Akeem Smith, Tommy Malekoff

October 6 - January 7, 2022/23
Rotterdam, NL

Everything that is created will sooner or later collapse, crumble and cease to exist. The products of creative power, such as the solar system or social systems, are by definition temporary, yet they can bring about lasting changes in the natural environment, people's lives, and inform the ways we engineer and reengineer history. In BUILT, American artists Akeem Smith and Tommy Malekoff draw on divergent methods to explore how the body and the built environment contend with brutality and impermanence.

Curated by New Canons’ Maxwell Wolf, the exhibition silhouettes two installations by the artists whose practices bend the boundaries of video art and blur the distinction between artist, archivist and documentarian. Whereas memory and material, like faith and infrastructure, are inherently subject to deterioration, Smith and Malekoff evoke new epochs, fueling the potential of what can arise amidst all that remains in the void thereafter.

The works in BUILT  travel from two critically acclaimed presentations originally organized by Wolf: Smith's breakout show No Gyal Can Test (New York 2020, Detroit 2021), which earned him glowing praise in Artforum, Frieze, Garage, W, NYT Style and The New York Times, and Malekoff’s largest project to date, Forever and Forever, an immersive video installation, mounted this past Spring in an abandoned space in the bowels of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan - an experience The New York Times compared to "channel surfing the apocalypse”.

For his presentation at BRUTUS, Queens Street (2020), Smith enlists archival material, and salvaged architectural remnants transplanted from his hometown of Kingston Jamaica. The video installation harvests artifacts from the past to confront the legacy of the artist’s own enduring memory; an exercise of beguiling oblivion, woven within a larger lyrical homage to the women that raised him.

In Malekoff’s imposing multi-channel video work Forever and Forever (2022), the artist maps the present impact of human intervention throughout the American landscape. The work features footage the artist captured over two years in the Everglades region of southern Florida. By moving past the morality of ecological decay, the artist illuminates an alternate vista that fluctuates seamlessly between extreme beauty and decimation.

Tommy Malekoff, Forever and Forever, 2022
Multichannel video. Duration 18:28 on infinite loop. Score by Joe Williams
Edition of 5

Tommy Malekoff’s practice, which exists almost entirely in the outdoors, is an ongoing, poetic meditation on human intervention within the built environment and the natural world. At BRUTUS, we see the artist's most sobering and confrontational work on the subject to date, entitled Forever and Forever. Set to an ominous and hypnotic score, the multichannel video installation consists of six monolithic video screens mounted like an impenetrable fortress.

The work features footage that the artist captured, often with consumer grade equipment, over two years in the Everglades region of southern Florida; a wilderness both raw and primordial but with visible traces of humanity everywhere. Sugar cane fields burn for miles, exotic banyan trees loom like dinosaurs on the landscape, and the habitat of manatees is heated by wastewater from coal-fired power plants. Perversely enough, all of this decimation can be experienced as a touristic spectacle. By orienting the installation in the round, Malekoff sets the viewer into orbit around the illuminated mass, mirroring the infinite loop of the videos, and underscoring the conveyor belt of time.

Akeem Smith, Queens Street, 2020
Single-channel video, salvaged building material and fabric, breeze blocks, wood. Score by Ashland Mines
Edition of 3

Akeem Smith (1991) made his debut as an artist two years ago with the landmark exhibition No Gyal Can Test - a deeply personal project that navigates the artist’s experience growing up between New York and Jamaica from the 1980s through y2k. This body of work centers on a vast archive of photographs and VHS video tapes entrusted to him by family, friends, and key figures from the dancehall community over the past decade. Smith recuperates the archival material, ensconcing it within various forms, recomposed from architectural remnants that he has salvaged and transported from Jamaica to his studio.

In Queens Street 2020, an architectural video installation from this larger body of work, Smith navigates themes of consumerism, social mobility, racism, and the ephemeral state of collective memory. By constructing a monumental reliquary reminiscent of buildings found across Kingston’s inner city, the artist encloses this corroding testament within the material landscape of corrugated zinc, tarp, repurposed wood, and breeze blocks from which they came. The footage in the video features original designs made by OUCH - the legendary atelier and six-woman fashion collective led by Smith’s grandmother - in a morning news program called Morning Time from 1994, as well as their runway debut at the Pegasus Hotel in 1995. These events are some of the artist’s earliest childhood memories. With the help of Ashland Mines, who composed the video’s mesmerizing score, Smith conducts a sluggish, out-of-body overture that venerates the women of his youth and summons the ethereal consistency and inevitable betrayal of memory.