Streams, Torrents, and Waves brings together eleven video art works that speak to bodies in flow. Drawing on Arjun Appadurai’s notion of global flows, these videos examine bodies negotiating the various mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, ethnoscapes, and ideoscapes shaping each artist’s specific context. Narrative styles include experimental documentary, storytelling through performance, use of digital technologies to assert identities, and commentary on the shifting visibility of subjects. An engagement with varied migrations serves as a focal point for these currents.
Trade routes have historically defined and continue to connect both Africa and Asia to colonial geographies. Filmed on the shores of Lagos, Jude Anogwih’s passivity from passivus initiates a conversation about the relationship between nationally situated bodies and global economies. Anogwih captures impressionistic scenes that allude to opportunities for people and goods to intersect through trade. Along these lines Kuljit (Kooj) Chuhan’s Buy This is thematically focused on vital resources. Specifically Kooj deals with water, an invaluable vehicle through which people, labor and capital often move. Employing an array of experimental techniques, the result is a rich collage inundated with textual, audio, and visual information regarding the rapid commodification of working bodies and their deteriorating environments.
So-Jin Chun’s Treasure Hill Camouflage lightheartedly takes up the notion of assimilation through performances for video. Chun assumes various innocuous positions in the architectural and natural landscape of “Treasure Hill,” a heritage site in Taipei. In six short scenes the artist’s obscured body exposes the underlying correlation between culture, space, physicality, and belonging. Similarly, Ashim Halder Sagor utilizes his body in an endurance-based performance for video. In Desire, the artist submerges himself in the stream of a fresh pond until he swiftly surfaces for a breath. The repetition of this action abstracts the artists’ movement so that it effectively motions to a single site’s ability to trigger childhood memories.
Focusing on facial features, kinetic energy, and human sweat, Taiki Sakpisit’s short A Ripe Volcano presents mesmerizing portraits of Bangkok. Juxtaposing shots taken in the Royal Hotel (where military troops tortured protesters during ‘Black May’ in 1992) and Rajadamnern Stadium (a Muay Thai boxing arena built during WWII), Sakpisit infuses his film with an underlying sense of conflict. A Ripe Volcano culminates with images of instability that eventually erupt in disquieting images of mental, emotional, and physical distress. In Ink, Smriti Mehra and Matt Lee modestly gesture towards creative resistance. Filming a commercial lithographic printing press in Bangalore for outlawed B-movie posters, Mehra and Lee spotlight a simple act of defiance in the city’s underground distribution market. One after another, hand drawn lithographic film posters materialize. Opposition to existing laws is actively proclaimed, despite conservative state efforts to manage the cities’ visual landscape.
Nguyen Tan Hoang’s look_im_azn exposes the ambiguous racism prevalent in online cruising environments. An amusing assortment of screen-names and headless torsos provided by gay Asian men, allows Hoang to inflect spaces of virtual intimacy with the hostile nature of racialized pronouncements. Elisha Lim’s Coming Out continues to inspect broad stereotypes. Addressing the assumed conflict between religion and homosexuality, Lim draws a portrait of a single individual who we hear singing a prayer. Lim’s illustration provides a direct response to the invisibility of religious queers by making visible the faces of a silenced community.
Turning to landscapes of loss, an automated narrator in Shreyasi Kar’s City Beyond offers a fictional account of a once-prosperous civilization now submerged underwater. Using a handmade pinhole camera, Kar surveys abandoned shrines, structures, and machines in remote parts of the ocean. An eerie cyan-blue tint, achieved through cyanotype printing, augments the solemn mood. Ahmed Faizan Naveed’s Reality Dysfunctioned also uses ficton to consider the existence of passageways linked by water.
Returning to our starting point, a coastline, Pavitra Wickramasinghe’s Last Syllable of Time captures vigorous waves repeatedly crashing into Sri Lankan shores. A capsized ship soon takes up half of the frame, as the waves continue to crash onto the shore. Additional images of abandoned ships recall the country’s civil war, tsunamis, and other highly mediated images of ruin.
The images depicted in Streams, Torrents, and Waves share a familiarity with histories of colonial and imperial rule, gesturing to artists who find fuel in past and present horrors to create alternate readings of the personal, political and geographic spaces they choose to, or are forced to, inhabit. It is for this reason that an understanding of mobile populations and their dynamic struggles is vital in engaging these stories of existence, resistance, and survival.
Nahed Mansour is a Toronto-based artist that works in performance, installation, and video. Having completed her MFA at Concordia University, she is currently the Director of Mayworks Festival-Toronto.