Anarcadia is a video projection and accompanying photo-series by artist Ruth Maclennan, shot among the desert expanses of Kazakhstan. Into this shifting, elemental landscape, Maclennan introduces two iconic characters: an archaeologist and a prospector; each of them methodically journeying across this apparently empty but symbolically charged terrain.
For both protagonists, the lie of the land merely prefigures a deeper preoccupation with what lies beneath – an excavation of the forgotten legacies and uncertain narratives of history, as well as an increasingly frenetic material probing (gathering pace throughout this part of Central Asia) for pockets of mineral wealth.
These parallel journeys, evoking the magnetic attraction of the frontier, as an untamed tabula rasa and as the site of a half-remembered Eden, are implicitly inflected by the imported iconography of the American West, as if these remote, uncharted vistas offered new scope for these enduring myths to be enacted.
Overlaying rival trajectories and competing incentives, Maclennan’s overlapping, often contradictory stories echo the fundamental indeterminacy of the desert landscape itself: unreliable, unpredictable, even treacherous, yet still a beguiling, open-ended canvas for human hopes and dreams.
Alongside the 30-minute video projection, Maclennan shows a number of wall-based works. Soviet-era posters and anonymous historical photo-documents are supplemented by fragments of archive film, and accompanied by Maclennan’s own location stills, taken at the time of the shoot of Anarcadia, or during earlier trips to Kazakhstan. The exhibition is completed by her video, Capital – a product of one of those previous visits. A counterpoint to these haunting desert scenes, it is a portrait of the city of Astana, the country’s futuristic new metropolis and urban powerhouse.
Co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, in association with Stills, Edinburgh, and Ffotogallery, Cardiff. Funded by Arts Council England, and with the generous support of the British Council. Additional support from the Henry Moore Foundation.
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