“Let The Song Hold Us”

FACT, until 19th June, free

I’d be really interested to know which came first in the concept for Let The Song Hold Us, the idea or the title – for they are not the same. Music is present in each work, but is far from the core theme of this show. The way I see it there’s three ways to explain this: very particular curation, coincidence – or simply an inevitability that with one goes another. That music is fundamental to memory, to storytelling, and to grief. Unfortunately this is a show which doesn’t make the most of this power.

Let’s start with grief, because the two works in Gallery 1 are both centred upon this complicated feeling. Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind’s film ‘As If No Misfortune Had Occurred In The Night’ is the standout piece of the exhibition. As performed by Nour Darwish, its intertwining of Palestinian and European music is haunting and tragic. We’re in a moment where for many of us war and loss may feel particularly close, but this work is a reminder that, lest we forget, such destruction and loss has been ravaged upon some places for decades.

still from a film by Larissa Sansour & Soren Linda woman in a white dress with draping white sleeves is standing in a pool of hyper-blue water (there's a blue filter on the lens)
Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind

Behind this work though was Korakrit Arunanondchai & Alex Gvojic’s ‘Songs for living’, which made me cross. It feels both incoherent and drawn out, fixating on imagery without ever approaching a core meaning. There can be a place for graphic and grievous, but I don’t get how or why it’s being utilised here. It claims to imagine a “death of individuality” in the circumstances of an apocalyptic necessity for collective. The notes say it was made during the pandemic, and OK so maybe it’s an attempt to universalise the feelings this brought up. But if I can’t connect at all with what it says, it fails.

Perhaps the key failure of ‘Songs for living’ is to claim to stand for all of us – to believe its interpretation is automatically universal. Nobody upstairs in Gallery 2 makes this arrogant assumption – each is based upon the individual, very personal experiences of the artists. They each share a sense of something I don’t quite have a word for, something between nostalgia and remembrance. And each is based in a sense of fragmentation. This is, after all, how memories work really – in moments and small pieces, which we form back into a shape at a later date.

Zinzi Minott

This fragmentation, however, has a different source in each artist’s work. It Rae-Yen Song’s work it’s so clear how she’s been inspired by childhood memories – distorted, half-remembered, particular impressions left particularly strongly. And in Ebun Sodipo’s work it’s borne of a collectivism – which might sound similar to that which I expressed disdain for in Arunanondchai & Gvojic’s work, but isn’t. Sodipo is smart enough to actually work with a collective to collect different interpretations of the experiences of being Black and trans – and to present it as a literal universe of diverse experience. The interface for exploring her map may be a tad clunky, but it’s also fun, and good for expressing its disparate ideas.

“Disparate” is in fact a good word to use to explain this entire exhibition. Despite the closeness of subject, even of approach across this show, it feels more like a showcase of individual artists rather than a show with a unified message. There’s no weak links here, no narratives enforced, just works which happen to fit into a concept. But as much as I enjoy many of the artworks, there’s something about Let The Song Hold Us as a whole which leaves me cold. And I think it’s that there’s no connecting emotion or unifying story to cling onto. Which is especially disappointing from an exhibition which contains the word “song” in the title. Because nothing is more unifying than song, than music, for bringing us together in common feeling. There would surely have been a way to both give the individual works space to breathe and make more of what they have in common, and to miss the mark on one feels a shame.

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