Vertigo Sea video installation
Vertigo Sea is a three-channel video installation that describes humanity’s relationship with the sea. The film is a narrative about human beings and nature, about the beauty, violence and precariousness of life. It raises the issues of migration, the history of slavery and colonization, war and conflict, and addresses current ecological concerns. Watch it at Fundacio Tapies Barcelona.
The work premiered at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, entitled All the World’s Futures and curated by Okwui Enwezor. In a distinctive and innovative style, Akomfrah explores our ability to survive in the sea from fishing to migration, slavery and the colonization of the world. Vertigo Sea combines archival material from the BBC Natural History Unit with new footage from Scotland, Norway and the Faroe Islands. It is an epic work, a poetic and moving representation of the human relationship with nature where the hypnotic beauty of ocean landscapes and marine life, or icy scenes of the Arctic, are juxtaposed with images of the slave trade, of the cruelty of the whaling industry, or the polar bear hunting, and of the crossing of the oceans of the various generations of migrants who have ventured in search of a better life.
The sea is a recurrent motif in Akomfrah’s work; the immensity of the ocean marks the scene of colonial conquests and the transatlantic slave trade, as well as contemporary migratory flows. His works are characterized by an interest in personal and collective histories, memories and hopes, as well as in cultural identities. The film also incorporates sequences depicting Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-1797), the African slave who bought his freedom and was a pioneer of the abolitionist cause who sailed the seas, explored the Arctic and would eventually live in England, campaigning to extend the vote to the workers and publishing an autobiography that is central to the narrative about the horrors of slavery.