Keith Piper has just unveiled his new artwork, UnEarthing the Banker’s Bones, a major commission acquired by the Arts Council Collection (ACC) to celebrate their 70th anniversary. The ACC commission, a partnership between Iniva and Bluecoat, was selected as a result of ACC’s open call to Arts Council England’s Visual Art National Portfolio Organisations to submit proposals to commission a new artwork. Last week, staff from all three organisations visited Keith’s studio in New Cross to view and officially ‘sign off’ the new work – a three screen video installation with sculptural elements encased in two vitrines – which was met with a celebratory round of applause.
Keith began working on UnEarthing the Banker’s Bones in September, when Iniva and Bluecoat learned that their joint proposal to Arts Council Collection for Keith’s commission was successful. Since then, Keith has been filming in various locations around England and working with an object fabricator, technical director, and a voice-over artist, to collect the work’s many layers of visual and research material that imagine the apocalyptic remnants of contemporary globalised capitalism. The looped video projection runs for approximately ten minutes, and is presented in five chapters: edge of the Anthropocene, the dark, the trickster, the map, and the relics. The work’s narrative is guided by a female voiceover, who calmly tells the story of two protagonists. We first learn of the Trickster, an elusive ‘shape-shifting android’ figure, who steps off the pages of an unfinished Octavia Butler novel and wanders into a post-apocalyptic vision of the future. Here, at the edge of the Anthropocene, the Trickster finds the remains of the second character: the Banker, a profiteering slave dealer, whose bones are laid in nearby vitrines on top of three large antique books entitled ‘The Banker’s Ledger’ (the book of what we took), ‘The Banker’s Inventory’ (the book of what we kept’ and ‘The Banker’s Journal’ (the book of how we took). These relics relate to an earlier encounter in which the Trickster showed the Banker an ‘upside down’ map of the world, presumably brought back from the future, that demonstrate contemporary migration patterns that ‘reroute the trade routes’ in search of the Banker’s ‘booty’. The Banker, perhaps unsurprisingly, shreds the map and locks its fragmented contents with a secret code. The film’s time-travelling narrative is complemented by eerily grey landscapes, such as the cold ocean’s lapping waves or a lone hooded figure wandering away from the city, but these images seem to appear as a set of possible associations rather than any direct illustration of the story.
Now, with UnEarthing the Banker’s Bones officially acquired by the Arts Council Collection, one might think Keith could take a holiday. Instead, over the coming months Keith will be developing another new work, a suite of drawings, as well as a new limited edition print for his major monographic exhibition, also entitled UnEarthing the Banker’s Bones, which will open at Bluecoat in late October. Iniva and Bluecoat will also be hard at work, developing plans to restage and reconfigure Keith’s iconic video installation Robot Bodies (2003-15) for the exhibition, and working on ideas for a symposium and other public programmes exploring race and science fiction. In addition, a substantial national and international tour is planned for the exhibition, which is Keith’s first major monographic show since Relocating the Remains in 1997 (produced by Iniva which toured to Ikon, Birmingham; National Gallery of Canada, Ontario; and New Museum, New York). In order to fulfil this ambitious project, we are also seeking passionate individuals to be part of the Unearthing the Bankers Bones – Exhibition Circle: a dedicated group of donors that will secure the legacy of this important exhibition.