Afterimage Vol 44, no. 5

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Reports

3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Sabrina DeTurk

With exhibitions spanning twelve venues and showing work by over one hundred regional and international artists, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is deservedly recognized as “the largest platform for visual arts engagement in Southeast Asia.” Artist Sudarshan Shetty curated the Biennale (his first curatorial project) and has sensitively and adroitly selected and positioned a compelling array of contemporary work across a wide variety of media, including painting, sculpture, video art, sound art, and performance art. According to Shetty, the Biennale—subtitled “Forming in the Pupil of an Eye—“is an assembly and layering of multiple realities” that offers the possibility for connections between the spaces of “immediate experience” and “multiple other consciousnesses.” This approach seems appropriate for the first and only biennial held in India, a country long associated with spiritual and meditative practices intended to facilitate such bridging of reality with higher consciousness.

Aspinwall House, a sprawling seafront compound that was originally the headquarters of a nineteenth-century English trading company, is the venue for the majority of the works in the Biennale and the location where most visitors will begin their experience of the event. A number of the artis ts represented at Aspinwall House have created works that respond to the site’s historical associations and its orientation toward the fishing and shipping harbors of Kochi. The placement of Camille Norment’s haptic sound installation Prime (2016) offers a particularly compelling example of this synergy. This deceptively simple piece consists of five wooden benches placed in a large, empty warehouse space with a view onto a pier jutting into the harbor. As visitors enter the room they are enveloped by a low, almost rumbling, chorus of voices—not singing, per se, but chanting and moaning, creating a sound that ebbs and flows like the water outside. When one sits on a bench, the experience of the work is completed as the voices’ vibrations are transmitted through one’s body, engaging the viewer physically with the hypnotic tones. The work becomes meditative, the viewer at one with the sound, the water, and the sensation.

Another work that engages the seafront location of Aspinwall House and its historical association with trade routes through both placement and content is Pedro Gómez-Egaña’s Aphelion (2016). This mixed-media installation is also placed in a room facing the harbor; yet rather than offering an immediate view of the water, as viewers enter and take their seats an attendant draws the curtains across the windows and turns out the lights, plunging the room into complete blackness. Slowly, a circular image is projected that morphs into sun and moon and appears and disappears in lapping waves. The soundtrack for the work speaks, in a low, rhythmic voice, of ships and water and sea. The voice intones, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes poetically (“salt waters, silt waters, mud waters”), and sometimes with references to warships and other vessels linked to both history and myth. Toward the end of the presentation, a roll of paper extending toward the audience begins to ripple and move. At the same time, the narrative compares the water to a snake, describing a connection between the waves of the sea and the wavelike movement of a snake, which is visually echoed b y the rippling paper. As the presentation ends, the doors are flung open and light fills the room.

Other installations at Aspinwall House are less connected to the particular location and history of the venue, but nonetheless reference mythology and landscape in ways that reflect the Biennale theme of connecting lived experience with other realities. Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s largescale sculpture and video ins tallation, River of Ideas (2016), draws on the river of Hades as well as the Ganges to reflect on the role of rivers as spaces of journey, of immersion, and of transition, to create an environment that encourages the viewer to move beyond physical experience and to connect that experience to abstract thoughts and reflections. Mazumdar’s work sprawls across a large gallery and features a raised, metal pathway that viewers take to progress through a corridor punctuated by groups of bright lights; the viewers’ path is in places dark and impenetrable, then suddenly brightens, much in the way a journey toward higher consciousness might be experienced.

At Pepper House, a short walk down the road from Aspinwall, Leighton Pierce presents Threshold of Affinity (2016), a video and sound installation that, like Mazumdar’s work, takes the viewer on a journey that is physical, visual, and aural. The work is installed in a long, narrow gallery and includes fourteen video monitors as well as twelve channels of audio. The videos project abstract images, sometimes geometric, sometimes biomorphic, that pull the viewer along the gallery space as one’s eye first catches one movement and then is captured by the next. Yet the inexorable pull of the images is punctuated by specific sounds produced through the use of hyperdirectional speakers that direct the soundtrack for certain videos at close range, so that they are audible only when standing next to that particular screen. Thus, the work alternates between ambient tone and focused audio, in some ways controlling the viewer’s physical path through and experience of the piece. The artist describes the pulse of these various elements as an “underlying temporal texture” that will “amplify or attenuate [a] sense of bodily time in the viewer as they move through the space guided by sound and image.” Thus, the relationship between this texture and the viewer’s movement through the space provokes reflection on ways in which temporality is manifested physically.

Although geographically removed from the main venues of the Biennale, Durbar Hall, located in the newer section of Kochi, rather than in Old Fort Kochi, offers an important installation by media art pioneer Gary Hill. Hill has installed thirty-two spy cameras in the gallery that capture and reflect images of viewers. However, these are not the clear, identifiable images desired by surveillance professionals but are refracted and contorted representations in which viewers struggle to recognize themselves. In this way, Hill encourages reflection on the ubiquity of surveillance equipment as well as the distortions of reality that can be afforded by its use. By positioning a Native American dream catcher in the center of the gallery, Hill may also be referencing the distortion of image and reality that so often accompanies a dream state, pulling his work firmly in line with the overarching Biennale investigation of modes of consciousness.

One of the important features of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is it s inclusion of a Students’ Biennale parallel to the main venues of the event. This component is not an afterthought but a clearly significant component of the overall Biennale program; young curators have assembled work from fifty-five art schools throughout India and created impressive installations in venues interspersed with the Biennale sites. A number of these students are producing media installations, perhaps a sign of future directions in India’s contemporary art scene. Roopa Kangovi, a student at the College of Fine Arts in Bangalore, presents Street Vendors (2016), an installation that combines documentary video with pen-and-ink sketches to trace the lives of some of India’s ubiquitous street vendors. The work offers a combination of black-and white close-up video of the vendors’ lined faces along with sketches whose fine pen work equally highlights the traces of time that mark these men. Old and new technologies complement and blend with one another to create a moving picture of the physical and inner geographies of the vendors’ lives. Nearby in the same gallery the visitor encounters Nostalgia (2016) by Avinash Maski, a student at the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts in Mysore. The installation is composed of spotlit rocking horses, empty but slowly rocking, and a video projection that both reflects the movement of the horses and shows a child playing with a ball. The child’s voice and laughter carry throughout the installation, evoking memories of childhood games with toys that have since been
replaced by technological gadgets.

In addition to the Students’ Biennale, the Kochi Biennale Foundation supports several additional outreach and education projects in conjunction with the Biennale exhibitions, and these will clearly become significant events in their own right and contribute to the development of a vibrant and sophisticated contemporary art culture in India. Thus the importance of the ongoing development and support of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale by local, regional, and international bodies lies not only in the production of a strong program of exhibitions by established artists, but also in the commitment to mentoring and educating future artists, curators, and audiences. In its third edition, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale appears to be well on its way to achieving these goals, and the outlook for future editions is strong.

SABRINA DETURK, PHD, is an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

13th Dubai International Film Festival

Hend F. Alawadhi

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) is an annual eight-day event that takes place at the Madinat Jumeirah Conference Centre in Dubai. Sponsored by a m yriad of loc al and r egional partners, the festival has consistently pledged to showcase cinema from the Arab world since its inception in 2004. This year DIFF presented 156 feature films, shorts, and documentaries from fifty-five countries, including seventythree premieres from the Middle East and North Africa region, twelve premieres from the Middle East, and nine premieres from the Gulf Cooperation Council region. DIFF also featured fifty-seven world and international premieres, with special programs such as Nordic Spotlight, a segment dedicated to films from Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway; Oscar Glory, which featured a selection of films that are official submissions to the Academy Awards; and Last Chance, dedicated to the late Abbas Kiarostami and Andrzej Wajda and featuring their respective films Take Me Home (2016) and Afterimage (2016), which were screened alongside Seyfolah Samadian’s documentary 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds
with Abbas Kiarostami (2016).

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Features and Essays

Mythology, Sex, and Cinema: A Conversation with Deborah Kampmeier

Emma Eden Ramos

While it has been nine years since her second feature film, Hounddog (2007), was released in theaters, filmmaker Deborah Kampmeier has been at the forefront of a movement to include more female directors in a male-dominated profession. With few exceptions, it has been difficult for women to penetrate the film world.

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Infrastructure Aesthetics and the Crisis of Migrancy

Nicholas Gamso

Two years ago, off the coast of the small Italian island of Lampedusa, 368 people drowned. Their boat, which was headed north from Libya, ran aground offshore, capsized, and sank. Among the drowned were migrants from Somalia, Ghana, Eritrea, and elsewhere, fleeing violence and poverty. One was a woman who, officials concluded, had given birth at the moment when the vessel turned onto its side, her infant child still attached by an umbilical cord when she was found. The child’s short life was ended—her body, with hundreds of others, caught beneath the upturned hull—before it had even begun.

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In Dream and Soil: A Conversation with Bea Nettles

Colin Edgington

Bea Nettles rose to prominence at the beginning of 1970 with her autobiographical mixed-media and photographic work. During that year she had a solo show at the George Eastman House (now the George Eastman Museum, or GEM) in Rochester, New York, and was also included in the seminal exhibition Photography into Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In 2014, the show was re-mounted at Hauser & Wirth in New York City as the retitled The Photographic Object, 1970 and was accompanied by a publication of the same name from the University of Arizona and the University of California Press. Nettles has been exhibiting her work for nearly fifty years and is included in the collections of MoMA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Canada; the Phillips Collection in Washington DC; the International Museum of Photography at the GEM; and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Her newest book, Dante Enters Hell (2016), has sold out and is in nine special collections libraries including those of Yale, Duke, and Northwestern universities. In 2016, her early work began to pop up around the country in various exhibitions including at the Met, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Portland Museum of Art.

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The Pregnant Avatar: Seeing Oneself in C-Sections, Surrogates, and Sonograms

Theadora Walsh

A quick Google search for “games for girls” yields a rather finite set of categories. There are cooking games, dress-up games, makeup games, shopping games, a few that feature household chores, childcare games, and pregnancy games. What exactly is a pregnancy game? How can the physical and emotional labor of forcing life into the world be conveyed as entertainment? Perhaps more pressingly, why does such a form of online engagement even exist?

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Exhibition Reviews

Basim Magdy: The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
December 10, 2016–March 19, 2017

Caitlin Swindell

What pervades Basim Magdy’s artistic practice and his first United States survey exhibition on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA) is an exploration of time, space, and the universe that addresses humanity’s collective failures and arguably imprudent aspirations. Magdy engages each of these broad themes through a nuanced use of language and a carefully constructed approach to layering and manipulating materials. As a result, his works allow for seemingly infinite possibilities of interpretation, much like the conceptions of utopia and science fiction that piqued his interest as a child. Magdy’s use of bright colors and pop art sensibility are realized through his representation of images of mass media popular culture including cars, structures, spaceships, and other technologies. These images, when paired with their pessimistic titles, demonstrate one of the ways in which Magdy critiques humanity’s simultaneous obsession with progress and avoidance in resolving or making sense of its own history. Titles such as Time Laughs Back at You Like a Sunken Ship and Every Decade Memory Poses as a Container Heavier than its Carrier exemplify Magdy’s poetic and humorous approach to complicating narratives for viewers.

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Power to the People: Photography and Video of Repression and Black Protest

Ryerson University
Toronto
January 18–April 9, 2017

Firoza Elavia

Power to the People: Photography and Video of Repression and Black Protest is a collection of one video and five photographic exhibits, currently showing at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) in copresentation with the Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue in Toronto. It brings together critical moments in the Civil Rights Movement, the Attica prisoners’ struggle for prison reform, and contemporary struggles from Black Lives Matter in the United States and Canada. Three photography exhibits (Birmingham, Alabama, 1963: Dawoud Bey/Black Star; Attica, USA 1971: Images and Sounds of a Rebellion; and No Justice, No Peace: From Ferguson to Toronto) present the contestations, confrontations, and interjections of ordinary citizens, and the incarcerated, against the institutionalization of state violence. The photographs are a powerful indictment against the contemporary liberal state that professes equality and justice to all: they point to an ongoing brutality leveraged against the bodies of (largely) black and Latino people. They point to key moments in North American history that strongly resonate with each other, effectively regenerating and recontextualizing critical moments in contemporary civil rights struggles.

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Miles Coolidge: Coal Seam redux

Peter Blum Gallery
New York City
December 16, 2016–February 4, 2017

Myrta Köhler

Huge, almost pitch-black squares are confronted with colorful miniature circular patterns—despite their contrasting appearance, both relate to the same substance. Photographic artist Miles Coolidge dedicated two cycles of work to coal and its implications for science and society, recently displayed at the Peter Blum Gallery in New York City.

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Book Review

Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein’s Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016

Edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein
University of Minnesota Press, 2016
579 pp./$122.00 (hb), $35.00 (sb), e-book

Daniel Worden

Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 is a sequel to the 2012 volume Debates in the Digital Humanities, and
like the digital culture that both books explore, critique, and model, the new edition is an update in the sense that it both brings to the fore new features and introduces new bugs. The new features cataloged in the 2016 volume
include a more rigorous focus on undergraduate pedagogy, something absent or secondary in earlier considerations of the digital humanities (DH) as a subfield for advanced academic professionals, and a dizzying array of the kinds of DH projects that have been developed over the past few years, from Matthew L. Jockers’s plot analysis program Syuzhet to the digital archive The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674–1913, to name just two that are invoked frequently in the volume. The book’s fifty essays detail the tensions and critiques that have accompanied DH’s rise as an institutional presence and field of specialization across many universities, libraries, and museums.

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Film Review

The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger

Directed by Bartek Dziadosz, Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth,
and Tilda Swinton
The Derek Jarman Lab/2015/90 min.

Janina Ciezadlo

“These four portraits are made by the same close group of colleagues in a series of different configurations,” explains one of the directors and collaborators, Tilda Swinton, about the film The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (2015). This emphasis on colleagues and collaboration implicitly challenges the individualism fostered by the corporate film world, following influential critic, essayist, and storyteller John Berger’s contention that seeing is relational. Swinton wrote the first portrait and directed the final; the others were directed by Bartek Dziadosz, director of a 2013 documentary on Polish-born British social theorist Zygmunt Bauman, The Trouble with Being Human These Days; Colin MacCabe, an academic known for his books on Jean-Luc Godard, who also produced Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (1986); and Christopher Roth, a German director and editor; in addition, the mat erials accompanying the DVD and website acknowledge more than a score of others. The film was produced by the Derek Jarman Lab at Birkbeck, University of London, which has an affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh.

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Media Received

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Portfolio: The Constant Resist

David Moriya

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