In the wake of international challenges posed by the refugee crisis, rising homelessness and environmental catastrophes, the concept of home for some is being destabilised as people come to terms with displacement and deterritorialisation. The response to this has lead to the tightening of borders and rise of nationalism as a reaction to a feeling of threatened identity. Castlefield Gallery’s latest exhibition The Ground Beneath Your Feet aims to create nuanced conversations surrounding these different debates through the work of seven international artists and artist groups; Omid Asadi, Tulani Hlalo, Keep it Complex, Jane Lawson, Roee Rosen, Oscar Stantillan, Michael White and The Museum of Homelessness. From fungi network systems explored in Lawson’s installations, to White’s de-monetised currency depicting characters from The Wizard of Oz, the exhibition is diverse and often abstract in its conversations surrounding such complex and often political questions on residency and connections to place.
Tulani Hlalo provides an emotive response to these complex issues in her ‘Motherland’ (2016) and ‘Fatherland’ (2016) film pieces that explore her dual heritage and directly reference the exhibition’s title The Ground Beneath Your Feet. ‘Motherland’ explores the artist’s ancestry and is a response to Hlalo’s solo pilgrimage to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) in an attempt to reconnect to her roots. The film depicts the artist covering herself in the rich dry earth, in an almost ritualistic way, as she tries to reconnect to a place that is ingrained within her yet so foreign to her consciousness. Shown alongside is partnering piece ‘Fatherland’ that conversely depicts Hlalo stood in the cold grey waters of King Edward’s Bay (Tynemouth) in which the bleak landscape overtly contrasts with the vibrancy of Zimbabwe. By showing the two films simultaneously the works form an insightful conversation into the idea of native lands and ancestry and the need to re-form connections to a place of your forefathers. It questions why we feel such emotional connections to not only the land of our birth but places we ourselves have never visited yet feel bound to through familial ties.
Omid Asadi explores the idea of heritage in his performance and installation piece ‘Dammam’ (2018) in which he is inspired by musical rituals and ceremonies from his native Iran. During the preview evening Asadi and four other performers created hypnotic rhythmic drumming using oil barrels, which spilled oil on to an ornate Persian rug before departing and leaving behind the performers’ footprints. Referencing the refugee crisis and ongoing conflict in the middle east the beautiful rug destroyed by the spilling oil provides a poignant reminder of the culture and history destroyed by conflict as communities are torn apart which often goes overlooked, here with ghostly footprints serving as a reminder of what they left behind.
The refugee crisis is further explored in Roee Rosen’s film ‘The Dust Channel’ (2016) which features an abstract narrative of a devotion to home-cleaning appliances and the fear of dirt. The film makes associations between the dust that invades the home and of the Holot detention centre (Israel), connecting to broader narratives of xenophobia and fears of an invasion of asylum seekers; the nuanced narrative conceals the deeper complex issues that are a subtext to the film. It is in the subtlety of works that the exhibition provides thought-provoking ideas on the global complexities we are currently facing due to migration and economic situations in which people search for a place to call home.
The exhibition links to the summit With One Voice International Arts and Homelessness and includes a piece by the Museum of Homelessness that highlights the injustices faced by people in the current homelessness crisis. Their piece, ‘STATE OF THE NATION’ (2017-18), presents a selection of stories and items that shed light on the hardship and struggles faced by people experiencing different types of homelessness, making this often invisible community visible. Through the narratives of the artists The Ground Beneath Your Feet brings to attention the politics of place and the fragility of the stability of the place that we call home; inviting us to learn and question the connections we make and importance we attach to the ground beneath our feet.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan
The Ground Beneath Your Feet, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.
16 November 2018 – 3 February 2019.