Apex by Arthur Jafa
I knew nothing about Arthur Jafa or his work when I stumbled into his installation piece Apex at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. That’s probably apt at a time when museums and galleries are scrambling to address their racial and sexual imbalances when it comes to works in their collections. But that’s another post.
A couple of other people were seated on chairs set neatly before a massive screen in a dark room when I walked in. At first I stood in the shadows, immediately hooked as rapid-fire images gushed forth to a pulsating 1994 techno track by Robert Hood called Minus. After about a minute of my undivided attention, possibly with my bottom lip dropped, I sat my ass down in one of those chairs confronted and mesmerised by the flood of images spilling out before my eyes.
Unsettling, yet meditative, Apex runs for about eight minutes comprising 800+ images drawn from popular culture referencing blackness through depictions of racialised violence, gore including scientific imagery with a touch of horror, gruesome deep-sea creatures, outer-space scenes, insect close-ups and more. Essentially a PowerPoint on acid, Apex is compelling viewing as menacing images chop and change and relationships between them confound. It’s a fantastic piece, as in remote from reality, and in this work white ‘reality’ is flipped and disappeared to present an actual reality without touch-ups, embellishment or zhooshing.
Video art is often experienced fleetingly. Viewers file in and out, usually quickly neither comprehending nor engaging with the work in front of them. Sometimes that’s a reasonable response but not in the case of Apex. Repeat viewings reward and go someway towards understanding the profound wisdom contained within.
I admit that the GIF I cobbled together above does Apex no justice. If you’re in Amsterdam, book your slot and experience this work for yourself before it finishes on 3 January 2021. Watch it at least twice from start to finish. It’ll stay with you and hopefully its effect will help bring balance in the future.
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