Artists Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun excavate recent history and speculate on the times to come.
They mix archives of visual material with invented ones, crafting essay films based in fact and elaborated with careful, critical consideration. Working under the handle ‘The Otolith Group’, Sagar and Eshun do not seek to confuse their audience with an undiscerning mix of truth and fiction. Rather, they wish to pull the wool off our eyes; to engage us in films and texts that leap forward into the future as a means of reflecting on the present.
The Otolith Group merges the documentary film form with science fiction, a combination that allows their work an objective perspective through the creative licence that futuristic storytelling provides. Science fiction can allegorise the present without being nostalgic or hiding from the self-referential. (As a component of their exhibition, MACBA will host a conference on March 2nd with Samuel R. Delany, an acclaimed science fiction writer.)
Likewise, the future settings of The Otolith Group films maintain a realism made transparent via visual familiarity. Images come from a global visual conscious—the Iraq War, the Cold War and the Palestinian conflict all get equal play. The artists work with the world’s images because they represent a tangible and verifiable form of human memory. Drawing connections between previously unpaired images, they like to mimic scholastic research and are not afraid to draw conclusions.
The group formed in London, in 2002, and exemplify a 21st-century leaning towards art that communicates global concerns through academic and research-based art practice. Like many contemporary artist-scholars, both Sagar and Eshun hold academic degrees. She studied Anthropology, he studied English Literature at Oxford and continues to publish academic papers. Aside from their film productions, The Otolith Group curate exhibitions, publish books and essays and host workshops that serve their need for engaging a public in critical observation and thought.
Like Martha Rosler (shown last month at La Virreina), The Otolith Group are shaping the contemporary art space into one for dialogue and debate, with the ultimate goal of increasing civic engagement. To that end, their MACBA exhibition takes the form of a production centre where visitors can investigate and interact with The Otolith Group’s archives and their artistic processes.
The Otolith Group - MACBA, until May 25th