Artist Sondra Perry stands next to her installation work precursor to Lineage for a Phantom Zone 2022. Photo © Michael Calabrò
SONDRA PERRY: WINNER OF THE DREAM COMMISSION PERFORMS LATEST WORK AT ART BASEL
Anticipation hung in the air as art world luminaries gathered on the outskirts of Basel during the city’s landmark art fair, Art Basel, for the first time since before the pandemic. They were assembled for a first glimpse of new work by Sondra Perry – winner of the inaugural Dream Commission from Muse, the Rolls-Royce Art Programme. Within the glass-fronted Fondation Beyeler, a master work of architecture by Renzo Piano, international collectors mingled with prestigious gallerists and curators from leading museums, all eager to see more from an exciting talent whose work charts new, deeply personal terrain in moving image art.
Like a dream coming into focus, the event revealed a captivating precursor to Perry’s full work, which is due to be exhibited at the Fondation Beyeler from 12 February to 13 March 2022. Following a performance of this latest work by Sondra herself, who had flown in from New Jersey, the American artist was joined in conversation by British installation artist and fellow filmmaker Isaac Julien. It was a suitable meeting of minds, as Julien was commissioned by the Rolls-Royce Art Programme in 2015 for ‘Stones Against Diamonds’ – a film exploring the beauty of the Icelandic landscape.
‘Like a dream coming into focus, the event revealed a captivating precursor to Perry’s full work.’
Artist Sondra Perry during her performance to mark the preview of Lineage for a Phantom Zone at Fondation Beyeler. Photo © Michael Calabrò
A VOYAGE INTO THE SUBCONSCIOUS
An intimate and disorientating scene met guests inside the gallery space: Sondra Perry, inert and reclined on an upturned sofa, facing a suspended tablet on which a Zoom session with Perry’s therapist was playing, audible to the hushed crowd. The artist would later reveal that she is currently studying psychoanalysis, and that she takes inspiration from ‘the Freudian foundations around dreams, around the unconscious, around repression.’
Behind the sofa, a screen showed a video shot from the back window of a car. Snaking backwards into the horizon, a road slowly revolved until finally it took the place of the sky. The footage was taken on a recent journey Perry undertook to North Carolina in search of the land upon which her grandmother was born and worked as a sharecropper. The trip, which had ultimately yielded no trace, was a painful reflection of the erasure of Black memory and experience. Simultaneously, Perry’s voice, in response to her therapist, spoke of the effect this fruitless quest had on her. A distinctive quality of Perry’s work is its ability to deftly entwine technology with intimacy, and so it was that the medium of moving image had become a vehicle for a very personal journey, touching on the artist’s interest in identity, lineage and the subconscious.
‘A distinctive quality of Perry’s work is its ability to deftly entwine technology with intimacy.’
Artists Sondra Perry and Isaac Julien were in conversation at Fondation Beyeler at a special preview event. Photo © Michael Calabrò
MOVING IMAGE MASTERS IN DIALOGUE
To delve deeper into what drives her practice, Sondra Perry was joined by another important voice in moving image art. Isaac Julien, a previous recipient of a Rolls-Royce Art Programme commission, is an artist and filmmaker whose work bridges the political and the poetic. In a conversation introduced by Jessica Persson-Conway, Global Head of the Rolls-Royce Art Programme, Julien applauded Perry for the generosity of her performance and heralded Muse as ‘the most cutting edge, exciting programme that’s supporting video art today’.
Speaking about family as a ‘starting point’ for much of her work, Perry described how exploring ‘broader histories… can bring us to an understanding of how we are situated historically.’ Having travelled to North Carolina with the motivation of ‘building an archive’ – part of what Julien sees as allowing the viewer to ‘connect to stories that haven’t really been told’ – it was ultimately the absence of evidence of her family’s history that pushed the work in a new direction. ‘I brought my grandmother with us, and we couldn't find anything… I was trying to tell a very concise story, and I realised that I couldn't do that… because I didn't have access to it.’
Julien reflected that Perry was at the forefront of a generation of artists who have come of age with technology as their vernacular, opening up novel possibilities for the medium. Perry, who originally trained as a ceramicist, remarked that she saw new technologies more as ‘reconfigurations’ of existing artistic languages. ‘I think of moving image in the same way as I think about ceramics. Moving image technology is material culture – there's nothing ephemeral about it. Everything comes from the earth, in some way, shape, or form.’
‘Perry described how exploring broader histories can bring us to an understanding of how we are situated historically.’
Muse, the Rolls-Royce Art Programme Cocktail Reception in Honour of Sondra Perry at Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 22 September 2021. Photo © Michael Calabrò
An immersive exhibition of Sondra Perry’s full work, Lineage for a Phantom Zone, 2022, will open at the Fondation Beyeler on 12 February 2022, before being shown at the Serpentine Galleries, London. Constructing a ‘dreamscape’ in which lines between memory, history and the subconscious blur, Perry will reveal the full culmination of her vision for the Dream Commission, a project awarded to emerging and mid-career artists to inspire greatness and foster creativity in the medium of moving image art.
‘Constructing a 'dreamscape' in which lines between memory, history and the subconscious will blur, Perry will reveal the full culmination of her vision for the Dream Commission.’
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Delve further into stories of Inspiring Greatness.
A Brief History Of Moving Image Art: Part I
As moving image art enters a new era of heightened relevance, consistently reflecting our shared experiences, one of the main inspirations for the Dream Commission, so we look back to the humble origins of the medium to see how it has evolved from experimental novelty to a futuristic mainstay of contemporary art.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MOVING IMAGE ART: PART II
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