New Artist Picked for ICA Watershed

November 18, 2018
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After a widely successful inaugural run, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA)  Watershed at the Boston Shipyard and Marina in East Boston ended its first season on the waterfront on Oct. 8.

However, just a few weeks after the Watershed packed it in for the winter, the ICA already picked next year’s resident artist, proving how desirable the new ICA offshoot in Eastie has become.

The ICA announced this week that acclaimed artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah will use the Watershed to premiere of major video installation that sheds light on climate change in 2019.

ICA Director Jill Medvedow said when the Watershed opens next spring Akomfrah will unveil the U.S. premiere of  “Purple,” an immersive six-channel video installation.

“What astounds me about the art of John Akomfrah is that the beauty, power, and grace of his work conveys a sense of the sublime and the possible, despite its depiction of the powerful impacts of climate change, rising sea levels, and the increase of severe weather,” said Medvedow. “Purple embodies the belief that inward reflection must be paired with active engagement. The ICA is honored to present this important and timely work at the Watershed.”

“Purple” will be organized by Eva Respini, Chief Curator, and Cara Kuball, Curatorial Project Manager. The two called Akomfrah’s Purple the the artist’s most ambitious project to date.

They said “Purple” combines archival footage with newly shot film to address themes related to the implications of climate change across the planet and its effects on human communities, biodiversity, and the wilderness.

Respini said the premier of “Purple” at the Watershed, an old industrial building situated on Eastie’s waterfront, is the perfect place to consider climate change through art. The Watershed opened to the public on July 4 inside a former copper pipe factory at Boston Shipyard and Marina on Marginal Street. The 15,000-square-foot, raw, industrial space is unlike anything in Boston and has expanded the ICA’s artistic and educational programming on both sides of the Boston Harbor.

Respini said the themes of “Purple” will resonate deeply with the Watershed’s harbor location and its proximity to the current and historical maritime industries of the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina.

“Purple” is a catalyst for conversation and action. Through the poetic interweaving of archival images and new footage accompanied by a hypnotic soundscape, the film confronts the issue of climate change from a philosophical perspective, questioning what is morally and ethically at stake if human beings continue to exploit the planet,” said Respini. “The Watershed’s coastal and industrial location provides a powerful backdrop for visitors to explore these subjects.”

Respini said Akomfrah draws from hundreds of hours of archival footage, combining it with newly shot film and a spellbinding sound score to produce the video installation. Symphonic in scale and divided into five interwoven movements, the film features various disappearing ecological landscapes: from the hinterlands of Alaska and the desolate environments of Greenland, to the Tahitian Peninsula and the volcanic Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. “Purple” conveys the complex and fragile interrelation of human and non-human life with a sense of poetic gravity that registers the vulnerability of living in precarious environments,” she said.

Born in 1957 in Accra, Ghana Akomfrah lives and works in London. A founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective (1982–1998) and its offshoot, the film and television production company Smoking Dogs Films (1998–present), his work has been shown in museums and exhibitions around the world including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The New Museum, New York; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Serpentine Gallery, London; Tate Britain, London; Southbank Centre, London; Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden; and the 56th Venice Biennale.

“Purple” will be on view staring on May 26, 2019 through Sept. 2, 2019.