David Blandy Atomic Light

Image: David Blandy, Empire of the Swamp, film still, 2023. Courtesy the artist

John Hansard Gallery presents a major new solo exhibition by David Blandy.

Atomic Light features four new films and are Blandy’s most ambitious productions to date. The works build upon his continued interest in history, the legacy of empire and the climate crisis. Two films are shot on location in Singapore and the UK, the other two created using archive and found footage.

Expanding on his Artist Residency at Towner Gallery, Eastbourne in 2022, Atomic Light includes immersive installations and associated ephemera. In Sunspot, two Observatories, one in California, one in Tokyo, both observe the same sun on the day an atomic sun was made on earth; the Hiroshima bomb that killed 100,000 people. In Soil, Sinew & Bone, using footage from Screen Archive South East, a history of war and a history of agriculture are mirrored, the fertile earth of phosphates and nitrates reflected into weapons of war.

All the tales are connected through the story of Blandy’s grandfather, a British soldier interred as a Japanese prisoner of war, who believed that the horrific atomic bombing of Hiroshima saved his life. The twinned films, The Edge of Forever and Empire of the Swamp feature the landscapes of southern England, his home, and Singapore, where he was held as a POW.

The English story is one of two children coming to terms with their familial history, how it is wrapped up with war and societal complicity with environmental destruction. The Singaporean script, written by playwright Joel Tan, is a fable of nature and the repercussions of colonialism. Both feature fragile ecosystems, with mangroves at risk, the sea polluted, the air poisoned. Both islands are not self-sustaining, relying on imported food and labour. Singapore is built on a graveyard, while England is haunted by ghosts of the past, ghosts of Empire.

Atomic Light is co-commissioned by John Hansard Gallery and Towner Eastbourne, supported by Arts Council England, Screen Archive South East and The Elephant Trust.

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