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Four Nocturnes
John Akomfrah
Artwork 2019
An installation photograph shows John Akomfrah’s three-channel video installation ‘Four Nocturnes’ projected onto three large screens.
Artwork: John Akomfrah, Four Nocturnes (2019). Three-channel video installation, sound. 50 min. Private collection.
Artist John Akomfrah Title Four Nocturnes Date 2019 Materials Three-channel video installation, sound Dimensions 50 min Credit Private collection

Four Nocturnes forms the final part of a triad, preceded by Vertigo Sea (2015) and Purple (2017). The three-channel video installation explores themes of human migration within the context of an ecologically-at-risk planet. Resonating with its title, the film finds a deeper logic in dramatic composition, journeying through landscapes of dispossession which, were it to reach a finale, might find there one long and continuous night. Arid landscapes, sand and dust storms, heavy clouds, fog, and enchanting underwater echo systems amalgamate to form an evocative ensemble. The film’s chassis is its sonic ⁠language; the pressure of vibration transferring energy into a complex survey of loss, memory and heritage. 

Looping sequences of water travelling down a stream, waves gushing, a bird singing, and the roaring trumpet of an elephant are interrupted by a dirge of mournful grandeur. The film’s tempo is slow, lingering and haunting. Bizarre, sharp cuts are spliced between and through each other, sometimes aligning on all three screens and sometimes asynchronous. This failure of images to appear at the same time creates a non-linear and non-narrative structure that frustrates temporality – where time is implicated as an elastic medium in the retelling of histories.

John Akomfrah’s practice is marked by the use of powerful and arresting images layered with a multiplex of soundscapes of varying depths. Processes of extraction and dispossession are themes to which Akomfrah continuously returns. A co-founder (one of seven undergraduates) of the Black Audio Collective, his work is formulated on the principles of experimentation and a poetic blend of archival and documentary images — a style which British-Ghanaian writer Kodwo Eshun describes as “a stance of high seriousness with seductive stylishness.”