From Afar

MANIA AKBARI, MARK COUSINS, LOUIS HENDERSON, FILIPA CÉSAR, SIMON STARLING

Curated by Mark Mangion

7 June → 21 September 2018
Malta Contemporary Art, Valletta




From Afar presents the work of five artists and filmmakers whose use of narrative, storytelling and diaristic interrogation, evoke powerful and profound connections between narration and the image.

Presented individually as multiple, synched, facsimiled projections and screenings each artist’s work, individually appropriates MCA’s gallery spaces for the duration of the film. Thinking about visual and spatial orientation and contrast, specifically in the context of the cinematic experience and its relationship to film, From Afar renegotiates the presentation of each film through multiplicity and repetition. Articulating ideas of appearance and disappearance, detachment and physical and philosophical distance, the five selected films address themes of cartography, astronomy and technology and ideas of political, social and cultural divergence. 

Simon Starling’s Black Drop (2013) (produced in association with Modern Art, Oxford and the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford), unfolds in a 35mm editing suite as an editor tries to bring structure and understanding to a varied array of material including: footage made on location in Hawaii and Tahiti on the occasion of the June 2012 transit of Venus, archive images, and ultimately footage of himself editing. As the editor cuts and splices, the complex narrative unfolds. The film tells the story of the relationship between astronomy, photography and the beginnings of moving image technology. Predicated on the idea that the 2012 transit may be the last to be recorded on 'celluloid' (the next transit will occur in 2117), Black Drop tracks the development of the French astronomer, Jules Janssen’s innovative photographic revolver – a device that was designed to counter human error in timing the crucial moments of Venus’ contact with the edge of the sun and was influential in the development of Etienne Jules Marey’s photographic rifle and the Lumiére Brother’s cinematograph.

"Trying to think the revolution is like waking up and trying to see the logic in a dream." Chris Marker and Edward Saïd are the spiritual influences of Logical Revolts, which is named after a poem by Rimbaud. In Logical Revolts (2012), Louis Henderson takes an annotated script of Blue Vanguard (1957) - the UN commissioned film by Thorold Dickinson on the 1956 Suez crisis. References to any implication of guilt on the part of Israel’s contribution to the crisis, are emphatically erased by the censor’s red pen. The Dickinson script attempts to unravel the complexities of the Anglo-French colonial legacy at Suez. Henderson travels to Egypt with this film script as his guide. Dealing with the human and political complexities of a post-revolution reality in Egypt, Henderson as an outsider, encounters great resentment and threat in his endeavour to pursue his narrative, creating powerful and tense spaces and relationships between the filmmaker, his subject and the viewer.

In Mania Akbari & Mark Cousins’ feature film Life May Be (2014) a series of “essay films” between the two filmmakers unfold revealing a series of reflections on cinema and culture. Akbari’s rigorous film trajectory and detailed cultural narratives are analysed and contextualised by Cousins’ thought provoking and stunning confrontations ranging from cultural issues to gender politics to deeply thought provoking physical, emotional and tactile reactions. Akbari’s use of language, personal storytelling and the landscape, poetically and intellectually flirt with an analysis and devotion to film and it’s powerful and rigorous connections to culture.

Louis Henderson’s Lettres Du Voyant (2013) is a documentary-fiction about spiritism and technology in contemporary Ghana that attempts to uncover some truths about a mysterious practice called "Sakawa" - internet scams mixed with voodoo magic. Tracing back the scammers’ stories to the times of Ghanaian independence, the film proposes Sakawa as a form of anti-neocolonial resistance. The film takes the form of a voyage through a network of digitised mine shafts that lead the viewer to each of the film’s locations; a gold mine, an e-waste dump, a voodoo ritual or a discotheque. A character recounts a story through reading a series of letters that he has written to the film’s author - letters that speak about the colonial history of Ghana, of gold, of technology.

Louis Henderson and Filipa César's collaborative film Sunstone (2018) tracks Fresnel lenses and their materiality, from their site of production to their exhibition at a museum of lighthouses and navigational devices. Reflecting upon the lighthouse and its maritime, social and cultural value of commerce and strategic importance, Sunstone shifts between historic power structures of navigation and the lighthouse’s own technological demise through a new age of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).




Mania Akbari
Born in Tehran in 1974. Lives and works in London.
She is an internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker. Her provocative, revolutionary and radical films were recently the subject of retrospectives at the BFI, London (2013), the DFI, Denmark (2014), Oldenburg International Film Festival, Germany (2014), Cyprus Film Festival (2014) and Nottingham Contemporary UK (2018).
Her films have screened at festivals around the world and have received numerous awards including German Independence Honorary Award, Oldenberg (2014), Best Film, Digital Section, Venice Film Festival (2004), Nantes Special Public Award Best Film (2007) and Best Director and Best film at Kerala Film Festival (2007), Best Film and Best Actress, Barcelona Film Festival (2007). She also had numerous exhibits around the world in galleries such as Tate Modern in London.
Akbari was exiled from Iran and currently lives and works in London, a theme addressed in her latest Film, Life May Be (2014), co-directed with Mark Cousins. This film was released at Karlovy Vary Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary at Edinburgh International Film Festival (2014) and Asia Pacific Film Festival (2014). Akbari is currently working on the new project A Moon For My Father in collaboration with British artist Douglas White.

Mark Cousins
Born in Belfast in 1965. Lives and works in Edinburgh.
Cousins interviewed famous filmmakers such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski in the TV series Scene by Scene. He presented the BBC cult film series Moviedrome from June 1997 to July 2000. He introduced 66 films for the show.
In 2009, Cousins and actress/director Tilda Swinton created a project where they mounted a 33.5-tonne portable cinema on a large truck which was physically pulled through the Scottish Highlands. The traveling independent film festival was featured prominently in a documentary called Cinema is Everywhere. The festival was repeated in 2011.
His 2011 film The Story of Film: An Odyssey was broadcast as 15 one-hour television episodes on More4, and later, featured at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. In September 2013, it began to be shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Louis Henderson
Born in Norwich in 1983.
Louis Henderson is an English filmmaker whose films and writings investigate the networked links between colonialism, technology, capitalism and history. A graduate of London College of Communication and Le Fresnoy – studio national des arts contemporains, Henderson is currently completing a post-diplôme within an experimental art and research group at the European School of Visual Arts. His research focuses on new materialities of the Internet and the neocolonialisation of cyber space through planetary scale computing. He has shown his work at places such as Rotterdam International Film Festival, CPH:DOX, Transmediale Berlin, Muestra Internacional Documental de Bogota, the Centre Pompidou, FRAC Midi-Pyrénées, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern and the Whitechapel Gallery.

Filipa César 
Born in Porto in 1975. Livs and works in Berlin.
Filipa César has exhibited, among other places, at 8. Istanbul Biennial, 2003; Kunsthalle Wien, 2004; Serralves Museum, 2005; Locarno International Film Festival, 2005; CAG- Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, 2006; Tate Modern, 2007; St. Gallen Museum, 2007; International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Prague, 2008; SF MOMA, San Francisco 2009, 12th Architecture Biennial, Venice, 29th São Paulo Biennial 2010, São Paulo and Manifesta 8, Cartagena.
Filipa César is an artist and filmmaker interested in the fictional aspects of the documentary, the porous borders between cinema and its reception, and the politics and poetics inherent to moving image. Her work takes media as a means to expand or expose counter narratives of resistance to historicism. Since 2011, César has been looking into the origins of cinema in Guinea-Bissau as part of the African Liberation Movement. Selected exhibitions and screenings have taken place at: 29th São Paulo Biennial, 2010; Manifesta 8, Cartagena, 2010; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2011–15; Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2012; Kunstwerke, Berlin, 2013; SAAVY Contemporary, Berlin 2014–15; Futura, Prague 2015; Tensta konsthall, Spånga, 2015; and Mumok, Vienna, 2016.


Simon Starling
Born 1967, Epsom; Lives in Copenhagen.
Simon Starling was awarded the Turner Prize in 2005. His work has been exhibited extensively around the world including Tate Britain, Modern Art Oxford, Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, MASS MOCA, Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art, Portikus Frankfurt, Whitney Museum of American Art, Palais de Tokyo and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.