Initiator: Pro Helvetia Shanghai, Swiss Arts Council
Co-Organizers: Centre for Experimental Film (CEF); Fosun Foundation, Shanghai
Curator x Artist:
Yuan Fuca x Ursula Biemann
Wang Shuman x Uriel Orlow
Huang Wenlong x Maria Iorio & Raphaël Cuomo
Offline Screening and Talk:
Date: October 22 and October 24, 2021
Venue: Fosun Foundation, Shanghai
The videos include Chinese subtitles. Live interpretation will be provided for the post-screening discussions.
Date: October 25-December 23, 2021
Platform: Centre for Experimental Film (CEF)
Register to watch.
Our planet cannot speak, yet it responds to the behaviors of humankind in its own fashion. Amid the all-encompassing ecological crises of today, how can Nature rise and defend herself? What histories exist behind shifts in the herb trade or colonial medicine? How can images outside of the mainstream traverse space and time and re-enter our field of vision? Amid restrictions on international travel, offline screenings and online conversations have become new modes of intervention. We offer this opportunity to view recent notable works by renowned Swiss artists and go on a wrap-around video tour at the edge of the coast.
Pro Helvetia Shanghai and Centre for Experimental Film (CEF) commissioned three curators from China and gave them free rein to select their favorite Swiss artists and artworks for this exhibition built upon their personal research interests and curatorial sensibilities. While these featured artists have previously been shown in major biennials and other exhibitions around the world, this event organized by Pro Helvetia marks the first time they are being presented as a group to the Chinese public.
For this special exhibition of Swiss cinema, we offer both online and offline viewing experiences. On October 22 and 24, we are hosting a special program at the Fosun Foundation’s Cloud Screen through which we will draw closer to the constructed worlds of these three Swiss artists on the big screen. In-person audiences will have an opportunity to interact with the local curators and the Europe-based artists for a real-time, in-depth discussion about the works screened. Between October 25 and December 23, the twelve video works by the three artists will all be available through the “Curated Units” at Centre for Experimental Film’s online platform and Pro Helvetia Shanghai’s website. In addition, the curators will each publish a long-form essay about the films after a careful appraisal of the artists’ creative processes.
Date and Time: October 22, 2021, 4-6pm (offline), October 25-December 23, 2021 (online)
Thematic Section: Indigenous Scientist
Curator: Yuan Fuca
Artist: Ursula Biemann
- Acoustic Ocean, video essay, 18 minutes (2018)
- Forest Law, video essay, 32 minutes (2014)
- Deep Weather, video essay, 11 minutes (2013)
- Twenty One Percent, video essay, 18 minutes (2016)
(Excerpt) (Full version check the right-side tab)
When examining ecological issues, we often notice unsettling patterns. But in categorizing the relevant research, reading ecological indications of seasonal change, and so on, the final destination of scientific knowledge founded on the enlightenment model is ultimately journals and reports. Perhaps this is the crux of why it has been so difficult for us to achieve substantial changes in the face of ecological crisis.
This collection of video essays by Ursula Biemann looks at indigenous scientists as explorers and mediators who help us understand the Earth’s ecosystem. In the Amazon, the Arctic Circle, and other extreme environments where indigenous habitats are concentrated, the work of these scientists is like a cognitive performance that integrates ritual with activities in the field and the laboratory. These visual poems and sound works, at once poetic and political, explore topics such as acoustic and biological modes of expression at the bottom of the sea; the chemical composition of oxygen and the universe; and the overexploitation of fluids (petroleum) that exert unsustainable pressure on the climate and economically disadvantaged regions.
Date and Time: October 22, 2021, 6:30-8:30pm (offline), October 25-December 23, 2021 (online)
Section Theme: Lingering En Route
Curator: Wang Shuman
Artist: Uriel Orlow
- The Crown Against Mafavuke, single-channel HD video with sound, 18 minutes (2016)
- Muthi, single-channel HD video with sound, 17 minutes (2016-2017)
- Sugar and Rum, single-channel HD video with sound, 7 minutes (2021)
- VEILLEURS D’IMAGES (Image Guardians), two-channel HD video with sound, 13 minutes 30 seconds (2017)
(Excerpt) (Full version check the right-side tab)
In recent years, Uriel Orlow has carried out multidirectional and highly intensive research and produced creative work around the keywords of “plants” and “Africa”: from flower diplomacy to colonial nationalism, from the migration of plants to the naming of empires, from commercial biosurveys to capitalist biopiracy, from traditional herbs to alternative medicines. The colonial and postcolonial sites that historically existed—and still exist—in the land of South Africa are distilled into specific events and reference points. A matrix is gradually formed with four corners as pivots, leaving a hovering space in the center that I conceptualize as a transit area.
There are two layers of meaning in the idea of a transit area: an intermediate state and a place of conversion. The intermediate state points to Orlow’s creative identity as the mediator (alternatively understood as Other) and also attempts to describe the superficial homeostasis formed by his creative objects after being passively committed to different sites of power. For example, the traditional herb (muthi) markets of Durban, South Africa have long witnessed the multidirectional historical shifts in the role of colonial medical operations. Medical history professor Mark Harrison has pointed out that medical relations between European colonizer countries and their colonies were not simply a unidirectional flow. Modern European medicine was established through interactions with and assimilation of local knowledge in the colonies, with both sides in a more or less symbiotic relationship.
The notion of a place of conversion, on the other hand, elucidates the completion of a transition of power, as well as the association between specific places. These places are dispersed across the four works in this program: the reenactment of the race trials at the Palace of Justice in Praetoria (The Crown Against Mafavuke); a record of the evolution of colonial medicine in Durban’s herb market (Muthi); evocations of the slave trade in the former Free Zone of Basel (Sugar and Rum); and the hiring of prisoners to digitize the collections at Poissy Prison (VEILLEURS D’IMAGES [Image Guardians]). When these specific places and events in these vertical timelines are expanded horizontally, the historical testimony of the masses transforms into a diffuse cognitive experience and produces reverberations in this liminal state.
- Orlow’s series of works about “plants” and “Africa” includeTheatrum Botanicum (2015-2018), Wishing Trees (2018), Soil Affinities (2018-2020), and Learning From Artemisia (2019-2020).
- Mark Harrison, “Medicine in an Age of Commerce and Empire: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies, 1660–1830,” The British Society of the History of Science, vol. 45, no. 3, 2012, 443-450.
Date and Time: October 24, 2021, 4-6pm (offline), October 25-December 23, 2021 (online)
Section Theme: La Mémoire Brûle
Curator: Huang Wenlong
Artists: Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo
- Undead Voices, video with sound, 36 minutes (2019)
- Fabriques, HD video with sound, 13 minutes 15 seconds (2010)
- Sudeuropa, video with sound, 45 minutes (2005-2007) — online only
- Chronicles of That Time, video with sound, 75 minutes (2021) — online only
(Excerpt) (Full version check the right-side tab)
My interest in the works by artist duo Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo arose from the observation that contemporary artists are constantly looking for creative intervention points in history. They select, appropriate, and reshape historical narratives, and look upon present and future through lost and reconstituted narratives. These creative works do not trace the truth of history with serious rigor, but rather search for freedom and flexibility in the movement of turning. Born in the 1970s, Iorio and Cuomo are an artist duo of Swiss and Italian backgrounds. Undead Voices takes a damaged home video from the mid-1970s as its entry point. Women’s marches, damaged old records, ghostly a cappella, and ominous experimental music summon forth a peculiar space-time and historical imagery.
The title “La Mémoire Brûle” comes from French philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman. Memory is anything but cold and distant. The past touches and moves a person as tangibly as the heat of fire or skin. Mankind’s memory is deeply felt and searingly hot. Regarding the importance of memory to creativity, Didi-Huberman wrote, “We create the new not simply by forgetting the past, but by rethinking its genealogy in a way that can escape the conformity—the glaciation—of a memory that is no longer ‘living’.” because the reshaping and reproduction of memories are full of vitality. The work Undead Voices in this film series was exhibited at Berlin’s SAVVY Contemporary this September as part of the group show How to Find Meaning in Dead Time.
Ursula Biemann is an artist, author, and video essayist based in Zurich, Switzerland. Her artistic practice is strongly research-oriented and involves fieldwork in remote locations where she investigates climate change and the ecologies of oil and water.
Biemann had comprehensive solo exhibitions at the MAMAC in Nice, Broad Art Museum in Michigan, BAK Utrecht, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Bildmuseet Umea, Lentos Museum Linz and Helmhaus Zurich. Her video installations are exhibited worldwide in museums and at international art biennials in Liverpool, Sharjah, Shanghai, Sevilla, Taipei, Istanbul, Montreal, Venice and Sao Paulo.
Biemann has received the Prix Meret Oppenheim, the Swiss Grand Award for Art.
Uriel Orlow lives and works between London and Lisbon. His practice is research-based, process-oriented and multi-disciplinary including film, photography, drawing and sound. He is known for single-screen film works, lecture-performances and modular, multi-media installations that focus on specific locations and micro-histories and bring different image-regimes and narrative modes into correspondence. His work is concerned with residues of colonialism, spatial manifestations of memory, blind spots of representation and plants as political actors.
Orlow’s work has been presented in many international survey shows including 54th Venice Biennale (2011), Manifesta 9 and 12, Genk/Palermo (2012, 2018), Riboca 2 – Riga Biennial (2020), Taipei Biennial (2020), Lubumbashi Biennial (2019), 13th Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017), 7th Moscow Biennial (2017), EVA Biennial (2016, 2014), 8th Mercosul Biennial, Brazil (2011), Aichi Triennale (2013); and Bergen Assembly (2013) amongst others. Orlow’s work has also been shown widely in museums and galleries internationally including in London at Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Whitechapel Gallery, ICA and Gasworks; in Paris at Palais de Tokyo, Fondation Ricard, Maison Populaire, Bétonsalon; in Zurich at Kunsthaus, Les Complices, Helmhaus and Shedhalle; in Geneva at Centre d’Art Contemporain and Centre de la Photographie; as well as in Berlin, Ramallah, Marseille, Cairo, Alexandria, Istanbul, Mexico City, Dublin, San Sebastian, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere.
Maria Iorio & Raphaël Cuomo
Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo are an artist duo based in Geneva and Berlin. Favouring a collaborative praxis and long-term research, Iorio/Cuomo’s recent projects engage with past and present global mobilities and unfold the intertwined histories shaped by those movements of life, post-colonial encounters, migrating forms and sounds. Investigating the conditions under which hegemonic historical narratives are produced and can be challenged, their hybrid cinematic forms manifest unheard voices, diasporic collective experiences, resistant subjectivities.
Iorio/Cuomo have presented their work internationally in various exhibitions and film festivals in Berlin, Palermo, Athens, Cairo, Rome, Venice, Zürich, Brussels, Belgrade and Leipzig. Their last film Chronicles of that time was awarded the Special Jury Award (national competition) in 2021.
Yuan Fuca is the artistic director and curator at Macalline Art Center, Beijing. She has worked to prepare for the institution’s launch since 2019. Yuan Fuca has previously held positions at Independent Curator International in New York City, Spacetime C.C. (the New York studio of American sculptor Mark Di Suvero), and the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation. From 2016 to 2019, Yuan co-founded and managed Salt Projects, a non-profit art space that offered a site for action and exchange among young artists and practitioners. She is the founding editor of Heichi Magazine, the online bilingual publishing platform affiliated with Macalline Art Center. Her writing has been published on platforms such as Artforum, Artnews, BOMB, Flash Art, and Frieze.
Wang Shuman (b. 1993, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province) is currently based in Shanghai. She is the supervisor of the exhibition department at OCAT Shanghai, and a writer and curator working in the field of media art. Her recent research interests revolve around the tension between the self and the multiplicity of power, and the proxy rules run during the exercise of power.
Before entering into the art world, Huang Wenlong worked as software developer. She is an assistant curator at the Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum. She researched on Beijing-based choreographer Wen Hui’s practice. She worked as assistant curator in major research exhibition Waves and Echoes: A Process of Re-contemporization in Chinese Art Circa 1987 Revisited and Waves and Echoes: Postmodernism and the Global 1980s. She co-curated An Impulse to Turn, From Art to Yishu, From Yishu to Art, and curated Wang Huangsheng: Publishing Enables Thinking Out Loud.
The Centre for Experimental Film (CEF)
The Centre for Experimental Film (CEF) is a platform dedicated to art film screening and study, with an archive focusing on digital image research and documentation. Through the section Online Cinema, CEF programs art film and video screenings periodically, inviting professionals to curate screening series and documenting works in the digital archive. CEF collaborates with offline cinemas and has an active presence in regional and global film festivals, promoting a multichannel exchange on film and constructing a multicultural hub in experimental film study.
In addition, CEF is committed to supporting the production of artistic films and videos, including on-going projects such as “Future, Future – Young Artists’ Experimental Film Project” and “Film by Artist” programme.
Cloud Screen Project
‘Cloud Screen Project’ for Fosun Foundation will include original video works by exhibition artists, literary films and other related films and documentaries. ‘Cloud Screen Project’ will also soon launch thematic film festivals and actively seek to collaborate with organisations dedicated to the art of cinema in China and abroad.
Fosun Foundation Public Education Project
Public education projects are one of the four core areas of Fosun Foundation, including exhibition-related projects and parallel projects. Adhering to Fosun Foundation’s vision of promoting public attention, understanding and participation in global contemporary art, they are featured throughout the year in Fosun Foundation’s exhibitions, projects and activities.
Fosun Foundation’s public education project is open to members and audiences of all ages. It provides original planning and collaborative planning for four series of projects, including ‘Cloud Salon’ (lectures), ‘Cloud Screen’ (screenings), ‘Cloud Theater’ (performances) and ‘Cloud Workshop’ (workshops). The public education projects of Fosun Foundation also focuses on the field of public welfare and charity, combining with the charitable projects supported by Fosun Foundation, popularizing art education and realizing the goal of “educating people with culture and aesthetics”.
Yuan Fuca on Ursula Biemann
According to UNESCO’s program on Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS), indigenous knowledge is the understandings, skills, and philosophies developed by local communities with long histories and experiences of interaction with their natural surroundings.
Ursula Biemann’s early writings and experimental films took the form of monographs and mission reports that explored immigration, mobility, technology, and gender. Her book projects The Geography and Politics of Mobility and The Maghreb Connection, as well as her widely exhibited art and research project Sahara Chronicle, analyze the secret networks of migrants and their spatial mobilities. Beginning with her video work Black Sea Files (2005), she shifted focus to natural resources and the material environment in which we exist. Not long ago, she launched her long-term research project Becoming Earth (2012-2021) online. This ambitious project bears witness to the artist’s persistent, decade-long focus on the environment.
In the Becoming Earth series of video essays rooted in fieldwork and cognitive practices, we follow along on Biemann’s journey, from the now-bituminous plains of northern Canada and Bangladesh’s flooded lands to the dense primeval forests of Ecuador, the depths of the oceans, and the lands of the Sámi people in Norway. These ecosystems are like a series of visual specimens, which actively participate in existing feminist and ecological debates, yet also manifest the organic relationships between different ecosystems and those who reside within them.
In her video essay Forest Law (2014), the concept of land, its related histories and struggles, and resource industries have become important narrative protagonists and critical perspectives. Ecuador’s tropical rainforest, as a legal entity, engages in dialogue with us; this ecologically important virgin forest can no longer be viewed as a resource. On the one hand, we learn from the monologues given by indigenous people about the grave effects of large-scale exploitation on the Amazon region and its biodiversity and water resources. On the other hand, we must confront the fact that the lands that indigenous people have long inhabited are crucially important ecological regulators of the global climate. After several centuries of resource extraction, indigenous groups can only work through the law to protect their ecosystems and cosmologies.
At the same time, dynamic combinations of more-than-human and non-human actors and intermediaries are also given an important role in shaping the contemporary political landscape. In Acoustic Ocean (2018), a sound installation created in the Lofoten archipelago in Norway, a scientist and explorer who is a member of the indigenous Sámi people takes us to the northernmost coast. Through her acoustic and scientific instruments, we momentarily enter an interconnected marine communications system; this entirely interdependent and sensory ocean world is an interactive, dramatic dimension comprised of non-human organisms and different life forms, which transcend our general conscious and unconscious categories.
In dealing with ecological issues and important knowledge, Biemann does not adopt the familiar preachy tone of some environmentalists, nor does she surrender to the doomsday scenarios that are so popular at present. Instead, she activates understanding through specific durational, performative practices. In Twenty-One Percent (2016), a science fiction writer manipulates multiple minerals, forest fruits, liquids, and human foods in an oxygenic forest. This cooking performance brings us from the universe to the kitchen, reconstructing the entanglements that exist among the universe, the Earth, and our bodies. The performance connects the chemical elements produced in the cosmic events of supernovas and the fatal explosions of fixed stars with substances on Earth, which help us to revisit water, the basic element of human life and consciousness. Wearing a Bodytech suit, the performer is absorbed in extracting, distilling, filtering, decomposing, or soaking these substances, transforming them into different states of being. While resisting the exploitation of nature and the commodification of organisms, Twenty-One Percent offers us the possibility of regeneration.
In these journeys from known to unknown places, Biemann maintains the capacity to accept the risks of her revelations. In exposing the frictions between values systems, she also lays bare how climate change has spun out of control. In Deep Weather (2013), climate change is more clearly and painfully revealed before us: the tar sands of northern forests have been dug into and extracted by large machines and thousands of Bangladeshi men, women, and children spend their lives building flood prevention dikes against rising sea levels. When the time-sensitivity and extent of climate change is revealed, we may no longer be able to ignore this ongoing, irreversible danger and we must fundamentally reconsider the connection between humans and the Earth. In “Subatlantic: Science Poetry in Times of Global Warming,” Ursula Biemann wrote:
Artists, through small but quickly multiplying gestures, insert a whole range of other motivations and methodologies into the processes that are forcefully shaping the conditions on Earth. In the light of the powerful means and effects afforded by the industry, these efforts may seem irrelevantly small, but they are profoundly meaningful because such artistic research and gestures expose operative paradigms and, more importantly, consider models of thinking and acting with the material world that present alternatives to the economy- and technology-driven prescriptions.
 Lisa Hiwasaki, et al., “Process for Integrating Local and Indigenous Knowledge with Science for Hydro-Meteorological Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal and Small Island Communities,” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 10 (2014): 15-27.
 Ursula Biemann, “Subatlantic: Science Poetry in Times of Global Warming,” Thinking Under Turbulence: When Matter Thinks, accessed November 21, 2021, https://www.academia.edu/22465485/Subatlantic_Science_poetry_in_times_of_global_warming.
Biemann, Ursula.“Subatlantic: Science Poetry in Times of Global Warming.” Thinking Under Turbulence: When Matter Thinks. Accessed November 21, 2021, https://www.academia.edu/22465485/Subatlantic_Science_poetry_in_times_of_global_warming.
Hiwasaki, Lisa et al. “Process for Integrating Local and Indigenous Knowledge with Science for Hydro-Meteorological Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal and Small Island Communities.” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 10 (2014): 15-27.
Wang Shuman on Uriel Orlow
Lingering En Route
The first work of Uriel Orlow’s that I encountered was a dual narrative about Nelson Mandela (Apartheid) and birds of paradise (selective breeding) from his Theatrum Botanicum series. In recent years, Orlow has carried out multidirectional and highly intensive research and produced creative work around the keywords of “plants” and “Africa”: from flower diplomacy to colonial nationalism, from the migration of plants to the naming of empires, from commercial bio surveys to capitalist biopiracy, from traditional herbs to alternative medicines. The colonial and postcolonial sites that historically existed—and still exist—in the land of South Africa are distilled into specific events and reference points. A matrix is gradually formed with four corners as pivots, leaving a hovering space in the center that I conceptualize as a transit area.
There are two layers of meaning in the idea of a transit area: an intermediate state and a place of conversion. The intermediate state points to Orlow’s creative identity as a mediator (alternatively understood as Other) and also attempts to describe the superficial homeostasis formed by his creative objects after being passively committed to different sites of power. For example, the traditional herb (muthi) markets of Durban, South Africa have long witnessed multidirectional historical shifts in the role of colonial medical operations. Medical history professor Mark Harrison has pointed out that medical relations between European colonizer countries and their colonies were not simply a unidirectional flow. Modern European medicine was established through interactions with and assimilation of local knowledge in the colonies, situating both sides in a more or less symbiotic relationship.
The notion of a place of conversion, on the other hand, elucidates the completion of a transition of power, as well as the association between specific places. These places are dispersed across the four works in this program: the reenactment of the race trials at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria; a record of the evolution of colonial medicine in Durban’s herb market; evocations of the slave trade in the former Free Zone of Basel; and the hiring of prisoners to digitize the collections at Poissy Prison. When specific places and events from these vertical timelines are expanded horizontally, the historical testimony of the masses transforms into a diffuse cognitive experience and produces reverberations in this liminal state.
In her elaboration on the morphological logic of the term “transit area,” American anthropologist Mary Louise Pratt proposed that the contact zones of colonial contexts created imaginary spaces where the colonized simply existed in a space of passive contact, and ongoing relationships were formed only after encounters with people beyond their geography and ethnicity. The colonized were often subject to highly asymmetrical power dynamics in these relationships, from which emerged a complex autoethnography. According to Pratt, the self in this case no longer emphasized the subjectivity of the individual, but rather it was the exact opposite: the self became a heterogeneous construct of hybrid intellectual and moral values that was meant to fulfill the colonizer’s demands and regulations. The transit area distills the contact zone’s complex conception of transferral of power, as implicated in Orlow’s works The Crown Against Mafavuke and Muthi that both research the logic of historiography from the bottom-up history from below becoming an on-site restoration and illustration of the colonialist enterprise.
Through the examples of indigenous doctors, herb collectors, local vendors, and local markets, Orlow extends his thinking about the mechanisms, power, social class, and other macro aspects of modern medical practice. The Crown Against Mafavuke reenacts a trial against South African herbalist Mafavuke Ngcobo in 1940. In the film, the white prosecutor who leads the questioning of Mafavuke demands that he give a proper explanation regarding the sources of the medical ingredients he uses, his means of pharmaceutical extraction, his license for production and distribution, and his salespeople. But when Mafavuke tries to defend himself with a counterargument, the court responds by listing new accusations against him, the basis for which being that he did not operate entirely in accordance with the British Pharmacopoeia, and thus was deemed to have violated the law. The court, legal rights, and judgments of legality devolve into a comedy in Pretoria’s Palace of Justice—the same space where Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964—and depict the efficacy of convictions and impotent defense of the Apartheid era. As Mafavuke himself recounts, “They are telling me what I can and cannot do, where my tradition begins and where it must end..”
The Crown Against Mafavuke and Muthi both depict a movement from exterior to interior: going from the judicial chamber and pharmaceutical experiment towards the primeval forest where herbs are collected is a metaphor for moving from modern civilization to ancient tradition. For many centuries, “civilized man” viewed the shade of forests as an “obstruction to progress” because the forest blocked the symbolic light and order of the sun and stars in the sky. When mankind began to construct extraterritorial container ports and unfathomably huge central prisons, the sky as a symbol of enlightenment became a self-made paradox. Orlow’s latest work Sugar and Rum (2021) is part of the Terra Incognita project initiated by the Explorers Film Club. The cartographical term “terra incognita” first appeared in Ptolemy’s Geography and indicated territories that had not yet been drawn or recorded. In this contemporary project, the term is used to examine a former duty-free zone that nobody has entered for eighty years: Dreispitz.
Following a bottom-up creative logic, Orlow presents the caretaker of this territory, Mario Felix, as a clue that cuts across the double lines of space and time in this work. He evokes spatiotemporal memories of the local rum industry and the sugar smuggling trade by using augmented reality technology to place barrels of rum and old-fashioned sacks of sugar in real settings. The files and photographs on the computer desktop remind the viewer again of how rum and sugar were associated with slavery in earlier modes of triangular trade. The film ends with caretaker Mario’s reenactment of the lattice anecdote from the first half of the work: after the establishment of the Free Port of Basel in 1994, customs officers conducted a surprise inspection of the site and demanded that the lattices have a width of 5 cm in order to prevent people from using tubes to steal the rum in the cellars. This work first appeared in the Basel Art Fair, where the ideas of “regional borders,” “duty-free protection,” and “centers of power” were brought to life. In retrospect, the perspective of the drone patrolling terra incognita at the beginning of the film can be read in several ways: augmented reality technology merging with reality; a non-anthropocentric technological perspective squaring off with the inhumanity of colonialism; and the ethics of technology providing new mode on spectatorship.
VEILLEURS D’IMAGES (Image Guardians) is the only dual-channel work with no dialogue in this program and points the lens at a nearly sterile and dust-free collection operation room and the monotonous mechanical sounds of the digital archives, where Mr. Kostioukovsky’s stereoscopic image collection is being digitally restored and preserved. This work is entrusted to the inmates of the Poissy Prison, who have compensated four euros per hour in wages. Stereoscopy was a popular photographic method in the 19th century, mimicking the dual perspectives of the human eyes to attain a relatively realistic three-dimensional view. The interesting thing is whether two eyes actually see the same image or not. If the answer is no, how can the result of this synthesis be judged as “realistic”? This question can also apply to the narratives of the two personal diaries in the work, that of Mr. Kostioukovsky who took photos on a trip and that of the prisoner who organizes the photo collection. Do they see the same images or not? Thus the world of images and the world of immaterial representation are a River Styx for extraditing the guilty, who look for redemption in the gap between “imprisonment” and “elsewhere.”
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature was recently awarded to the Tanzanian-born, UK-based novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah. The Nobel Prize committee lauded him “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” For someone like Gurnah, who survived the Zanzibar Revolution and moved to England in the 1960s, his ethnic identity and written texts necessarily shine a light on one another. Originally I wanted to end this essay with a question: for artists and fellow viewers alike of a national, ethnic, or geopolitical otherness, how does one look back on, measure, or fill in the distance between histories of “elsewhere” and oneself? But now this question feels too general, a stereotypical discourse on identity politics. So I would like to flip it around and ask: does the relationship between the reader and the one who constructs the narrative exist in a place of solid faith or excessive expectation?
 Orlow’s Four series of works about “plants” and “Africa” include Theatrum Botanicum (2015-2018), Wishing Trees (2018), Soil Affinities (2018-2020), and Learning From Artemisia (2019-2020).
 Mark Harrison, “Medicine in an Age of Commerce and Empire: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies, 1660–1830,” The British Society of the History of Science, vol. 45, no. 3, 2012, 443-450.
 Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, London: Routledge, 2007, 6–10.
 Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Academic Discourse: Readings for Argument and Analysis,ed. Gail Stygall, Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 2000, 573-587.
 Dialogue from The Crown Against Mafavuke.
 Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 6.
 The Nobel Prize in Literature 2021, NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021, accessed on Wed. 13 October 2021, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2021/summary/.
Huang Wenlong on Maria Iorio & Raphaël Cuomo
It’s time to be listening
Room No. VIII of the Archaeological Museum in Sousse houses the world’s largest collection of Roman mosaics that date back to as early as the 2nd century BCE. The mosaics depict a multitude of marine life and hard-working fishermen in the Mediterranean Sea. Once known as Hadrumetum, Sousse was part of the Roman empire and an important port city on the Mediterranean Sea that used to connect laborers and commercial activities across continents. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Italians lived in Tunisia, most of whom came from the southern islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Then comes the question: how did the movement of people in the Mediterranean become a “migration problem” today? Is it a cultural division along the lines of religious differences? Is it modern states and welfare systems that mandate a clear boundary between us and them? Although there is no perfect explanation of the causes and present realities involved in these questions, Sudeuropa (2005-2007) and Chronicles of that Time (2005-2020/2021) raise an inevitable issue: humanity in contemporary politics.
(Still from Chronicles of That Time)
The artist duo Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo have long been concerned with population mobilities in the Mediterranean. After World War II, in the face of domestic labor shortage, countries like Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland took in large numbers of guestworkers from Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece, and other Mediterranean countries. In the 1990s, Italy became a destination or transit point for migrants from Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkan peninsula to Europe. During the same period, a stable alliance came into being between countries on the European continent, secured by the Schengen Agreement that abolished borders. Italy, for its part, began to impose increasingly stringent entry requirements on citizens of non-European countries in the Mediterranean. The emergence of undocumented immigrants signaled a change in the EU’s attitude toward non-European immigrants. As controversies arose regarding immigrant treatment and restrictions, “illegal immigrants” became a common term in the political discourse used by European governments and media. Since 2004, with the deployment of border patrols and surveillance systems, the EU has built a marine border on the Mediterranean. Undocumented migrants, who have drifted long at sea, are often arrested before they reach the other shore. They are held in temporary detention facilities by the Italian government or forcibly taken to Palermo, where they are transferred to the Tunisian consulate and repatriated en masse. During this period, there is no guarantee of their safety. Italian fishermen who provide assistance to the stowaways are also subject to imprisonment or confiscation of their property.
(Image from Google Maps)
Sudeuropa and Chronicle of that Time both feature narratives from the two kinds of migrants mentioned above: guestworkers who appear in restaurant kitchens, at hotel receptions, by the beach, and on airport aprons; undocumented migrants, from whom we only hear fragmented sentences. They cannot expose themselves easily to the camera, precisely the result of European immigration policies. They are excluded by fences, barbed wire, border lines, and, therefore, excluded from the general public’s view. Sudeuropa juxtaposes the tourism industry on Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, with undocumented immigrants eager to set foot on the island. Tourists and immigrants, welcomed and unwelcomed, present and invisible. Although the invisible cannot be seen, the camera applied metaphors: gigantic ships, yachts, junkyard piled with wrecked boats of the clandestines’. These vehicles symbolize the fate of undocumented immigrants: “The clandestines’ boats brought to the other end of the island, in the dump where they’re shredded. They make dust out of them. They then bring this dust by boat to a factory in the Northern Italy. With this dust they make furniture. They transform the boats into furniture — into bedrooms, and maybe one day I’ll find myself at home sitting on a boat transformed into a chair.”
The end of the 2007 film Sudeuropa presents a series of sound mixes. The dark frame shows an airstrip, with humming engine sounds mixed with music and motorcycle noises in the night market. As a plane takes off in the distance and becomes a bright white spot slowly ascending, only airport noises remain. As another plane slides onto the runway in the foreground, plane noises disappear from our ears, replaced by a man singing in Arabic. The camera gradually flows, dazzling lights become blurry. Suddenly, the melodic singing is interrupted by a shrill siren, and the scene turns completely black. The following soundscape, of a string of footsteps and voices from an interrogation, corresponds to detention centers where “illegal immigrants” are detained. The film ends abruptly, while most of these immigrants await a fate of deportation.
Chronicles of that Time (2021) also ends with a man singing in Arabic, but the song here is no longer just a cultural symbol that evokes imagination. The artists and the singer have entered into a dialogue: “The time between the moment when you share a song with us, and the time when we take it up after you, when we try to learn from your voice, still. The time to be listening…” The visual language here is a series of footages: a stone pavement with puddles reflecting the wings of seagulls; seagulls flying in the sky, sometimes out of view, sometimes back in sight; a harbor on the horizon enclosed by dense fences. Finally, we are brought back inside the car at the beginning of the film, where the singer hums before pausing to say, “I can’t remember that song… It’s a very haunting song…”
Chronicles of that Time is a re-creation of footages from the past. Some materials were used for earlier films. What about the materials that were never used? As a creative medium, video has limitations. For example, by today’s standards, footage shot a long time ago is not considered clear anymore. Films can also lead to image damages due to lack of proper care. Pixelated, damaged, or even blank images fade away, just like memories. Memories of time spent with the subject were then tucked away. More than a decade later, the two artists revisit these shelved images, unleashing a barrage of memories and emotions. Some vessels of memory, once neglected, now take on new imagery. It is difficult not to associate this film with Undead Voices (2019-2021), another work created by the artist duo around the same time. The latter uses a severely damaged personal video from the 1970s as an entry point, mixing feminist songs, images of protesting women, as well as scenes of female textile workers from the same period, culminating in wrath. Undead Voices compares the eroded amateur film to a corpse buried in cold storage by commercial cinema. Now, through new creators, it has been brought back to life.
(Still from Chronicles of that Time)
From Sudeuropa to Chronicles of that Time, the artists transcended their original perspective of criticism, and transformed from observers of the big picture to listeners of individuals. Their subjects are no longer a generic group, nor are the images an attempt to bring justice by judging. All their work is ultimately about “seeing.” Once, Abdelhamid taught Maria an Arabic song by the singer Umm Kulthum: “Sing for me, I will give you my eyes.” It’s time to be listening.