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Larry Achiampong, 'Reliquary 2: A Letter of 4 Chapters', 2021

We’re excited to have you join the line up as part of CIRCA’s c.20:21 programme for this July month, curated by Norman Rosenthal. Perhaps you can tell us about your commission?

For my commission, I’ve created a video work titled Reliquary 2: A Letter of 4 Chapters which forms part of the larger project that I established in 2017 titled Relic traveller. The project Relic traveller is a speculative project that is set at a point in time in the future that imagines and asks questions regarding nationalism, which has been on the increase within the West. The story uses the Brexit result as a vehicle to detail a story that talks about nationalism that has increased through various nations across Europe, pondering and asking the question essentially of what happens when ideas that focus on this sense of individualism are allowed to continue. And through the project we witness that there is a decline across the West as a result of closing doors, of closing borders, things like that. And within the same period of time the African Union has created a passport programme that allows Africans to travel amongst the 54 states that exist with no issue with regards to visa. So, of course, we’re talking about one part of the world in the West where doors are closing, or borders should we say, and then the African Union where borders are opening. And personally, which is why I guess, you know, I kind of placed this into to the project. It’s my opinion that when you close borders you close various other aspects of connection. On a cultural level, on a level related to economics and more, which renders said environment whose doors are closed a relic of a time.

So, amongst the various initiatives that the African Union set up, one of which is called the Relic Travellers’ Alliance. And relic travellers essentially are people that are sent outside of the African Union to pick up vocal testimonies that have been left by people throughout history. So where does this feature within Reliquary 2? Well, Reliquary 2 as a film – it’s actually the fifth film within the Reliquary Travel Series, there are four other films that exist: Relic O, Relic 1, Relic 2 and Relic 3. Each of these films detail and explore various things with the different vocal testimonies that you hear within the films that essentially the Relic Travellers have picked up. And then visually the viewer is kind of invited upon the journey that the Relic Traveller embarks – mostly across Western sites.

Within Relic 2. It’s probably the most personal work out of all the Relic Traveller projects, the films or the flags included. Essentially because the vocal testimony that has been left is actually my own. And it’s a letter that I wrote to my children during the start of the pandemic in 2020. At this point in time I was separated from my children for 3 months. I wasn’t able to physically spend time with them which was really, really difficult and mentally and emotionally crushing. I was personally quite panicked seeing the numbers of coronavirus victims rise and of course in accordance with that the amount of deaths. You know at a certain point England had, or should I say the United Kingdom, had the, I think, second-to-top worst numbers regarding this virus in terms of deaths. And so I was very paranoid. Intriguingly I wanted to write a letter to my children for a while. I’d wanted to talk to them in a way that they could listen to a letter again and again. So, the work, in a way, was kind half done in a way that I’d always intended to write a letter to them. I guess the situation of the virus, the disease, really pushed and applied urgency to the need for it to be created, to be released, and for my children to be able to access it because I wasn’t sure if I would personally make it. I’ve known people who have passed away from the virus and I believe I caught the virus myself. I’m not sure if I can entirely confirm that. But at the time testing kits were not available. However, I lost my sense of taste, my sense of smell. I was hugely fatigued in a way that I had never really experienced before.

So really this letter is not simply just talking about the urgency – a moment of time where time as we know it has been affected or frozen still. But really I wanted to talk to my children too about the world that they inherit. One of the things about being a parent is you know understanding one’s owns mortality. And more than anything, especially as a black parent to black children, I’m aware of the seriousness of being to relay to my kids the unfair world that they inhabit. The world that has been built essentially, certainly not to privilege my daughter and definitely not to privilege my son either.

So, this work brings about an account, a personal account, of a moment in time which I think in certain respects is also interpersonal. There are certain other people, plenty of other people, who are separated from friends and family. But then also where issues of class and race are concerned. I think this film, the work in general kind of really reaches in the crux of these ideas. It must be noted that the film was initially commissioned in 2020 by John Hansard Gallery. And so, for CIRCA, I’ve optimised the work and divided it up into four chapters, hence the title Reliquary 2: A Letter of 4 Chapters. Viewers of the work on the screen at Piccadilly Circus if they tune into the CIRCA website at the time of that broadcast imagery, they’ll be able to hear the audio that relates to the film.

Larry Achiampong (b. 1984, London) solo and collaborative projects employ imagery, aural and visual archives, live performance and sound to explore ideas surrounding class, cross-cultural and post-digital identity. With works that examine his communal and personal heritage – in particular, the intersection between pop culture and the postcolonial position, Achiampong crate-digs the vaults of history. These investigations examine constructions of ‘the self’ by splicing the audible and visual materials of personal and interpersonal archives, offering multiple perspectives that reveal entrenched socio-political contradictions in contemporary society.

Achiampong has exhibited, performed and presented projects within the UK and abroad including Tate Britain/Modern, London; The Institute For Creative Arts, Cape Town; The British Film Institute, London; David Roberts Art Foundation, London; Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation, Accra; Logan Center Exhibitions, Chicago; Prospect New Orleans, New Orleans; Diaspora Pavilion – 57th Venice Biennale, Venice; and Somerset House, London.