ARTIST John Akomfrah’s award-winning film pits vast historical narratives against individual human stories. Deeply affecting, his stunning three screen 2015 Venice Biennale work, Vertigo Sea, gives the title to the exhibition, showing in the main gallery space of Talbot Rice. Akomfrah’s films are full of the overwhelming vastness of the sea and those who put themselves at its mercy. Akomfrah was originally inspired by a radio interview with Nigerian migrants who had survived a Mediterranean crossing. The film itself is an epic of the “vertigo” of the uncaring sea and of the human and animal lives afloat on it, through narratives of the brutality of slavery and whaling.

Loss and memory are strongly present in the Georgian Gallery, too, with Akomfrah’s At the Graveside of Tarkovsky running on a vast screen, the gallery floor strewn with grey pebbles, a misplaced beach. In dark blues and greens, the vast empty landscape slips by, Skye, recognisably and also Maui, with its volcanic forms. There is a hint of human presence, shadows in the water or a fishing boat in a bay, the only signs of life attested to by the flock of seagulls around it. Then, suddenly yet seamlessly, the absence of life is strongly suggested, as if inevitable – a fishing boat rots on the shore, the soundtrack dark, uncomfortable, suggesting birth and death. It is like looking at the silent aftermath of an unknown Armageddon.

John Akomfrah: Vertigo Sea

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Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, 0131 650 2210, www.ed.ac.uk/talbot-rice, until 27 Jan 2018

Tues–Fri, 10am–5pm; Sat 12pm–5pm