(Im)material Worlds

Vapour (2015, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) & Meta Incognita: Missive II (2019, Alia Syed)

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PLEASE NOTE: Vapour by Apichatpong Weerasethakul will only be available to watch for one hour before and one hour after the live conversation on Saturday 5 February (11am-12pm & 1pm-2pm GMT)

Set in the near future, Meta Incognita: Missive II is built around the audio log of a renegade female captain of a ship smuggling an illegal commodity from the Artic to England via the North West Passage. Her journey is based on the exploits of the Elizabethan privateer turned explorer Martin Frobisher who, to make up for his failure to find the North West Passage, embarked on a further voyage to bring Elizabeth I back vast quantities of gold, only to discover that he had in fact brought back Iron Pyrite or ‘Fool’s Gold’.

The film consists of two shots, sunset and sunrise, filmed off the Essex coast at the mouth of the Thames, on a Public Right of Way called the Broomway, which was until the 1930s, the only way onto Foulness Island from the mainland. Recorded in real time, each 20-minute shot documents tidal currents, wind patterns and the setting and rising of the sun, within the backdrop of public information bulletins derived from the Twitter account of the international arms manufacturer QinetiQ who lease the land. 

The natural rhythms of the location serve as a nexus for observations in sound and writing bringing together the traces of wind, water, and light; stories excavated from strata of lands plundered, now gasping for respite. The film takes its name from Meta Incognita or ‘unknown limit’, a term coined by Elizabeth I of England in her drive to increase her empire. It is also the name given to a peninsula in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of North West Canada by Martin Frobisher when he claimed the land for The Crown.


Alia Syed was born in Swansea. She grew up in Glasgow and now lives and works between London and Glasgow. She is an experimental filmmaker whose work has been shown extensively in cinemas and galleries around the world. She is interested in storytelling, time and memory, and the juncture of personal realities which she explores through different subject positions in relation to culture, diaspora and location. Syed’s films have been shown at numerous institutions around the world including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Moscow Biennale; Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, the Sydney Biennale , Hayward Gallery, London, Tate Britain, London, Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, INIVA, London, The New Art Gallery in Walsall, and Tate Modern, London, WKV, Stuttgart and Yale Centre for British Art. Syed’s films have also been the subject of several solo exhibitions at Talwar Gallery in New York and New Delhi. Alia was the Artist in Focus at the Courtisane Festival in Belgium in 2019 and at Open City Documentary Festival in 2021. She was nominated for the Jarman Award in 2015 and a Paul Hamlyn Artist Award in 2020.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    54 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
    United Kingdom
  • Note
    Option 'Read Along' transcript available
  • Director
    Alia Syed