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Exclusive | El Anatsui: “Broken Bridge II”

Installation of El Anatsui’s “Broken Bridge II” (2012) above the High Line in New York City. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Ian Forster.

El Anatsui. “Broken Bridge II,” 2012. Installed above the High Line in New York City. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Ian Forster.

“I come from a place where you have a lot of sky. The sky starts from almost ground level and goes up. But over here you have to really look up to realize that there is eventually sky somewhere. That’s almost the experience of most people who live in open country and they come to New York—sky is not a common commodity.”

In today’s Exclusive episode, Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui discusses his large-scale sculpture Broken Bridge II (2012) and the importance of its location on an east-facing wall above the High Line, a relatively new park located on once-abandoned, elevated railroad tracks on Manhattan’s west side. By incorporating mirrors into Broken Bridge II, a new material for the artist, Anatsui is able to reflect and point out characteristics of New York that he considers iconic.

Having now produced three Exclusive videos featuring Anatsui, in addition to his Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, Art21 has thoroughly documented his exhibitions and evolving studio practice. In my opinion, we have been able to cover his work so comprehensively because Anatsui himself is very engaged with and curious about the process of documentary filmmaking.

When Art21 was unable to visit the artist’s studio in Nsukka, Nigeria, due to high travel costs, he took it upon himself to purchase a video camera and ask a friend to film him and his assistants at work. Anatsui consulted with our director of production, Nick Ravich, on what camera to purchase, and stayed in touch with our executive producer, Susan Sollins, about the best footage to capture. Although we have worked closely with all 100 artists featured in Art in the Twenty-First Century, having Anatsui this involved with the production process meant reconsidering the distinctions between filmmaker and subject while still being able to take our audience behind-the-scenes.

El Anatsui taking a photograph on his iPad of “Broken Bridge II” (2012) installed above the High Line in New York City. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Cinematography by Ian Forster.

Anatsui’s interest in filmmaking is, perhaps, because cameras are already such an integral part of his creative process. He explains in an earlier Exclusive episode: “For days, I can keep shifting [bottle caps] around, taking photographs of them, and putting them in the computer…I need to have a large bank of images, effects, textures that I can always refer to. They can trigger off new ideas.”

Anatsui further demonstrated the importance of picture taking for him during our filming at the High Line. As the artist oversaw installation, he was also constantly taking pictures with his iPad. “You have to let the work really sink into you so that you can review it and take certain decisions,” he said. Anatsui was making specific reference to his dissatisfaction with how the bottom edge of the artwork interacted with the concrete wall. “The decision about opening up the lower portion of the work came after studying the picture of it on the iPad. I saw it clearly as something that had to be attended to.”

El Anatsui taking a photograph of himself in the reflection of “Broken Bridge II” (2012) at his studio in Nsukka, Nigeria. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2013. Image courtesy El Anatsui.

What I’ve found most enjoyable about working with Anatsui is receiving his process images via email, the above picture being one of my favorites.

Broken Bridge II is on the High Line through September 2013. Today’s Exclusive, embedded below, features, in addition to Anatsui, High Line Art’s project manager Jordan Benke, and curator Cecilia Alemani discussing the installation process and how this work differs from Anatsui’s smaller sculptures.

Anatsui’s solo exhibition Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui opens today at the Brooklyn Museum. Many of the works on view appear in the ExclusiveEl Anatsui: Language & Symbols,” filmed at The Museum of Modern Art in Hayama, Japan.

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