Altered Landscapes - review by Pearl Findlay
The exhibition starts outside the door, with a welcome sign that states how the art space is intentionally darkened, and kindly signposts the audience to accessible alternatives if needed. On entering the exhibition, I find myself submerged in darkness, invited in by a dim ambient light bulb to 1 of 3 landscape images. Background noise echoes through the exhibition space, creating an ambiguous and atmospheric tone. The text on the first wall accurately describes what the exhibition entails, in addition to this there is a longer printed supplement, an 'easy read' guide around the exhibition particularly useful to those with language difficulties, and an enlarged text. These extra steps taken to ensure accessibility provide an inclusive framework, creating a well thought-out welcome to all. The offer of additional information bodes well for everyone, as the photographs document purposefully dim-lit landscapes that insist on being seen up close with difficulty.
The first image shows a discoloured, yellow-tinged industrial terrain. The sense of darkness it is accompanied by, with only a light bulb to draw light from, heightens a sense of struggle and allows one to imagine how it might be like for someone to walk through these landscapes at night. The second image offers a softer version of abandonment; a yellow sweater amongst a straw field. The contrast between man made and natural elements feels more commonplace, but proposes questions of whom it belongs to as the notion of disbandment is takes hold. The final image conjures a grey landscape of bare trees, evergreens and electric pylons amongst a fog. This image leaves me thinking it could be anywhere in the world, but it smacks of the UK.
Moving into the film space, there is a low hanging light fitting installation, with brightly coloured visuals of somebodies point of view, walking through various landscapes. Leaves; grass; fields; pavements provides a sense of movement and urgency. This installation is placed directly adjacent to the film, leading us to view.
The film begins by overlooking coloured city lights, a city unknown, with stars reflected just as brightly in the sky. It conjures up the image of his home, a place he needs to leave. The breathing of the narrator, the sounds of his environment and his internal thoughts spoken out loud make this film ever more real and immersive.
"They look the same, yet somehow different. The lights, the colours, the shapes."
The two mediums are brought together with subtitled and spoken word, lending a painfully real insight into the thought process of war-led heartbreak.
"I need a response. I am in a world of silence. But I must find you. I need a sign. Those vast vessels which once carried our dreams, they are all empty now."
His voice trembles; he becomes upset and unclear to make out, leading us to engage with the text. He is reasoning with someone, ultimately saying his goodbyes. As black and white features of his city move to shots of traffic at night, it becomes apparent he is fleeing.
"The war has changed everything, it comes with a price. I'm changing, I'm becoming without you, this sickness is taking me over… I must leave, Habibi."
Bright black and white images emerge, depicting a starker, but still bleak, reality that is all too reminiscent of the UK and Europe. Natural images of mountains, sea, rivers and grass appear, and then traffic appears. This shows another form of uncertainty; a cold, harsh viewpoint takes hold. The blend of grey scenes of discarded junk, dumping grounds and bare trees conjure up a metaphor for a new future in an unknown place. His breathing turns to heavy panting as he crosses grass and fields, along with several discarded items on his way towards a dumping ground, a sight that feels all too familiar still. Emptiness and endless grey images give a very familiar perspective. There is something heavily weighted here. Yet this isn't where the eeriness lies, rather it's uncertainty that festers. There is imagery of plastic in trees in the wind, resonant of paper fortunes tied to Japanese 'O-mikuji' trees.
As the film draws to an end we are faced with the view of barbed wire on a motorway, as the sounds of seagulls and wind merges in with the sounds of passing cars.
DelGado's film and exhibition offers a deeply personal account and heartfelt insight of what it is like to flee your home country amidst a war in search of an alternative. Despite a clear attachment to his home and evident regret, Habibi makes the brave decision to leave this country risking he may never see his loved ones or home again. DelGado's installation is a fully engaging experience, inviting his audience to witness an authentic account of an endangered individual affected directly by war.