Newcastle’s Abject Gallery plays host to an exhibition of four video works, three by Juan delGado and one by collaborator, Juan Soto from 4 – 28 October. Review by Joe Turnbull.
Fear is an ever-present discourse, especially in the current political climate where it threatens to engulf everything like the flames of Grenfell. Fear of the other. Fear of the unknown. Fear of isolation. Each of these common contemporary fears find a voice and are placed under a flickering spotlight in Juan delGado’s exhibition at Abject Gallery.
The show takes its title from delGado’s 2014 Unlimited commission, The Flickering Darkness, a three-channel video installation following the frenetic comings and goings of Corabastos market in Bogotá, Colombia. The exhibition notes remark that the film is playing on the notions of fear associated by default with Colombia; ‘fear of what?’ the artist asks the viewer.
The pounding rhythm and relentless pace of activity in both the market itself and the filmic elements is certainly overwhelming. Split over three channels the effect is very much of sensory overload. The juxtaposition of silence and din, stillness and feverish movement, half-light and rippling darkness does create a mood of foreboding. But in illuminating this hidden hub, which makes the whole city of Bogota tick and following the flow of produce from market to table, the end result is strangely uplifting.
It is only when The Flickering Darkness is reanimated alongside the other three works that the exhibition embraces a menacing edge. DelGado’s Terminal Sur, also filmed in Colombia, shares the most in terms of visual language and thematic content with the titular piece. It is shot in another transient space, namely a bus depot. But in this film only the spectres of human activity remain.
The camera pans ominously, searching for a single soul but all it finds is the cold chrome of empty stainless steel seats, or an automatic door endlessly opening and closing for no one. A female voice recounts a traumatic encounter involving her son and the brute force or either the state or an armed militia. At least that’s the assumption. The violence and the tragedy are never fully revealed, kept eerily out of reach. It seems a tacit nod to the thousands of disappeared innocents under the political repression of right wing despots across the South American continent.
Juan Soto’s contribution to the exhibition, The Parable of the Return follows ‘Wilson’, a man who left home in Medellin for Bogota but never made it, and ended up spending 30 years in exile in London. Details are deliberately kept scarce but the implication is Wilson was a fighter in the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). The film charts his plane journey home after three decades, to the family who believed him dead. It is almost absurd in the banality of detail, as the camera travels up escalators or searches the departure board for the right flight.
DelGado’s Who Are You Entertaining to? Is the most immediate of all the works, a stark reminder of one the basest of fears, the threat of violence. A seated man is towered over by another figure, and is slowly and repeatedly smacked sideways by them. After each strike, he assiduously resumes his position, passively waiting for the next assault. We expect a reaction. But none is forthcoming.
For all that the exhibition speaks to obvious fears, such as political violence or the ignorant fear of the other, it is an altogether more subtle fear that pervades. The fear of the mundane, of the everyday, of the grinding conveyor belt of our daily actions. Our biggest fear should be the apathy, which our sedentary modern lives engenders. Of passively watching on as the world implodes in front of us. But as this exhibition shows, there are flourishes of excitement and magic even in quotidian spaces, like a marketplace. And that can turn fear into hope.
Juan delGado’s work Altered Landscapes is playing as part of the 4th Platforma Festival, a biennial celebration of arts by, about and with refugees and migrants from marginalised communities, which takes place 19-31 October across the North East. For the festival DelGado is also curating Common Ground, a programme of short and animation films made by artists and filmmakers who are now displaced across Europe and beyond.