‘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.
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.
“Azoulay has produced a unique handbook for the 2020s that details how, why, when and where to say no in the affirmative. Her greatest achievement is that, against the foreshortened horizons of a despoiling barbarism, she makes all our tomorrows thinkable.“
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism is almost double the size of my copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism and about half the size, in turn, of Karl Marx’s first volume of Capital. There are many nuanced differences across such a crudely mapped zone but the quality that all three share is a burning desire to change, to radically redistribute the world as it is, or appears to be. Azoulay’s six-hundred-page-long Potential History offers a liveable commonworld through exacting reparations and ends with a very short but insistent affirmation: ‘The potential is there’. 
click IMAGE to link to notes from a biennial – on reflection
Notes from a Biennial – On Reflection
by Guy Mannes-Abbott
The opening week of this year’s Biennial was very intense; promising and delivering much. I’m glad I had early access to it all, could play that off repeated circuits and discrete returns, along with mini wanders with various artists and writers, old and new friends, listen to other’s highlights, tips, and ‘zoom’ in and out of the city, region and world in the process.
I was invited as a writer to write critically and I would fail the Biennial as much as myself if I did otherwise. I’m a demanding judge or at least have very high thresholds and am not biddable! Yet Sharjah Biennial 10 has been a triumph for all those involved. It took big risks Continue reading “notes from a biennial – on reflection”→
Dirk Stewen untitled [Bronx Monkey II] at Maureen Paley
I’ve been enjoying quite a few shows recently which are likely to be blown out of the water by the imminent frieze fair and so with mighty respect to the latter I thought I’d flag them up as alternatives…
Otherwise, Liverpool is a far better Biennial than scarce notice of it by lazy old journos suggests; everyone rightly notes the almost painfully compelling acid-Warhol-mashup-vids of Ryan Trecartin’s but there’s much else, including NS Harsha’s very nice installation [right] at 52 Renshaw Street and not least at Tate Liverpool -where a dubiously conceived but actually nicely put together show called The Sculpture of Language by Carol Anne Duffy exhibits some great and rarely aired works.
Dirk Stewen at Maureen Paley [08 October — 14 November 2010] is the most winning new work in town for me. If you do make it to the frieze jamboree then add this show to your bottom-line schedule otherwise you’ll have failed yourself and London. If you’re not friezing it then take advantage and spend some time in a show spread over two floors, beautifully arranged/hung works combining utopian gesture with extraordinary concentration, tentativeness and beauty. The work seems hardly there at all and yet surprises/delights with a precision that makes for indelibility. It’s Stewen’s first show in London, I’d never seen the work before and this exhibition made me happy to be alive; don’t miss it! Continue reading “nb, visual art noticeboard [alternatives to friezing…]”→