Sondra Perry: Typhoon coming on
Sondra Perry (b.1986, Perth Amboy, New Jersey) constructs multifaceted narratives that explore the imagining, or imaging, of blackness throughout history.
‘Bold, brilliant and gut wrenching work at the Serpentine’ –Evening Standard
‘When making a piece I want people to feel like they have space and agency’ –Sondra Perry
Often taking her own life as a point of departure, Perry makes works that revolve specifically around black American experiences and the ways in which technology and identities are entangled.
This exhibition was the first solo presentation of Perry’s work in Europe. She created an immersive environment with a newly-conceived soundscape to accompany her animation Typhoon coming on (2018). Featuring a digitally manipulated image of J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), the original work depicts the drowning of 133 slaves by the captain of the British slave ship, Zong, to claim compensation for these ‘goods’ under the salvage clause of the ship’s insurance policy.
This site-specific installation at the Serpentine North Gallery incorporated existing works by Perry, including Graft and Ash for a Three-Monitor Workstation (2016), a 3-D avatar of the artist questioning the current productivity and efficiency culture, and Wet and Wavy Looks – Typhoon coming on (2016), which both references and digitally alters JMW Turner’s painting.
Perry makes work about blackness, black femininity and African American heritage, often taking her personal history as a point of departure. Her use of digital tools and material, ranging from blue screen technology and 3D avatars to found footage from the internet, reflects on these modes of representation and the abstraction of black identity in art and media. Perry has said: “I’m interested in thinking about how blackness shifts, morphs, and embodies technology to combat oppression and surveillance throughout the diaspora. Blackness is agile.”
This exhibition continued the Serpentine’s engagement with Perry’s practice, following her acclaimed performance for Park Nights 2016, where she shared a billing with the American poets Fred Moten and Eileen Myles.
Perry is committed to net neutrality and ideas of collective production and action, using open source software to edit her work and leasing it digitally for use in galleries and classrooms, while also making all her videos available for free online. This principle of open access in Perry’s practice aims to privilege black life, to democratise access to art and culture, and to offer a critical platform that differentiates itself from the portrayal of blackness in the media. With viral imagery of black deaths in the US both sensationalised and the subject of widely disseminated memes, Perry wants to (re-)claim this digital space by foregrounding the use of technologies in her work.
‘Perry’s aim is to give agency to the black meme, imbuing it with a radical purpose that no longer infects just the internet but physical space.’ –Bomb Magazine, 2017.