Edgar Arceneaux: A Time to Break Silence – art review

A Time to Break Silence is a video installation by American artist Edgar Arceneaux, which is on display at CADS as part of the Art Sheffield festival. Review by Tim Barnes

[Picture: Dan Sumption]

As part of the city-wide Art Sheffield festival, CADS on Snow Lane is host to an extraordinary video installation by LA-based artist Edgar Arceneaux.

This video piece maintains a sustained visual brilliance and is at every frame both delightfully compositional and fiercely stark. It delivers a punishing blow to human progression that leaves our imagination writhing in the myths of the past and future, unable to settle on a satisfactory present. Language, thought, action and object all find an eloquent voice here and Edgar Arceneaux begins to give a new structure to social sculpture.

In an abandoned Detroit church, three unlikely figures are brought together, sharing in a communion that crawls under the skin of culture and rattles the innermost bones of our human nature. Claiming sanctuary in this crumbling hall is a prehistoric man-ape, who enters as though straying from the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Two days after that film premiered in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King JR. was assassinated, and his apparition gives a speech from the pulpit against the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War.

The third figure is a musician of the Detroit techno music collective Underground Resistance, who appears to stand aloof from the proceedings and occasionally pumps techno music into the church. The whole performance assumes the format and general structure of a catholic service. In this setting, even the scraping and fumbling of the feral human creature seem to be pronounced with glorious rhetoric.

Arceneaux re-breaks the same silence Dr. Martin Luther King JR. broke in his 1967 speech, A Time To Break Silence (from which this exhibition borrows its title). The atrocities of war and civil rights injustices Dr King spoke of all stem from a germinating seed within the savage creature as the first sparks of human thinking start to emerge. The speech is divided by techno music that brings this scene forcefully into the present, forming a sort of sermon that is perhaps designed to heal society, suggesting an opportunity to renew our calling and learn again to be human.

Arceneaux’s video is a powerful offering to society. His message that reverberates through history is also bitterly current and assumes a real presence in the drafty, post-industrial chamber at CADS.

A Time to Break Silence is open at CADS in Sheffield until December 14, as part of the Art Sheffield festival.

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