Emerging from Gregory’s extensive research on the slave trade and colonial histories in Jamaica, the work looks at documentation of slavery from 1492 to the present day. This includes visual and textual documentation from historical figures such as Hans Sloane (physicist, naturalist and collector whose vast collection made up the origins of The British Museum and The Natural History Museum), Maria Sibylla Merian, (naturalist, entomologist and botanical illustrator), and Chief Tomba (a Guinean resistance fighter against slavery). Inspired by Hans Sloane’s journal documenting his voyage to Jamaica, where he collected and examined plant specimens, the work considers the complex history of Jamaica, its plants, people, and fused cultures.
A little or no breeze, a new collaborative piece, comprises two moving image works (developed with Gary Stewart), and an original soundscape combining both spoken word and music. The work directly references two texts from Hans Sloane’s A Voyage to Jamaica; one in which he charts the weather in Jamaica on a daily basis, and the other in which he records his brutal and nonconsensual medical treatment of Rose, an enslaved woman at the house he is staying, who is suffering from depression. The work engages with Sloane’s casting of himself as an objective observer in his work, rather than a perpetrator of violence. This material is interweaved with a re-imagined Angolan slave song, originally noted down by freed slave and Jamaican musician Mr Baptiste, and fragments of recorded phone call conversations between the artist, Joy Gregory, and the recollections of Jamaicans who emigrated to the UK and their early encounters with the British weather.
The work also considers the role of plants as the keepers of shared and diverse histories. A series of botanical illustrations of the Machineel Tree (little apple of death) are presented, alluding to the many plants known to the indigenous and enslaved people of the Caribbean from the 1700’s onwards, which were utilised as implements of resistance - each one evoking the machine of slavery.
This separation persists in the video installations. Each staging of the videos plays out as an intimate confrontation where the viewer is invited to perform a particular physical proximity. However, the surface of the video stages another separating skin and a missed encounter. Figure and viewer are protected and isolated by the obstructing surface. Neither can threaten or penetrate the boundary of the other, but neither can nourish the other. A gap persists in which a desire to meet emerges in tandem with a fear of engulfment. There is no meeting. A vertigo is set in motion, a loss without a restoration.
Joy Gregory is a graduate of Manchester Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art. She has developed a practice which is concerned with social and political issues with particular reference to history and cultural differences in contemporary society. Born in the UK to Jamaican parents she has always been fascinated by the impact of European history and colonisation on global perceptions of identity, memory, folk and traditional knowledge. In 2002, Gregory received the NESTA Fellowship, which allowed her to research a major piece around language endangerment, the first of this series being the video piece Gomera, which premiered at the Sydney Biennale in May 2010.
Joy has worked in art education for almost three decades and was an Honorary Research Associate at Slade School of Art [UCL] where she developed new work for the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. She is the recipient of numerous awards and has exhibited all over the world showing in many festivals and biennales. Her work is featured in the collections of the UK Arts Council; Victoria and Albert Museum; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia; and Yale British Art Collection. She currently lives and works in London where she teaches Fine Art Photography at Camberwell School of Art, University of the Arts London.
Philip Miller (b.1964) is a South African composer and sound artist, influenced by a range of different musical genres from electronic minimalism, to music strongly rooted in African choral and instrumental music. His works and collaborations cross various media including live stage performance, film, video and sound installations, and contemporary dance. Much of his work explores aural histories and testimonies found in both public and his own personal archives. His ability to work across different musical genres and media has led him to become a sought-after collaborator with choreographers, theatre-makers and visual artists, including his long- time collaborator, the internationally acclaimed artist William Kentridge.
He has received commissions from The International Music Institute Darmstadt Festival (Germany); BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival (USA); MASS Moca (USA); Cape Town Opera (South Africa); Venice Biennale (Italy) and Kaunas Biennial (Lithuania). His seminal and award-winning choral work, Rewind: a Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony has been performed at venues across the USA, as well as London’s Festival Hall (UK) and The Market Theatre and Baxter Theatre (South Africa). He has composed over eighty scores for both the big and small screen which have earned him many awards and accolades including an Emmy nomination for HBO’s The Girl, and several other awards and nominations for best scores including The Book of Negroes for CBC television; The Bang Bang Club; the Emmy award-winning Shot Down; Black Butterfly; and BBC’s 7-Up New Generation. He has been the recipient of honorary fellowships and residencies including The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre; Civitella Rainieri, Yaddo; and the centre of Archive and Public Culture (APC), University of Cape Town.
Gary Stewart is an artist and experimental sonic musician based in London. Alongside fellow artist Trevor Mathison, he forms part of ‘Dubmorphology’, an interdisciplinary artist and research group who make art installations examining the relationships between culture, history and technology. Formerly the head of Multimedia at Iniva, Institute of International Visual Arts from 1995 to 2011, he is currently the Artist Associate at People’s Palace Projects, an arts organisation established at Queen Mary University of London, whose vision is to extend the understanding of the transformative powers of art to progress justice through individual, collective and also institutional change.