BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 22 MAR 24

The Best Shows to See in London This Spring

From Zineb Sedira’s anticolonial cinema to Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s immersive archives

BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 22 MAR 24

Zineb Sedira | Whitechapel Gallery | 15 February – 12 May

Zineb Sedira, Les rêves n’ont pas de titre (Dreams Have No Titles), 2022, production still. Courtesy: © Zineb Sedira/DACS, London, and kamel mennour, Paris; photograph: Thierry Bal

There are various components, but the main one is a 16mm film, Les rêves n’ont pas de titre, exploring Third Worldist cinema: the militantly anticolonial, sometimes anticapitalist, films made in Algeria in collaboration with other countries following independence in 1962, which were often co-produced with international filmmakers like Costa-Gavras, Gillo Pontecorvo, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. Rooted in a political agenda, films such as Michel Drach’s Élise ou la vraie vie [Elise or Real Life, 1970], about racism and the Algerian War, sought to establish ‘solidarities’ between countries. Some of the filmmakers, especially the Italians, were often members of the Communist Party, and interested in making anticolonial films. These co-productions with Algeria represent a moment of friendship and created a family with intellectual, artistic and political connections. – Zineb Sedira

Zeinab Saleh | Tate Britain |19 January – 23 June

Zeinab Saleh, Water has memory, 2024
Zeinab Saleh, Water has memory, 2024, acrylic on linen, 170 × 160 × 2 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Tate

Zeinab Saleh’s pictures request a patient gaze, disclosing their secrets over time. Across seven canvases and a handful of works on paper, her stripped-down palette of mainly ice blue and peach tones describes misty impressions of domestic interiors; spaces filled with evocations of the physical states of water, from the shimmer of hoar frost to the hardness of ice and the translucence of condensation on glass. In Water has memory (all works 2024), dried watermarks, produced by laying crumpled cloth on wet ground, score the sheets of an unmade bed. Early morning transports us to a kitchen bathed in dawn twilight; in If not now, then when, oversized silhouettes of fuchsia flowers dangle in a hallway whose open door and patterned carpets connote comfort and familiarity. Presence is subtle and ambiguous in these spaces: Saleh herself is not visible, yet from the richness with which she renders haptic effects of texture, light and scale, we surmise that these are rooms she knows very well. – Ellen Mara De Wachter

Matt Connors Goldsmiths CCA 8 March - 2 June

Matt Connors, Harlequin, 2023. Courtesy the artist
Matt Connors, Harlequin, 2023. Courtesy: the artist

American artist Matt Connors’ first institutional exhibition in the UK, ‘Finding Aid’, opened at Goldsmiths CCA in March. Encompassing a wide range of artistic mediums, from abstract painting to drawing and sculpture, the show delves into the function and continuous growth of the archive. Connors is an avid collector of source material, often exploring the art historical canon, contemporary photography, poetry and music. The show features works from his eclectic practice and positions them in dialogue with those of 21 other artists who have influenced him. Borrowing its title from the meta-document produced by archivists to help researchers navigate a collection, Finding Aid’ is an intriguing visualisation of the inner workings of the mind and its reflections. – Ivana Cholakova

Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron | National Portrait Gallery | 21 March – 16 June

Francesca Woodman, From Eel Series, Venice, Italy, 1978
Francesca Woodman, From Eel Series, Venice, Italy, 1978, gelatin silver estate print, 20 × 25 cm. Courtesy: Victoria Miro Gallery, London

I have always loved Francesca Woodman’s work: her spectral self-portraits, the body at their centre yet always out of reach – its edges lost in plaster, of light and shadow as much as it is flesh. A recent exhibition highlighted the artist’s photographs from 1977–78, when she spent a formative year studying abroad in Rome. What strikes me about these images are their textures, and what texture can suggest of experience and of time. Several series are staged within the Pastificio Cerere: an abandoned, dilapidated pasta factory in Rome’s San Lorenzo neighbourhood. In Self-deceit (1978), Woodman poses nude with a rough-edged mirror, the building’s crumbling, reef-like walls already stretching forwards and back: industry’s vanitas; witnesses to moments that have also fallen away. Captured through long exposure, the artist’s body blurs, seems poised to disappear. These are photographs in which moments – and lives – are never flattened and fixed: they are constantly moving from then to now, bodies finding echoes in the world around them. – Caroline Marciniak

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley | Studio Voltaire | 31 January – 28 April 

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Tribute to MarikisCryCryCry, 2021
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Tribute to MarikisCryCryCry, 2021, from ‘She Keeps Me Damn Alive’, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Arebyte Gallery; photograph: Dan Weill

Switching between film, animation, painting, sound and performance, the London-based Brathwaite-Shirley often makes works that encompass multiple mediums. ‘WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT,’ reads the banner on the homepage of (2020). The site is an immersive work by Brathwaite-Shirley that also functions as an archive. Viewers enter as though they’re players in a first-person game, moving through a landscape in which they are asked to make self-reflective choices. It’s the gamification of accountability: an attempt to use first-person design as a way for players – especially those who are not Black trans people – to take responsibility for their actions: ‘THIS IS NOT A PLACE WHERE WE MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER!’ Multiple-choice questions lead players through graveyards, spas and libraries. The landscape is jagged, sometimes twisted. ‘I really hate soft silky renders,’ Brathwaite-Shirley tells me: she prefers to use early 3D render tech, and finds the limitations presented by old video-game engines useful. ‘When we’re working with a finite palette, it’s more creative; it’s not just about being smooth and having sheen.’ The artist is not interested in things looking very clean or very expensive: ‘That’s just boring,’ she says. Brathwaite-Shirley’s work is more about testing form than it is about building recognizable worlds. Her creations have raw, cracking edges that are alive and seething. Ultimately, she says: ‘We’re trying to record our lives.’ – Skye Arundhati Thomas

Main image: Zineb Sedira, Les rêves n’ont pas de titre (Dreams Have No Titles), 2022, production still. Courtesy: © Zineb Sedira/DACS, London, and kamel mennour, Paris; photograph: Thierry Bal

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