Sondra Perry’s dreamlike audiovisual landscape in Basel
For the first Rolls-Royce Dream Commission, Sondra Perry directs Lineage for a phantom zonean immersive multimedia installation at Fondation Beyeler, Basel
Sondra Perry is an artist of great intelligence. His work addresses a wide range of themes and is often rooted in issues of race in the United States. Perry, which will be featured in the main exhibition of the upcoming Venice Biennale, uses film and installation in her work. This is often the result of extensive research into complex topics such as land rights, memory and ecology, which the artist translates into a post-internet sci-fi aesthetic.
Lineage for a phantom zone, currently on display at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, is the first Rolls-Royce Art Program Dream Commission, awarded to Perry in 2020 and ultimately realized. It will move to the Serpentine Galleries in London later this year.
Portrait of Sondra Perry. Photography: Travis Matthews
A jury of Hans Ulrich Obrist, Katrina Sedgwick, Isaac Julien, Terrie Sultan and Theodora Vischer awarded the biennial prize to Perry for an audiovisual commission dealing with the reconfiguration of history through the landscape of dreams.
“The artist’s ability to dive deeply into his personal experiences and present them in a socio-political and aesthetic context is moving, challenging and exciting,” says Vischer, chief curator at the Beyeler. She adds that Perry received the award “based on her outstanding artwork submission as well as the brilliant way she addresses the current moment of vulnerability in her work.”
Upon entering the space, there is a heady, juicy scent of oranges in the air. Cypress trees hang from the ceiling and stand upright on the ground, their roots encased in trash bags. Mechanized barber chairs salvaged from the artist’s studio and holding screens move up and down around a sofa, suspended from the ceiling. Separating a waterfall of clear plastic, you stand under the sofa, watching a flat screen showing a movie. We are indeed in a dream space.
Installation Image, Sondra Perry, Lineage for a phantom zone, created for Muse, the Dream Commission of the Rolls-Royce Art Programme. Beyeler Foundation, Basel, until March 13, 2022. Photo © Mark Niedermann
The film was created from Perry’s research into her grandmother’s childhood during which she worked as a sharecropper in North Carolina. While trying to find the location of the farm where her grandmother worked, she discovered barely any trace of her family – only a wooden house belonging to her cousin in a cypress forest. The work merges this experience with memory and the subconscious language of dreams, evoking feelings of unfinished and partially remembered.
Mixing memories, moving images, archival footage and dreams, the films show the wooden house, layers of forest footage and images of the artist’s grandmother overlaid with a monologue wanted intercut with Perry playing the theremin. The scent of oranges, evocative for the artist, never leaves you.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book of poetry, writing and dialogue by Isaac Julien, psychotherapist Bola Shonubi, videographer and arts writer Kareem Reid, science fiction and fantasy writer NK Jemisin and psychiatrist and science fiction writer Tade Thompson. Intended to help readers connect with the research behind the facility, the book also leaves blank pages for readers to write their own dreams. §