Friday 12 April 2024

Khadea Santi responds to 'What the Owl Knows' by The Otolith Group

Mind Map for
What the Owl Knows
A film review

Subaltern - Stuart Hall (cultural theorist) on diasporic identity. The right to not have to reveal, especially for artists of colour.

These messages/words within the film.

Etymology - the root of words. Racialization intersected with art and aesthetics. Ambiguity using imaginary and fictional storytelling devices. 

Main themes for the Otolith Group – Technology – Post-colonialism – Cultural Identity – Globalization – Science fiction.

Mythopoetic contrasted with ordinary life. Poetics and political. Hermeneutics – Kodwo Eshun

((Owl \\                                                                                                     /// //    \
  (Global \\                                                                                    // Hermes\
     (Effects \                                                                        //. Conceal      /
          (Compositing ``               >/  For Opacity.    /
               (Suspended ``        ____- -   ___.___/
                                  (Frustration ~`` ‘’ Édouard
                                                      (Poetics.   Glissant    >
                                                                       / The right _
                                             /.          √
                                           /     ⎠
                                        /  ⎠
                                     /   ⎠

What the Owl Knows
A film review

What the Owl Knows was filmed during the summer of 2022. There was an urgency of attentiveness towards the political stage, in a way that seemed absurd at the best of times and damaging at the worst. Meanwhile, the film seems to indicate that it was even more necessary to determine what is known, and how it is known. 

Determined and attentive: both are true in my continual revisiting of the film What the Owl Knows at Cooper Gallery. There is a drive and refusal to give into cinematic platitudes and western modernity; this is the essence of what reverberates through the painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s study of her painting. 

Centered on virtuosic brushstrokes applied to areas of large-scale canvases, the film is a documentary subverting the desired immediacy for literal, visible and explicit biographical or narrative arcs: these elements typically expected of documentary film are defiantly omitted. Filmed within a brightly lit studio in London, Yiadom-Boakye carefully brings black figures to light. Her thoughtful dips into paint mirror fantastical elements unlocked from her imagination. Confronting the viewer’s desire for the camera to bear it all, this film revels in its obscuring and frustrating manner and forming knowledge through lens media to the medium of paint in a study of cross-media parallels. 

The juxtaposed staging of the metropolis shows dusk setting in with mottled pink and purple skies, while fables are read aloud. The words “Not Yours” are repeated throughout the film’s 50-minute run time. Capitalising certain words, as in the line “The inaugural Speech of the Raven King”, brings to life imagined allegories. “The Fable of Pigeon and Owl” is read aloud while night dwellings and the rest of the usual nocturnal crowd are seen. 

Words hold on as they move through the twilight zone. The sensibilities of Yiadom-Boakye’s writing are enhanced by her painted portraits, each drawing out fictional suggestions. These are only hinting at a dystopian quality, due to the backdrop of the city it is captured in, understood as the heart of empire.

The relationship between the camera - operated by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun, otherwise known as The Otolith Group - in a study of a painter who is studying her painting, is one of intimacy through prolonged attention to detail and formation. It feels as if it is recorded at eye-level, inherently placing the viewer in the action of seeing. Neither an object nor a person, the camera feels operated in a way that displaces traditional cinematic devices. In the same sense, Yiadom-Boakye writes about fables, as heard across the film, in which crows observe and engage with anthropological “characters”. Instead of a holding gaze it takes you to “narrative mystery”. I am familiar with Sagar and Eshun’s previous film which inspired this one, I See Infinite Distance Between Any Point and Another, where the first part of Etel Adnan’s poem Sea is read aloud in the confines of her apartment while facing away from the camera. It motions towards Adnan’s hands as she holds the realm of language intimately. In both films the artists are faced towards worlds they are building, with their backs to the camera. It is something that Eshun cites when talking about this point of view in which a person’s back says a lot. I notice that their often-tender approach to drawing attention and significance to well- crafted worlds, whether poetry or paint, helps to create their own world away from post-colonial and neo-colonial descriptions.

The film’s second half has the absurdity of Yiadom-Boakye’s fable of the “Deeply Skeptical Pigeon” who is antagonising the owl. The divisive part they each play in this dramatisation, amongst the bustling menagerie of creatures in the dead of night, eventually ends in Pigeon’s own demise, seemingly brought about through their own wrongdoing. It is an interesting contrast to the methodical solitude of being in the studio earlier in the film. It suggests the theatre of the political has a zoo-like unfolding. The Otolith Group are adept at “getting under the skin” by utilizing science fiction to speak to the global effects of political structures in Western society. Towards the end of the credits, a sense of time begins to settle in despite the sequence’s recursive use of dusk and dawn. As the film ends, the weight of time reaches an outcry, as the catastrophic environmental changes on the centre stage of the empire begin to feel cyclical.

The undercurrent notes of the film appear in a cacophony of melodic and chaotic metallic thrashing while concealed in news recordings. After watching through the film again, its end credits roll in with sense of acceleration as recorded news clippings play out: Boris Johnson, the then prime minster, announcing his resignation, cost of living crisis, Liz Truss winning conservative leadership, £130 billon energy bailout, windfall tax, the queen’s death, coronation of Charles III, queen’s funeral, Kwasi Kwarteng lifting cap on bankers’ bonuses and cutting benefits and Mick Lynch on Right-wing politics. The recordings reveal the egregious disparities widening through the influence of orchestrated government and state officials.


A review of What the Owl Knows (2022) presented in the exhibition …But There Are New Suns by The Otolith Group at Cooper Gallery 13 October – 16 December 2023, as part of The Ignorant Art School. 

Khadea Santi is a student on MFA Curatorial Practice at DJCAD, with an interest in diasporic cosmologies from the Global South. This review is written for her course module. 

Visit Khadea's blog for more info
Follow @khadeasanti on Instagram for more of her work. 

Thursday 11 April 2024

Nicola Wiltshire responds to The Otolith Group's exhibition '...But There Are New Suns'


A response to …But There Are New Suns by The Otolith Group an exhibition forming Sit-in #3 of The Ignorant Art School at Cooper Gallery 13 October – 16 December 2023.

Nicola Wilshire is an artist and DJCAD graduate working as an invigilator at Cooper Gallery. 

Visit Nicola's website for more info
Follow @nicola_wiltshire on Instagram for more of her work. 

Friday 9 December 2022

Cheryl McGregor responds to 'Chimera: Levitating Tongues'

On Screen: The yellow thread hangs from the ewe. 

To ask me to unleash my beast is to request of me to unlearn and disrobe.

To skirt around the outskirts of sound, not distressed but disquiet. To be receiver. 

To take inventory.

            Did you hear the animal in pain? Crying for their mother? 

            The mock and the mimic stand in the centre of the room, facing each other.  
            With extended arms and open throats 

            Shaking at each other. Panting.

            A croak, and a forward step. 

            A question : What is stuck in the throat? 

            Another question: how does a rolling sphere sound like the ocean? 

            Why do so many sounds sound like the sea? 

            An interruption in the form of a ringing telephone, the beginning of another impossible
            dialogue, a passing back and forth, a hot potato. 

            ‘I can’t see’ says the child,

            ‘Hey kid, this is the sight of sound.’

            (A whistle) (machine static) (skirl) (warble)

            (A laugh)(a bark)(a barking laugh)

            (A suck) (a tut)     

            (A flapping of something organic)

            (something internal) (a tongue)


            the sound ascending

            Its makers are traveling up the staircase. 

            Its making us travel up the staircase. 

            L’esprit d’escalier

            Feels like: A game 

            Feels like: A bear hunt

            A hunt sound-tracked by persistent percussion,

            the battlefield drum.

            And us: a congregation composed,

            Syncopated spectators.

            (A chime) (a ring) (a din)

            (And then) (nothing) 


            Sometimes making noise is harder than making music.

            The kid chimes in again.

            ‘Mama’ He delivers a crisp clear quaver. 

            Aside: ‘What is it?’ 

I see this interaction. It is brief but I see it and I think about when sound is verboten and when it is encouraged and when it is impulsive and when it is all of these things at once. I think about sound like instant. I feel about sound like instant. 

            What is it? Another sound pulls me back.

            A rattling, like stones or bones:

            A sonic solidity.

            Sound moves through bodies, bodies that are:

            (Worrying) (sanding)

            (Agitating) (soldering)

            In front of me.

            In front of witnesses.

            This sonic construction site:    

            Whistle while you work.

Having worn your duty of silent spectator, felt its collar digging into your neck, closing up your throat now we invite you to Disrobe. Disrobe. Disrobe: This cacophony is communal.

My hand drops pen, extends, receives a bronze bell. The crazy song started, everyone in rebel chorus - alarms with no fear - I passed the bell to the person behind me, smiled at the face of resistance and reached for the pen again. 

            What sound stands out?

            Will someone answer the door? 


            the uniform clap

            the thank you gesture

            the blood returned.

            The sound’s strange exit and the ear’s faint ring.  


A response to the performance and screening event Chimera: Levitating Tongues by composers Ceylan Hay and Shiori Usui. Part of the series of events accompanying Nashashibi/Skaer's exhibition Chimera at Cooper Gallery, 30 September – 10 December 2022.

Cheryl McGregor is a student on the English Literature MLitt in the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law. This response is made as part of the module Voice & Text.

@cherylmcgregorwriter on Instagram for more writing. 

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Hanna Bratlie responds to 'Chimera'


I Walk Through  


Projectors, stairs and lights  

I walk through  



meeting myself as a shadow 

the sheep feel it too 

being over painted  

being film

I walk through  


rolled out, projected, pinned to the wall  


an altar waiting  

light on either side  

I`m standing in between  

dragged out  

made flat 

stretched out  

poked at  

heavy stones grounds the pouring red 


I walk through  


an empty wall  

a resting place  

until a scream reminds me  

that it breathes  


A response to Nashashibi/Skaer's exhibition Chimera at Cooper Gallery, 30 September – 10 December 2022.

Hanna Valsgård Bratlie is an MFA Art and Humanities student at the University of Dundee. She completed her BA in Philsophy at the University of Oslo. Philosophical analysis and creative writing are important influences in her artistic practice which revolves around the concepts of space, intensity and experience. With a particular emphasis on the materiality of objects and their transformative aspects, she works in between the conceptual and the material. 


Nashashibi/Skaer, Chimera, 2022. Installation view Cooper Gallery entrance.



Lucy Skaer, Haystacks made of Garnet, Garnets made of Hay, 2022

Bronze and pigment, pigment on brown paper


Nashashibi/Skaer, Bear, 2021

16mm film painted with ink and transferred to HD with additional digital drawing by Regina Ohak
Single channel, colour, silent, 5 minutes

Photographs by Sally Jubb.