Alia Syed: Meta Incognita/ Missive II

When 12 Jan 2019 - 23 Feb 2019
Where Talwar Gallery
108 E 16th St #301
New York, NY 10003
United States

Opening Reception: Saturday, January 12, 6-8pm

Talwar Gallery is pleased to present Meta Incognita: Missive II, a new film work by Alia Syed. In conjunction with the film, the exhibition will also feature Syed’s new photographic works.

Meta Incognita: Missive II is the second in a triptych of films by Syed that utilize different histories along and within the River Thames. The film, set in the near future, is built around the audio log of a renegade female captain of a ship traveling from the Arctic to England via the Northwest Passage. Her journey is based on the exploits of the Elizabethan privateer turned explorer Martin Frobisher. The imagery of the film consists of two shots, sunset and sunrise, filmed off the Essex coast at the mouth of the River Thames. The natural rhythms of the location serve as a nexus for observations in sound and writing, bringing together the traces of wind, water, and light.

Also on view is a group of photographs that seem to apprehend the cyclical transformation of this desolate landscape where the sea is endlessly filled and emptied into the distant horizon. A large photograph of a sweeping view from windows of an abandoned building appears to be a vista from a ship’s cockpit, revealing remains of a past era while observing the silent passing of a vessel on the horizon.

Recorded in real time, each shot documents tidal currents, wind patterns and the setting and rising of the sun, within the backdrop of public information bulletins of the arms manufacturer QinetiQ, a company that occupies this site. Despite being a military testing ground with a unique ecosystem, there remains a small group of inhabitants on the island, many of whose ancestors farmed this land for centuries. The way these communities living on and around the island have normalized this surreal situation is very compelling. One of the most rigidly controlled zones in the country, with refusal to allow new development and access, has also allowed it to retain a very open and wild space. Syed cultivates this dichotomy in her film to form the basis of a dystopian future in which the only open spaces that we will have will be those controlled by private military companies.

A large portion of the narration is derived from Syed’s interviews with local inhabitants. The formal device of a ship’s log is culled in part from the actual log of The MV Nunavik, which in 2014 successfully completed a round trip from Canada’s Deception Bay through the Northwest Passage, without an escort from icebreakers, to port in China. The film takes its name from Meta Incognita or ‘unknown limit’, a term coined by Elizabeth I of England in her incessant drive to increase her empire and riches. It’s also the name given to a peninsula in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of northern Canada by Martin Frobisher when he claimed the land for the Crown.

Alia Syed was born in Swansea, Wales and lives and works in London, UK. She has been working in experimental filmmaking for over two decades. Syed’s films have been shown at numerous institutions around the world including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA; Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; XV Sydney Biennale; Hayward Gallery, London; Tate Britain, London; Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow, Scotland; The New Art Gallery in Walsall, UK; and Tate Modern, London. Syed was shortlisted for the 2015 Jarman Award for innovation and experimentation in film making in Britain.

Image courtesy of the organizer.

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