Port City: On Mobility and Exchange - Arnolfini - Bristol

I love my Port City exhibition catalogue. You want to take it everywhere with you. It also makes me want to live in Bristol so that I can see all the Live Art, have a canoe ride, go to the seminars.

The exhibition is somewhat overwhelming in its complexity: "More than forty artists from around the world have participated in this first manifestation of the project in Bristol, making works that address issues of global migration, trade and contemporary slavery." [1]

Simple rules tend to generate complexity, as in Meschac Gaba's "Sweetness" 2006-7. In this work his imaginary port city is made out of sugar, addressing "the cultural and economic codes of exchange between Africa and the West." [2]

Similarly William Pope.L's onions on shelves are painted partly black, partly white, confusing our responses as "we are denied the choice of a simple identification." [3]

Ursula Biemann's work is very difficult to objectify, a definite use of the feminine aesthetic. The data streams in on TV monitors and it is up to the viewer to make sense of the information. It does give a good idea, though, of sub-Saharan migration to Europe. She examines "...the modalities and logistics of the migration system in the Sahara" [4] This is the result of three field trips to migration points in Morocco, Mauritania and Niger. The work is about making visible the patterns of migration in a way that is not usually seen in news reports.

Yto Barrada's photographs "Sleepers" 2006, of "would-be emigres" from Tangiers, Morocco, are also moving, thinking about their lives and desire to emigrate. Taken in a public park, the 'sleepers' turn themselves into exhausted, anonymous, waiting subjects for the camera.

Particularly intriguing and moving was the work by Brazillian artist Maria Thereza Alves, on ballast flora: "Seeds of Change: Bristol" 2007. The seeds, found in sites used to unload ballast into - particularly between the 18th and early 20th centuries - have lain dormant for hundreds of years. With help from local people and groups, "many of whom have family links to the port cities Bristol traded with" [6] the seeds have been sourced and some grown into plants.

It is interesting to see how the Net artists, Heath Bunting and Kate Rich, have been contextualized within this exhibition. Essentially they help to ground the project in the location of Bristol. Bunting collaborates with Kayle Brandon to produce a booklet based on their research into Bristol waterways: "The Avon Canoe Pilot". The aim of their project is to encourage the public both onto and into the water.

Kate Rich has prepared the "Port City Freight Profile", through her "artist run grocery business", Feral Trade. This, together with the UPHONE, situated within the bookshop, and also worked on by the Bureau of Inverse Technology (BIT), are her contributions to the show.


the exhibition runs to 11th November

[1] port city: on mobility and exchange Arnolfini p8

[2] ibid p100

[3] ibid p121

[4] ibid p80

[5] ibid p76

[6] ibid p66