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Whitechapel Gallery is bringing film, video and animation from around the world to audiences at home as part of its Artists’ Film International (AFI) programme. During these precarious times, every Tuesday a film selected by one of 20 global partners launches on Whitechapel Gallery’s website. AFI is a consortium of organisations from cities around the world, from Bergamo to Buenos Aires, Kabul to Marfa, Mumbai to Istanbul. Since 2007, AFI has been screened in Whitechapel Gallery’s auditorium and at partner venues but while the galleries are closed due to coronavirus, the project has moved online for the first time for a limited period.

Iwona Blazwick, Director of Whitechapel Gallery, tells Something Curated: “In this unprecedented moment when our galleries and borders are closed, we wanted to share a season of films from artists working across the world. Together with our partners our selection touches on ever more important issues, from our impact on the environment to architectures of power.” Local sounds, rituals and political realities prominently feature in the online season, from the rhythms and images of a Bahamian Junkanoo to an exploration of ancestral lands on the desert border between Mexico and the US. Language is the common theme of AFI’s 2020 programme, and every film uses language to intensify place.

The most recent film to be screened is selected by the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland, created by Dominika Olszowy. Olszowy is a visual artist and performer who graduated in Media Art from the University of Arts in Poznań. Her work intersects video, performance, installation and set design and she draws from the mechanics and production values of amateur theatre, cabaret and talk shows. Olszowy’s film, Wanda Wanton (2016), features a mysterious lead figure called Wanda. By day Wanda works as a Polish language teacher, and by night may be possessed by the spirits of ancient Germanic tribes known as Vandals. Interviewed in a mockumentary format, the possible alter ego of the artist illustrates her life philosophy that creation can come out of destruction.

Further back, discover Miguel Fernández de Castro’s Grammar of Gates, in which the artistexplores the overlapping territories, languages and conflicts that mark the desert border between Mexico and the US, occupying the ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation, an indigenous people living on the Sonora-Arizona borderlands. The artist weaves together excerpts from the film Geronimo Jones (1970) with drone and surveillance-like imagery of the landscape, drug smuggling routes and an affectless recitation of phrases taken from A Practical Spanish Grammar for Border Patrol Officers, the language of power that defines and controls the border gates.

Also available to stream at present, Inscriptions (One Here Now), by Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, draws us down into the dark vertiginous depths of a quarry interior. The camera traces geological deep-time, the scars left by machinery on the rock surfaces, and the sprayed industrial notations that codify the commodification and disappearance of landscape. Embedded within the film are references to the ancient Irish language of Ogham, a script which took the form of linear strokes cut into vertical standing stones. In these inscriptions the film finds a metaphor for the Anthropocene – the current geological era in which human behaviour is the dominant force shaping environment and climate.

Forthcoming online screenings include, Francesco Pedraglio’s Scripting anticlockwise (6 constellations) (2017), inspired by a live theatrical performance and selected by GAMeC Bergamo, Italy. Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden selects Lisa Tan’s My Pictures of You (2017-19) in which photographs taken on Mars are interwoven with filmed sequences from Earth. Later, MMAG Foundation, Amman, Jordan spotlights Mohamed A. Gawad’s betalpha (Balbalah) (2018) which plays with words and their meaning, juxtaposing them with extracts from films by Stan Brakhage and Buster Keaton, and Project 88, Mumbai, India selects Raqs Media Collective’s Passwords for Time Travel (2017), which combines the enigma of a spell with the precision of a dictionary entry.

Feature image: Still from Grammar of Gates / Gramática de las puertas (2019), Miguel Fernándes De Castro (via Whitechapel Gallery)

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