‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ deserves so much more than wilful bewilderment from cocky white art critics with an obsolete worldview. It is the most inspiring show I have seen in London for years, linking, seeding and growing into all the physical and intellectual, desiring and imaginary dimensions of life post-2020.
ICA, London, UK, 29 January – 12 April 2020
Cameron Rowland has a distinctive way with titles of exhibitions, land and property, which he demonstrates with great impact in his current ICA exhibition. I caught it in February before the pandemic hit, and before George Floyd was lynched and British broadcasters responded to Black Lives Matter protests in London and Bristol by asking what they had to do with events five thousand miles away. And also before I read white, male art critics carping about the work not being legible enough for them, missing its fine detail, crystallised opacities and actual substantiveness but dismissing it as paperwork-about-paperwork anyway. This is the significantly over-entitled worldview that Rowland takes apart in an exhibition that already was – and will re-open as – the most exhilarating show of 2020 in London.
Rowland’s ‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ might have been designed as a final riposte to the ‘five thousand miles away’ sleight about slavery and its ongoing legacies. However, there is more than that at work in this exhibition of small but not minor objects, and expansively quasi-epistemological works that foreground judgement. ‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ generates a very particular eschatological arrest. While it delivers on the level of affect, it also addresses a further rhetorical question put by Saidiya Hartman when declaring herself ‘agnostic’ about one-way struggles over reparation.  The answer is that slavery, the transportation of at least twelve million people as chattel from west Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, was a Crime Against Humanity, as presently constituted and understood. I have written about Ariella Aisha Azoulay’s rigorous problematising of pseudo-humanitarian laws,  and this exhibition entangles itself with legal declarations that were loaded and abused. Yet Atlantic slavery was a crime on the largest conceivable scale, a crime that remains unprosecuted and for which only the perpetrators were compensated at ‘abolition’ in ways that continue to accrue benefits.Continue reading “notes_32 Cameron Rowland, ‘3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73’ at ICA London. On concrete radicalism & white critical anxiety. TT Dec 2020”