El-Sayegh reveals the gradual build-up of markings, making visible an underlying testimony, just as the accompanying sound foregrounds the voices of those whose marginal experiences cannot be neatly categorised.
Mandy El-Sayegh (born 1985, Selangor, Malaysia) lives and works in London. El-Sayegh studied at the University of Westminster and the Royal College of Art, both London.
I’m interested in the accumulation of meaning through a layering system … I include fragments of conversations, headlines, materials; it can be really nonsensical stuff, but it becomes loaded when you put it on other material.
– Mandy El-Sayegh
Aberdeen Art Gallery
10 July – 10 October 2021
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Wolverhampton School of Art
22 January – 10 April 2022
Manchester Art Gallery
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester
13 May – 4 September 2022
The Levinsky Gallery
MIRROR, Plymouth College of Art
8 October – 23 December 2022
Text by Tamara Hart and Anna Pigott
- ‘A Vision For Black Lives: Policy Demands For Black Power, Freedom, & Justice’, The Movement for Black Lives, 2016. https://m4bl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/CutMilitaryExpendituresOnePager.pdf
- Abdel Halim Hafez’s لا تكذبي (La Takzeby), roughly translated in English as ‘Don’t Lie’.