Translation(s) III: Bodies in Transit
Curated by Zoran Poposki and Laurence Wood
Featuring works by: A4C (IT), Justin Ascott (UK), Damon Ayers & Tessie Word (US), Lynn Book (US), Jessica Ledwich (AU), Zoran Poposki (HK/MK), Chooc Ly Tan (FR/UK) and Tang Kwok-Hin (HK).
Translation(s) III: Bodies in Transit explores one of the most topical issues of contemporaneity: the traversing of borders. Migration, immigration, and refugees, people and cultures meeting, mixing, melding or clashing, forcing collectives and individuals to come face to face with difference or similarity, and to consider questions of our underlying common humanity.
This international video art project presents 8 artists’ perspectives of a world rapidly transforming into a global translation space by the physical movement of people, and the consequent mediation and negotiation to establish and understand new personal and collective cultures.
Working under a curatorial concept encouraging diverse explorations and interpretations of the theme, the artists featured in the project explore the theme of Bodies in Transit through video works employing varied strategies and interdisciplinary approaches, reimagining this flow of bodies across national and cultural barriers, as well as through more abstract interpretations of the mechanisms of embodied and performative translation lying at the heart of these processes.
Set to the sound of ceaseless traffic, in Camera Con Vista, echoing the title of E.M. Forster’s early 20th century novel A Room with a View, the artistic collective A4C/#ArtsForTheCommons offer a view from the liminal places in Rome reclaimed and repurposed to provide temporary housing for the refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean as well as the Roma seeking a place in the Eternal City, only to have their “extraterritorial zones” dismantled and their temporary abodes taken over by speculative real-estate capital. Exploring the liminal space between the “inside” and “outside” of these locations, the non-accessible non-space delineated by the uncrossable freeway (which paradoxically serves only to limit their movement), the video aims to reinterpret the (internal) border as a mechanism of signification and identity production, as well as of simultaneous erasure of the subjectivity and humanity of migrants.
Movement is also at the centre of Damon Ayers’ and Tessie Word’s video Intermodal Blues, this time the slow yet unstoppable rhythm of international freight shipping, the lifeline of the global economy. Set against the background of Hong Kong’s Victoria harbor, their slow and meditative series of long pans are interspersed with the tale of a (ghostlike) masked figure navigating the public spaces of “Asia’s world city” wearing t-shirts featuring a series of Enlgish/Chinese (mis)translations. The ebbs and flows of the globalized commodity chains embodied in the supranational flag-of-convenience container ships crisscrossing the oceans are juxtaposed with the limits of discourse and occasions of cultural miscommunication.
In Jessica Ledwich’s Once Upon a Time the World Wasn’t Brown, a reverse-melting clown-like face is set to the sound of the humorous musical suite Carnival of the Animals by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The bizarre setup coupled with the one-point objectivizing focus of the camera, not unlike a kids-program-gone-horribly-wrong, confronts the viewer with the need to decide how to engage with the subjectivity of the disfigured body and the (im)possibility to empathize with the pain of others.
The materiality of the gaze, fluctuating from sheer voyeuristic peep-hole glances aimed at random passers-by to CCTV surveillance videos to almost a natural-history-like close up inspection of the most mundane objects existing in the microcosm located behind a piece of outdoor advertising, in Justin Ascott’s Billboard Land invites us to focus on in-between spaces, third spaces located on the limits and edges of public space. These places of stillness and vegetation located in-between zones of perpetual movement (and representing the blank reverse of the advertising image of a car), located in an anywhere-landscape located out in the industrial hinterland, are suddenly transformed into a scene of underlying danger and a sense of an outsider lurking in. In Tang Kwok-hin’s Check In Check Out, the gaze is presented from the point of view of an inconspicuous piece of luggage, subjected to airport security procedures.
Laurence Wood’s Papa layers scenes shot in Sumatra of a raging river flooding with frames of fish in frantic movement, some filmed in infrared, immediately triggering references to classical painterly representations of the River Styx, the boundary between the realms of the living and the dead in ancient Greek mythology, as well as the contemporary media coverage of bodies huddled in rubber boats crossing the Mediterranean in the middle of the night with many of them perishing en route.
Lynn Book’s operatic performance art video Derangements (A Monster Study) is a voice-driven exploration of the state of non-binding and in-between being, through the mouth of the Chimera, the fire-breathing hybrid monster of ancient Greek mythology compounded of incongruous parts. The Chimera’s soliloquy questions her identity and perceived monstrosity by others, vacillating between the aggrandizing self-fascination with being “more more more” than just the one and the piercing self-doubt behind the question “Am I a monster?”.
A wildly entertaining hybrid structure positioned somewhere between a Dadaist manifesto and a screenplay for an underground Sci-Fi movie, Chooc Ly Tan’s New Materials in the Reading of the World set out to trace the emergence of the new movement Oubliism through films and other media, leading to proclamations like “Oubliism is the inconceivably vast expression of our cosmic time, the great rebellion of revolutionary movements”. Oubliism (from the French “to forget”), positioned on the border between the need to erase the old world and the undiscriminating embracing of everything new, as it turns out, is but a fictive construct of the artist and DJ Chooc Ly.
Zoran Poposki’s We Immigrants is a series of glitch/gif portraits of major figures in modern European cultural and intellectual history who have themselves been immigrants, including political philosopher Hannah Arendt, Anne Frank, the proto-abstract expressionist painter Arshile Gorky, the composers Bela Bartok and Frederic Chopin, structuralist anthropologist Claude Levy-Strauss, and the painter Marc Chagall, among many others. Framed by quotes from Arendt’s writings on immigrant/refugee identity, the subject matter of the piece is echoed in the very process of creation of the video, starting with hand-drawn works on paper that are then subjected to data bending, code erasure, and data moshing to produce a hybrid work.
Run time: 37 minutes.
ART STAYS International Festival of Contemporary Art in Ptuj, Slovenia, 7-15 July 2017.
Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester, UK, 27 July 2017.