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The Genome Chronicles Q&A with Celine

As part of the Donald Rodney exhibition at Celine during Glasgow International 2021, we presented a screening of John Akomfrah’s film The Genome Chronicles (2009). This was followed by a live discussion and Q&A about both the film, and the life and work of Donald Rodney. This conversation was between artists Keith Piper, Alberta Whittle and Professor Mike Philips. Facilitated by curator Ian Sergeant and Celine’s Adam Lewis Jacob.

The original screening was on 26th June 2021, hosted here on the CCA Annex and presented in conjunction with Celine. It is our pleasure to make the live-captioned recording of the conversation available here once again.

The Genome Chronicles, was born out of reflection upon the passing of both Akomfrah’s mother and his friend Donald Rodney in 1998. The film exists in two temporal locations, the first consisting of monochromatic footage of Akomfrah on the Isle of Skye and Mull where lonely roads, ruined buildings, stark hills, and vast coastline, create a quiet almost Romantic solemnity.

From these images we are transported back to 1998, using Donald Rodney’s own super 8 footage. These sections began as Rodney’s attempts to document his hospital visits and we see awkward smiling nurses, empty hospital beds, Rodney himself in bed, and friends coming to visit him. Later we see medical procedures; hydrotherapy, Rodney’s point of view as he’s transported on a stretcher whilst doctors loom over him, and footage of nurses cleaning the sores that sickle cell disease opened on his legs. Through this we’re offered insight into Rodney’s life as the super 8 footage expands in scope to include gallery openings (both Rodney’s own and others), social calls, and a picnic. Akomfrah cuts these moments of joy, medical anxiety, suffering, sterility, sadness, and care with his own quiet and reflective images of the Scottish Isles.

Throughout the film Akomfrah weaves a rich audio narrative that makes use of answering machine messages from the time, recordings of Donald Rodney, a rich variety of music, and an assemblage of quotations that reflect on the mythic birth of mankind, the nature of death, memory, and life.These quotations are sourced from books of Greek mythology, Jungian theory, Derrida’s writing, and Foucault’s among others and question the nature of death and how it effects and is affected by our remembrance.

The Genome Chronicles resides within the Lux Collection. With thanks to LUX and Smoking Dogs Films.

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