Larry Achiampong has a background in a number of different art forms. The British-Ghanian artist has created works of sculpture, collage, music, installations and, of course, film. In his latest moving picture – or exhibition may be more accurate- he seeks to explore identity, heritage and displacement across a pandemic gripped England (can't think what inspired such a thing). The final piece is Wayfinder, commissioned by Turner Contemporary with MK Gallery and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art – and it takes its audience on a journey from North to South in a near-future England, a poetic odyssey at once intriguing, laconic and ambling in its pacing.
Told across six chapters marking different parts of England, the film follows a young woman (Perside Rodrigues), known only as The Wanderer, as she travels the country. Bearing witness to its inequalities, contradictions and injustices. Through a number of voices that invade the space to the people she meets along the way, Achiampong strives to cover large heavy themes within a tight 80-minute journey, from racial discrimination to the housing crisis, gentrification and the loss of heritage across generations.
Achiampong reflected many works of art from across England's history on its journey, as our Wayfinder takes the journey largely alone to make sense of what makes England, and what is broken within it. It is often quite a navel-gazing and tranquil journey that threatens to leave you behind as its more ponderous tendencies take over as our Wanderer takes in both rural and urban living. There aren't many people she meets along the way, only the eerie folk vocals of artist Mataio Austin Dean who sends her on her journey, and the inspiring crossing of paths with Britain's first black female Olympic athlete, the sprinter Anita Neil.
The Wanderer also walks past Hadrian's Wall, pays a visit to E Pellicci's café in east London, via the Turner wing of the National Gallery, gazing indifferently at works of art that celebrate British naval and slave trades, with her journey ending up at Margate. Throughout there are moments that really drive home Wayfinder and – you suspect – Achiampong's alienation that can be experienced in this country. Be it when faced with a misplaced pride for the atrocities of England's history as a conquerer in popular culture, or the effects of economic imbalance on minority groups. The film is trying to express a great deal, and some of that sadly gets lost in its static and placid approach.
There are moments where the rhythm of it is quite comforting, but there is no denying that Wayfinder gets a little lost on the journey, with only moments of striking isolation or music to pull you through and establish an intriguing atmosphere. It is certainly more successful as a mood piece than it is a narrative, so the fact that it is being billed as an exhibition in some art centres across the country is fitting. This is a work from an artist who is navigating many complicated feelings about his experience growing up in a european country as a man of colour. That it often feels overwhelming is very much part of the point. While it may not always hold your attention, it is a singular piece of art with plenty of ambition and deeply felt emotion.
Wayfinder is out in the UK now.