Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions

Serpentine Sackler Gallery

8 Jun 2017 to 10 Sep 2017

Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions

Admission Free

Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message is Death will be shown at Store Studios from 5 Oct - 10 Dec

Featuring Ming Smith, Frida Orupabo and Missylanyus. The Serpentine presented the work of the acclaimed US filmmaker, cinematographer and artist Arthur Jafa. Across three decades, Jafa has developed a dynamic, multidisciplinary practice ranging from films and installations to lecture-performances and happenings that tackle, challenge and question prevailing cultural assumptions about identity and race.

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"How do we imagine things that are lost? What kind of legacy can we imagine despite that loss and despite the absence of things that never were?" Arthur Jafa

Jafa’s work is driven by a recurrent question: how might one identify and develop a specifically Black visual aesthetics equal to the ‘power, beauty and alienation’ of Black music in US culture?

This exhibition, titled A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, took the form of a site-specific installation at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in which Jafa transformed the space with a series of new assemblages that encompassed film, photography and found footage. The title of the exhibition related to the sense of absence that Jafa observes as haunting Black life. The word ‘rendition’ refers to the artist’s interpretation of the aesthetics associated with Black being, which are historically-inscribed in images, objects and artefacts. By re-performing these narratives in the present, Jafa imagined and constructed new possibilities for making them visible. In addition to his exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, Jafa also devised a new, site-specific event as part of the 2017 Park Nights series, which took place in the Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Francis Kéré.  

Jafa creates work that approximates the radical alienation of Black life in the West while seeking to make visible or emancipate the power embedded in modes of African expression. With reference points ranging from Fang sculpture to Mississippi juke joints, Duchamp’s urinal to jazz, he is a filmmaker with a unique understanding of how to cut and juxtapose a sequence to draw out maximum visceral effect. Jafa works from a set of source books of images he has been assembling since the 1980s and this ongoing archive has proved an enduring resource for works such as the Picture Books, the new films premiering in this exhibition and Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016), which was shown at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York, last year and at MOCA, Los Angeles (2017).

Originally trained as an architect, Jafa made his cinematic debut as Director of Photography for Julie Dash’s 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, for which he won best cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival. As part of the BFI’s season Unbound: Visions of the Black Feminine, a new restoration of Daughters of the Dust was released at selected cinemas across the UK on Friday 2 June to mark the film’s 25th anniversary – see the BFI website for more information.

Jafa has also collaborated with directors ranging from Spike Lee (Crooklyn, 1994) to John Akomfrah (Seven Songs for Malcolm X, 1993) and artists including Kara Walker and Fred Moten. He has also been recognised for his work on the Solange Knowles videos, Don’t Touch My Hair and Cranes in the Sky (2016). Explaining his favourite medium, Jafa has said: ‘Film is one of the few things, particularly in the theatrical context, that takes up as much space as architecture but like music is fundamentally immaterial.’

A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions transformed the Serpentine Sackler Gallery into an immersive assemblage of still and moving images. The exhibition also included the work of three additional voices: the photographer Ming Smith, @nemiepeba - the Instagram feed of artist Frida Orupabo - and content from the YouTube channel of Missylanyus. Together, these three ‘platforms’ or ‘guests’ were integral to Jafa’s presentation throughout the Gallery, and acknowledged the influence of others’ work within his own practice.

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Related Events / Exhibitions

Park Nights

Serpentine Pavilion

Park Nights 2017: Arthur Jafa

30 Jun 2017 - 8:00 PM

Cinematographer and artist Arthur Jafa hosted an evening in response to his summer exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions.

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Cecil Sharp House

Intimate Trespass: Hapticality, Waywardness, and the Practice of Entanglement

8 Jul 2017 - 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM

On the occasion of Arthur Jafa's exhibition, Professor Saidiya Hartman (Columbia University) joined scholars, artists and writers to discuss themes from her landmark text, Scenes of Subjection, including questions of political economy and ecology, race, gender and legal theory. Presented in collaboration with Dr. Rizvana Bradley (Yale University), with support from Women & Performance, a journal of feminist theory

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Serpentine Gallery

Cracks in the Curriculum: Countless Ways of Knowing

2 Sep 2017 - 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Artist Barby Asante invites educators to come together to think about how to open up conversations about race and racism in the classroom.

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The Magazine Restaurant

Listening Session: Arthur Jafa with Steve Coleman, Morgan Craft, Micah Gaugh, Melvin Gibbs, Jason Moran and Okwui Okpokwasili

9 Sep 2017 - 8:00 PM

During the final weekend of his solo exhibition at Serpentine Sackler Gallery, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, acclaimed artist, filmmaker and cinematographer Arthur Jafa presents a Listening Session with Steve Coleman, Morgan Craft, Micah Gaugh, Melvin Gibbs, Jason Moran, Okwui Okpokwasili and Kokayi Carl Walker.

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Store Studios, 180 The Strand, London

Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message is Death

5 Oct 2017 - 12:00 PM to 10 Dec 2017 - 6:00 PM

Following his critically-acclaimed Serpentine exhibition, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa will now exhibit Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016) in a site-specific installation at Store Studios, co-presented by the Serpentine Galleries and The Vinyl Factory. 

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Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions

Wednesday, 5th July 2017
Arthur Jafa installation view 3

Arthur Jafa installation view 3

Arthur Jafa, Installation view 'A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions', Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © Mike Din
Arthur Jafa installation view 2

Arthur Jafa installation view 2

Arthur Jafa, Installation view 'A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions', Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © Mike Din
Arthur Jafa: LA Haze, Love is the Message

Arthur Jafa: LA Haze, Love is the Message

Arthur Jafa, still from Love is the Message, The Message is Death, 2016

Images courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome

Arthur Jafa: GB Install image Love is the Message, The Message is Death

Arthur Jafa: GB Install image Love is the Message, The Message is Death

Installation view of Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, The Message is Death, 2016, at Gavin Brown’s enterprise.

Images courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome

Arthur Jafa installation view 4

Arthur Jafa installation view 4

Arthur Jafa, Installation view 'A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions', Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © Mike Din
Arthur Jafa installation view 5

Arthur Jafa installation view 5

Arthur Jafa, Installation view 'A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions', Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © Mike Din
Arthur Jafa: Portrait

Arthur Jafa: Portrait

Arthur Jafa, Untitled Film Still, 2016

Images courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome