John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah, The Last Angel of History

24 – 30 March

The Last Angel of History (1995)

Part science fiction fable, in which a time travelling Data Thief from 200 years in the future excavates the ruins of the present in search of the key to the future, and part interview-based documentary examining the inter-related development of funk music, science fiction and Afro-futurism, The Last Angel of History (1995) creates connections between Black unpopular culture, outer space and the limits of the human condition.  In the film the science fiction tropes of alien abduction, estrangement and genetic engineering act as metaphors for the Black diasporic experience of slavery, cultural alienation and otherness, while the radical inventiveness, away from the traditions of street and stage, of the music offers the possibility of a new Black critical aesthetic.

The Last Angel of History is also innovative in its use of digital technologies.  In the film Akomfrah explores the chromatic and collage possibilities of digital video, in a manner that is eerily prefigures, at a twenty year remove, the work of many young artist film-makers today.

Afro-futurism in The Last Angel of History

‘Don’t reflect the past imagine the future.’

‘Our music is a mirror of the universe, we explore the future through music.’

‘Wandering the boundaries between science fiction and social reality.’

Link to 1993-4 pre-filming outline by John Akomfrah and Edward George

“In the future, like racial memory, black futurology may be allotted rooms on the internet. Housed in cyberspace vaults marked ‘tomorrow’, coded with a connective emblem, this past, our present, could be the key to making sense of the future, the present of some yet unborn black person….

From On The Concept Of History, Walter Benjamin, 1940

Fragment IX

“There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.”