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Published  24/06/2022
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Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory – Venice Biennale 2022

Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory – Venice Biennale 2022

The Barbadian-Scottish artist has used sculpture, film and tapestry for her Scotland in Venice presentation. Her aim, she says, is to show that, through self-compassion and collective care, we can battle racism and colonialism

Set apart from the crush and crowds of the nearby biennale venues, in a former boatyard, on a tranquil, waterfront site, the work by Alberta Whittle (b1980 Bridgetown, Barbados), for Scotland in Venice, invites you to do as its title says: pause. Her installation, Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory, comprises tapestry, film and sculpture, and revisits and enriches themes Whittle has explored before: colonialism, oppression, forgotten (or suppressed) histories, the many legacies of slavery, and the experience of racism.



Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory, installation view, Scotland + Venice, 2022. Photo: Martin Kennedy.

For Venice, it is the core part of her practice, the idea of collective care as an antidote to “anti-blackness”, that comes across most powerfully – in the seating and blankets she places around the two-room space to allow for rumination and discussion, as much as in the evident time, energy and love she has expended in making these works, alongside a variety of collaborators.



Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory, installation view, Scotland + Venice, 2022. Photo: Martin Kennedy.

And despite the work’s unflinching exposure of issues that damage us all, this enveloping sense of compassion, clarity and affection emanates from the work and gives one the feeling that her mission, as explained in the introductory panel to her Venice installation, could be accomplished: “To collectively consider the historic legacies and contemporary expressions of racism, colonialism and migration, and begin to think outside these damaging frameworks.”



Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory, Scotland + Venice, 2022. Photo: Martin Kennedy.

There are big green gates – vivid against the bright-purple-painted walls of the first gallery - placed at the waterfront, and around the two rooms within this former boat shed, which bear key words, including Remember, Pause, Breathe. One has pale lilac and maroon glass – made here in Venice – inserted into its frame.



Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory, installation view, Scotland + Venice, 2022. Photo: Martin Kennedy.

Another is draped with a tapestry, of writhing limbs, splayed hands and snakes, which Whittle made at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios, with the words “what lies below” inserted into the metal frame. These snakes and tangled hands, says Whittle: “Are a way of thinking about the acquisitiveness of empire. The hands are made from a donation of whale ropes.” Caribbean cowrie shells are arranged around the foot of a gate, to evoke the ancient forms of trading that presaged colonial expansion, slavery and oppression.



Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory, installation view, Scotland + Venice, 2022. Photo: Martin Kennedy.

The commission expands her opportunities to explore her core theme, which she states as: “How do we look at history and its impact on the everyday? I was thinking about this work as an excavation … into histories. But also … a way of thinking about what does it mean to build community and think of new strategies of being together. A call to change: that’s really my hope for the exhibition.”

In 2021, Whittle was in solo presentations at Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh, the Liverpool Biennial, Art Night London and Glasgow International and she was in the group show Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950s to Now, at Tate Britain. In 2020, she was awarded a Turner Bursary, a Frieze Artist Award and a Henry Moore Foundation Artist Award. She had a solo exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2019.

Forthcoming exhibitions include a group show at Fotografiska, New York and a solo show as part of the British Art Show 9 in Plymouth. The Venice work will appear as part of a larger show of her work at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

Alberta Whittle: Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory
Scotland in Venice, Docks Cantieri Cucchini, S Pietro di Castello 40, Venice
23 April – 27 November 2022

Interview by VERONICA SIMPSON
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

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