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John Akomfrah The Unfinished Conversation

From sprawling drawings by Chinese artist Sun Xun to captivating collage by Danish artist Jakob Kolding, our five Biennial artists have responded to this year’s Biennial theme of ‘hospitality’ across a variety of art forms.

But one piece in particular seems to be driving the critics superlative crazy.

Set across three huge screens, John Akomfrah’s film The Unfinished Conversation, examines memory, identity and race through the life of Jamaican-born thinker Stuart Hall. Akomfrah carefully layers archive news footage, readings of Charles Dickens, Blake, and Virginia Woolf with Hall's own voice, to mesmerizing affect. So much so that Guardian critic Adrian Searle described the film as ‘brilliant’. Elsewhere, the piece has been called ‘compelling’ by Artists Newsletter and ‘sensational’ by Aesthetica magazine.

The Unfinished Conversation was commissioned by Autograph ABP, who work internationally to raise awareness about issues of cultural identity and human rights through education programmes and exhibitions.

Talking about how the film came to be premiered at the Bluecoat, Mark Sealy, Director at Autograph ABP said: “The Bluecoat has a rich artistic history and sits in a complex city with various issues across race, class and politics so is a natural home for John’s film The Unfinished Conversation.

“The piece has been in dialogue for ten years and the Bluecoat’s support allowed us to go and apply for the necessary funding. The Bluecoat has a long standing relationship of working with artists looking at issues of migration and difference and understood from the outset what the film was all about.

“We are over the moon with the positive criticism the film has received – it is a real endorsement of the profound political issues the film explores.”

Bryan Biggs, Artistic Director at the Bluecoat said: “We were delighted when Mark approached us to stage this important film commission by John Akomfrah, and I suggested it would make sense to premiere it during the Biennial, whose theme of hospitality and ‘the unexpected guest’ seemed particularly pertinent.

“With our exhibition history of engaging with what emerged as ‘Black art’ in the 1980s and supporting artists such as Keith Piper and Sonia Boyce, debates around diversity, race and identity have been a key strand of the Bluecoat’s work. John’s film with its focus on the life and work of Stuart Hall continues this thread. Like the film’s title, the conversation remains unfinished”.

The Unfinished Conversation is exhibited at the Bluecoat as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2012 until Sunday 25 November, daily 10am – 6pm. It is free. Our five artists are Sun Xun, John Akomfrah, Jakob Kolding, Dan Graham and Dora Garcia.

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About the Bluecoat

Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the ...

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