The Unfinished Conversation:

21 September - 31 December 2016

Museu Coleção Berardo

Lisbon, Portugal

Free exhibition

The curatorial premise of this exhibition is grounded in the work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014), who devoted his life to studying the interweaving threads of culture, power, politics and history.

Featuring works by: Terry Adkins, John Akomfrah, Sven Augustijnen, Steve McQueen, Shelagh Keeley and Zineb Sedira

Taking Hall’s essay Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse as a point of departure, viewers will be invited to think about how meaning is constructed; how it is systematically distorted by audience reception and how it can be detached and drained of its original intent to produce specific or slanted narratives. Hall's interdisciplinary approach drew on literary theory, linguistics, and cultural anthropology in order to analyse and articulate the relationship between history, culture, popular media, cold war politics, gender and ethnicity. By presenting the work of artists who bring into play time, memory and archives so as to construct new readings of the past, the exhibition will lay emphasis on the idea that the ‘‘visual’’ is an assimilatory process continuously at work in the construction of cultural, political, personal and national identities.

The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding will examine the physical manifestations and the mind-set of specific visual dynamics of the post-WWII era and it will address itself to the ways in which the image and the archive, whether personal or national, have influenced the way the subaltern perceive themselves socially and historically. It is our curatorial intention to build a multiple moving/still/audio archive, an image map, a visual vehicle that will ferry the audience across the choppy waters of memory, images and politics to an undeterminable, obscure and un- chartable destination, where people often meet with a fatal end. The exhibition aims to take viewers on a journey in time, to bring them to encounter images, which act as both objects of art and ideas in flux, circulating in and out of the archive through the corridors of cultural re- construction. This image map will be drawn by the work of Terry Adkins, John Akomfrah, Sven Augustijnen, Steve McQueen, Shelagh Keeley and Zineb Sedira, six artists whose practice is devoted primarily to commenting on recent socio-political events and situations and relating them to the not so distant past in order to help us understand the world we live in.

By stimulating our personal and collective memory, these works will show us how history agitates and causes anxiety in our personal lives and in the political realm as they will reveal the fact that national identity is not an essence or a state of being, but a ‘‘becoming,’’ a process whereby
subjectivities are formed in the interstices between such binary oppositions as us/them, black/white, or native/foreigner, and that it is in those in-between spaces that marginalized people are the agents and subjects of many possible futures, imagined or real.

The thread that connects all these art works is the artists’ involvement with the significant social issues confronting humanity today and their profound desire to push formal boundaries in order to tackle them.

The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding is organized and circulated by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto in partnership with Autograph ABP.

Curated by Mark Sealy and Gaëtane Verna.

About the curators

Gaëtane Verna
Gaëtane Verna is Director of the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto.
Prior to her work in Toronto Verna was the Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Musée d’art de Joliette and the Curator of the Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University. Presenting and organizing exhibitions by emerging and mid-career Canadian and international artists, she is committed to building bridges between visual art and the public in a multi-disciplinary context. Verna is interested in a variety of artistic practices, especially those that explore issues connected with questions of migration, works that investigate issues of displacement, identity and Diaspora aesthetics amongst others. Over the years she has presented works by such artists as Vasco Araujo, Fiona Banner, Tacita Dean, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Pedro Reyes, Ed Pien, Bill Viola, Luis Jacob, Kimsooja, François Lacasse, Yam Lau, Oswaldo Macia, Gabor Szilasi, Javier Tellez, and Denyse Thomasos. Verna has lectured in the Art History Department of Bishop’s University and at Université du Québec à Montréal. She holds a DEA and a Masters Degree from the Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne as well as an International Diploma in Heritage Administration and Conservation from the Ecole Nationale du Patrimoine (France).
Active within the wider arts community, Gaëtane Verna has served as the President of the Visual Arts Committee and as board member of the Montreal Arts Council. She is the co-chair of the Visual Art/Media Arts Committee and a Board Member of the Toronto Arts Council as well as a board member of the Hnatyshyn Foundation.

Mark Sealy, MBE
Mark Sealy, MBE, has a special interest in photography and film and their relationship to social change, identity politics and human rights. As director of Autograph ABP since 1991, he has initiated the production of many publications, exhibitions and residency projects, and commissioned photographers and filmmakers worldwide. His building project, Rivington Place, opened in London in 2007. Sealy has written for several international photography publications, including Foam Magazine, Aperture and Next Level. His book project, Different, published by Phaidon Press in 2002, focuses on photography and identity and was produced in partnership with Stuart Hall. Sealy’s most recent curated projects include commissioning The Unfinished Conversation, a film-work by John Akomfrah on the political life of Stuart Hall, first staged as part of the Liverpool Biennial (2012). Roma-Sinti-Kale-Manush, a group show that examined the representation of Roma Communities across Europe, was on display at Rivington Place, London, in 2012. Sealy also curated Human Rights Human Wrongs for Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, in 2013.

List of works

Terry Adkins

1953 Washington DC, USA -- 2014 Brooklyn NY, USA

Flumen Orationis (From the Principalities), 2012 Video, 41 min Estate of Terry Adkins; Courtesy Salon 94, New York

Interdisciplinary artist and musician Terry Adkins approached his visual art practice from the point of view of a composer, arranging his works in sculpture, performance, video, and

photography as recitals presented to audiences. Adkins often paid homage to figures in African- American history, among them the abolitionist John Brown and musicians such as Bessie Smith and John Coltrane. Flumen Orationis (From the Principalities) pairs a recording of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speech ‘‘Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam’’ (1967) with music by African American electrical guitarist, singer and song writer Jimi Hendrix. Both are played over found black and white photographs of hot air balloons and other dirigibles that were once used for passenger transport and mostly military purposes.

John Akomfrah

British, born Accra, Ghana, 1957. Lives and works in London, UK

The Unfinished Conversation, 2012
Three screen installation, HD video, colour, sound, 45 min
Collection of the Tate: Purchased jointly by Tate and the British Council 2013. Courtesy the artist; Smoking Dogs Films; and Caroll/Fletcher, London. Commissioned by Autograph ABP

In this multi-layered installation, artist, film-maker, and writer John Akomfrah investigates identity, not as an essence or being, but rather a becoming, a product of history and memory. He explores the personal archive of the acclaimed Jamaican born cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932 - - 2014), for whom identity and ethnicity are not fixed, but are the subject of an ever-unfinished conversation. Unfolding over three screens, Hall discusses his discovery of a personal and political identity. Arriving in Great Britain from Jamaica as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951, by 1968 he would be one of the founding figures of the New Left. Akomfrah weaves issues of cultural identity using a wide range of references that overlay the soundtrack and archive footage of Hall, drawing in references to William Blake, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Mervyn Peake, Jazz, and Gospel, set alongside news footage from the 1960s and 1970s.

Sven Augustijnen

Belgian, born Mechelen, Belgium, 1970. Lives and works in Brussels.

BE Spectres, 2011
HD film, Colour, Stereo, 104 min
Courtesy the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels and Mexico City

Sven Augustijnen’s documentary film essay recalls one of the darkest chapters in the decolonisation of the Belgian Congo: the assassination of Patrice Lumumba (1925 -- 1961), Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister. The main thread of Spectres takes the form of a voyage, with Jacques Brassinne de La Buissière, a former high-ranking civil servant, as a guide through many crucial historical sites and symbolic moments of the political and humanitarian ‘thriller’ that unfurled with decolonisation, the transfer of power and the subsequent conflicts, including the imprisonment and execution of Lumumba, together with two other ministers from his government, in 1961. As both commentator and symbolic figure, Brassinne advances the arguments he has developed during meetings and commemorations with the last survivors, all of them witnesses or family members of the main protagonists. The process of the film becomes a means of exorcising the spirits that emerge between the folds of the stories and their rectifications.

Steve McQueen

British, born London, United Kingdom, 1969. Lives and works in London, UK and Amsterdam

End Credits, 2012. Sequence of digitally scanned documents, audio, 322 min
Courtesy the artist; Marian Goodman, New York and Paris; and Thomas Dane Gallery, London

End Credits is dedicated to the African-American singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson (1898 -- 1976). Thousands of pages from Robeson’s file compiled by the FBI over years of surveillance during the McCarthy era ----- once heavily censored and now publicly accessible ----- are displayed, as documents and read aloud. McQueen pays tribute to the civil rights activist in the form of end credits, bringing to light the devastating nature of his politically motivated discrimination, marginalization and persecution.

A successful actor and movie star in the 1940s, Robeson’s advocacy for the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, his championship of the rights of workers all over the world, a trip to the Soviet Union, and his stand for peace against tyranny made him one of the most internationally celebrated figures in the African-American Civil Rights movement. As a result he was also perceived as a serious threat to the paranoid anti-Communist, conservative politics of the Cold War Era. Blacklisted at the height of his career in the early 1950s, the Unites States State Department refused to issue Robeson a passport, preventing him from performing and speaking publicly abroad until a Supreme Court ruling restored his right to travel in 1958.

Shelagh Keeley

Canadian-American, born Oakville, Ontario, 1954. Lives and works in Toronto

1983 Kisangani, Zaïre, 2015
27 photographs on the wall.
Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by The Power Plant, 2015

This site specific commission for The Power Plant’s Clerestory is made up of photographs taken in 1983 in Kisangani (formerly known as Stanleyville), Zaire. Keeley’s work which echoes a film strip, faces the artist’s previous commissioned wall work titled Notes on Obsolescence (2014). Keeley shot the images covertly, as photography was forbidden during the presidency of Mobutu Sese Seko (1930 – 1997), and now 32 years later they remain significant documents, depicting Belgian modernist architecture that was later destroyed in subsequent conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. History continues to repeat itself, with the conflict over mineral wealth in the region, primarily diamonds and coltan, used in the production of microchips and many other electronic devices. For Keeley, these interior and exterior views of failed late-modernist architecture – scarred by corruption, warfare and political turmoil, and still haunted by traces of colonialism – are quiet personal documents, in contrast to the photo journalist images that are in circulation from this region in contemporary media.

Zineb Sedira

French Algerian, born Paris, France, 1963. Lives in London, UK and works between London, Paris and Algiers, DZ

Gardiennes d’images (Image Keepers), 2010
19 min double projection, 30 min single projection
Courtesy the artist; Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris; and The Third Line, Dubai

In Gardiennes d’images (Image Keepers) Sedira focuses on the issues of oral history, transmission, language, mobility, as well as referencing tradition and solitude. Mohamed Kouaci (1922 -- 1996), often referred to as the father of Algerian photography, was the main photographer who followed the Algerian War of Independence from France (1954 -- 1962), the independence in 1962 and its aftermath for the newly independent Algerian government. He took photographs for El Moudjahid, the official newspaper of the FLN (National Liberation Front), and had a significant role during the revolution, at a time when images of the country were tightly controlled. Combining documentary film and installation, Sedira aims to offer an appreciation and dissemination of Kouaci’s photographic work which included images of notable figures such as Ahmed Ben Bella, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara, and Frantz Fanon. History is often told from the standpoint of former leaders, with

this work Sedira gives voice to a regular person through Safia Kouaci as she recalls key historical events woven into stories of life with her husband

Visiting information

Museu Coleção Berardo
Praça do Império, 1449-003 Lisboa, Portugal

t: +351 213 612 878
e: museuberardo@museuberardo.pt


Opening times
Open every day
Monday to Sunday 10:00-19:00 (last admission: 18:30)

Free admission

Supported by