Visiting the Jerwood/FVU awards 2022

The Jerwood/FVU Awards 2002 displayed two installations of moving-image works by the artists Soojin Chang and Michael. where both artists had won prizes of £25,000 as a result, to develop their concepts. Soojin Chang’s BXBY follows the story of a hybrid interspecies individual and the journey towards reproductive prosperity. Whereas Michael.’s cleave to the BLACK is a display of the languid states of existence of the black body, topical of the black male experience. Both explore in one way or another how marginalised bodies move through states of existence within worlds created by the artists.

After arriving at Jerwood I quickly and absentmindedly read the wall texts for both installations. After a reminder warning from a member of staff, I headed towards the gallery space, removing my shoes before entering, as requested by a small sign by the door.

At first, the imagery started off slow, as Chang’s hybrid creature shifts through water, mixture of hair and pale skin. Between agitated camera movements and bubbling water, It felt as though you too were drowning in the sea. Eventually, after emerging from the sea the creature advances through the beach and onto the rocky highland terrain. All while anxiety-inducing music plays through speakers making for a less than relaxing environment.

BXBY alludes to the exploitation of colonised non-white bodies through science, particularly in the united states. Chang points to a larger issue that reproduction and scientific methods of reproduction are rooted in dominant power structures- they have been historically and in some ways continue to be. Through the hybrid creature’s experimentations and learning processes in order to be able to reproduce, you realise that to an extent scientific practices are quite literally for the most part cooked up.

There’s a point in the piece where Chang records the death and subsequent butchery of a doe. The feeling of discomfort at this point is heavy, perhaps even more so as a few other people have now entered the space. Chang is an artist that often uses their own body as a location for exploring topics such as coloniality and animism among others. Through the use of this, the artist is able to probe the connection between human and non-humans and negate the heteronormative prerequisites of sexual reproduction. The doe is pulled apart until the hunter reveals in the small crevices of the womb, a small embryo. Which then becomes a component of the creature’s own experimental endeavours to procreate. I was reminded of the alien egg toys that I used to have as a child and the obsession I had with trying to see if they would have babies. It is at this point that fiction was most definitely upended by the artist, which happens quite a lot throughout the performance.

On my second visit to Jerwood arts, I watched cleave to the BLACK. This time I had the opportunity to watch the artist’s interview before I saw the piece, which helped me shape my thoughts around the artist’s intentions for creating the work. Within this interview Michael. asked the important question of ‘how do we record slowness?’ and also spoke about states of repose within the images. After watching this I made my way to the gallery space, where I was struck by how dark the space was in comparison to the gallery housing Chang’s work.

As the images appeared I found my eyes dancing between the three screens, to absorb as much imagery as possible before it changed. The point of which I guess is that you can only absorb so much before the image alters, even though movement throughout is slow. There is something quite soothing about the repeated movements of different subjects over and over within cleave to the BLACK. The effect of this was that it narrated the fluidity of the black body, which exist in antithesis to how preconceived ideas and imagery of the black male body exist today. The work seemed like an ode to community ties and the amalgamation of the different characters that had come together to create this project.

The two furthest screens showed binary states of movement and rest, set within different timelines. As a black person, it also made me think that although within the piece – this state of rest and slowness appeared to be easy to find, it is not often a state that black people occupy. However, Michael.’s space allows for a sense of thoughtless calm and respite. The inspiration for this work was largely facilitated through the artist’s questions around the relationships between joy and pain, and the invisible and hypervisible, all of which in cleave to the BLACK are states that depend on each other.

Where BXBY made me feel as though I needed to quickly put my shoes on and escape the space to digest what I had seen. cleave to the BLACK created a space in which I didn’t want to leave, but rather stay transfixed by the imagery. I was amused by the monotonous movements of the men moving up the stairs in one piece and nauseated by parts of the procreation process in the other. Conclusively I think that both artists had most likely been successful in gaining the responses they wanted from their audiences.

Jerwood/FVU Awards 2022 is on until 23 July 2022

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