Degree Critical, Spring 2020

Friday 09/04/2020

Screenshot of the "Points of Connection" (2020) webpage on West Space Offsite.

In the Air: On Points of Connection

by Zeny May D. Recidoro (Class of 2020)

Points of Connection is the second issue of Offsite, a digital platform for publishing artist-led content that functions alongside West Space Gallery based in the Kulin Nation (Melbourne), Australia. This issue presents video and literary works that explore intimacy, loneliness, politics, and art in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Offsite’s development was partly made possible by the City of Yarra, through its Covid-19 Quick Response Grant Program. The works in its current iteration were edited for Offsite by curator Andy Butler and explore these ideas in different contexts and in varying degrees of involvement and emotion. The binding thread among them is the consideration of distance and proximity, that though in this pandemic we are weathering the same storm, we navigate it with different boats and vessels.

There is so much happening on a macro level while our individual worlds are for the most part paused that one might say there is “something in the air.” Artist and poet Jazz Money, offers her poem “Through the Moon” (2020) to the issue and states:

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The passages above, taken from Money’s poem reveal to me that self-knowledge and self-care are a kind of privilege. The kind that comes from earning merit, that even if I were born in the wrong place, I found the right time and was able to speak to the right people. That privilege and ignorance speak volumes about myself and my place. So, with that, I desire to offer myself to these worlds that might not reach me and whose boundaries I might never push. For my presence to instead be given through my voice in the form of writing. “For each new desire, create new gods,” wrote Marcel Schwob in The Book of Monelle. To be given a god that resides in all things and transmutes them—stones and detritus and precious things; poems and steel and stolen things.

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Lesley-Anne Cao, Tender Machine, 2019, High Definition Video, Duration: 1min. 51 seconds. Courtesy of West Space Offsite, Australia.

I recently read Schwob’s book for pleasure and finished it. I can finish books now. Projects I had held off for months are finally taking shape. In the privacy of my home and an interior life shared with loved ones, I can speak with candid joy. I remember things both painful and lovely, memories that have been buried in the noise of time passing. Space has opened for me to tend to my wounds. Where there is an immense loss, I begin to feel like myself again. What do I desire for the broader world—or worlds? There are tragedies I cannot comprehend, voices that will never reach my ears, and terror that will not touch me.

Then there comes the presence of a thing that exists before our eyes, but not elsewhere. A thing such as a glove made of obsolete holed Philippine five centavo coins, which appears in Lesley-Anne Cao’s video Tender Machine (2019). The holed coins in Tender Machine are five centavo coins from the Philippines, the only ones I ever saw in circulation while growing up (there are I-ching coins too, which also have holes and are used as talismans for good luck or in fortune-telling, not as currency, as far as I know). The coins were once used to make improvised tambourines for Christmas caroling. Children used these instruments to their advantage, capitalizing on the capitalistic holiday to beg for money from strangers. I imagine they have since moved on to other instruments or other forms of begging, since the centavo is now obsolete. The sound of the improvised musical instrument has disappeared and now exists only in memory. Phantom rhythms for uncertain times.

The coin glove fits nobody, writes Cao in the accompanying text, “Nothing to Time.” The last thirty seconds of her video show the glove attached by a red string to a hand raised to the sky, under a full moon. I used to think—though I’m sure I’m not alone—that the moon could be a hole, and a portal to other worlds. A gateway, a space where a concept of self can be re-imagined.

In isolation, people have become completely engaged with the internet, another kind of portal to a space of reimagination of oneself. It is where we come to interact with friends and family now that social distancing and self-isolation are the norms. It comes into our private spaces through working and shopping from home. The internet becomes the domain where routines and “real life” now happen, whether that means working, shopping, or even sometimes, having sex. James Nguyen’s four-minute video Porniniso (2020) captures this experience in isolation with a stream of opening sequences and soundtracks from pornographic films. The soundtracks, mostly composed of electronic dance music, are upbeat but also underline loneliness and a degree of unrealness. I say unrealness because electronic music, as opposed to acoustic music, produces sounds or rhythms that do not exist in the real world. Synthesizers, a major component of electronic music for instance, produce sounds or music by using mathematical functions—waves (sine, sawtooth, square), filters, or envelopes. In Porniniso, that unrealness is amplified: the chiseled, perfect bodies of the actors are too perfect. Experiencing sex, which is already conflated with intimacy, paradoxically becomes detached when experienced on the internet, and in turn, sometimes intensifies feelings of loneliness and the need for physical touch.

Directly addressing the life of an artist during a pandemic, Camila Galaz’s Studio Vlog (2020) ruminates on work and productivity as an avatar in Nintendo’s hit social simulation game, Animal Crossing. The eighteen-minute video presents Galaz’s daily life as an artist, but also as a person living through the pandemic. Using her avatar in Animal Crossing encapsulates her experience in a virtual space. In two instances, Galaz mentions West Space as a sponsor of her video and provides a coupon code, as any professional YouTuber would do. Galaz is candid in her ruminations, at some point telling her audience that she did not do any work all day but instead slept in and watched reality TV shows—something that I, as one of her viewers, could empathize and relate with. Sometimes, we lose control of our day (or week or month—the entire year 2020). In a time where everything is uncertain, Studio Vlog not only tracks the daily life of an artist but also, by extension, follows our changing attitudes towards space since the onset of the pandemic. It puts into question what we can control within our own private spaces, especially the personal space we designate around our bodies. Now, when we move outside of the simulated spaces on the internet, such as Points of Connection, we are asked to social distance, wear masks, and, if possible, avoid going outside. So, this period in time asks for bodies to be controlled while everything else collapses or becomes subject to a deluge of compounded societal fractures.

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Nikki Lam, 3:20, 2020, Lo-res video for mobile, Duration: 1 minute, video still. Courtesy of West Space Offsite, Australia.

Nikki Lam’s 3:20 (2020), a one-minute vertical video edited on a camera phone reflects on uncannily similar historical events taking place 17 years apart. She examines Hong Kong in 2003, the time of the SARS pandemic and massive pro-democracy protests that followed the 1997 hand-over from Great Britain to China, alongside the city’s situation in 2020, with its present Covid-19 crisis and China’s enactment of the Security Law to assert its control over Hong Kong. Both years are marked by plague and political unrest, Lam notes in text accompanying her video. The screen is split alternately into two or three channels, suggesting time leaps, and glitches blurring the difference between footage from one year or the other. In one channel, we see footage of people in hazmat suits and a woman in front of a desktop touching her mask. In another, three-way channel, we see footage simultaneously showing nurses, a security camera, and a protest. These footages could as easily belong to 2003 as they could to 2020. We lose sight of time and space while simultaneously feeling on our faces the boot George Orwell wrote about in 1984, a dystopian novel he wrote in 1949. 3:20 puts in question the certainty we place on historical events, especially those in recent memory. Pandemics will happen again, but have we progressed enough as a civilization to be able to combat and contain them? Lam’s video suggests that the reality of navigating both a pandemic and political unrest is terrifying and murky.

An old and outdated concept of illness, miasma, proffered that diseases were caused by fumes emanating from rotting matter, poisoning the air also known as Night Air. On the other hand, exposing things to the wind—wounds, a soaked pillow, bones—could dry and purify. The works in Points of Connection also makes those points of contention, living through a period of intense changes amplifies one perspective and dims another, and there are issues, both personal and societal, that one can no longer deny or shrug off. I wrote about the wind and what images it would make. I like the wind; I like the idea of becoming the wind. I like the idea of being in constant flight to circle the world. To not be limited by borders yet be able to occupy spaces if only to make caves howl, rattle little rocks, make treetops sing in a storm, and shape canyons. I like that, in the semiotics of magic and the occult, the wind, or the element of air, presides over ideas and communication. When we engage in a dialogue, whether that be in person or through the computer screen, there is air between us. And in air, in the wind, is an intimate distance. May our voices be guided by the light and ride upon the winds of change.

 


 

Points of Connection, Issue 2, edited by Andy Butler, is available to view at West Space Offsite Australia

 

Zeny May D. Recidoro (Class of 2020) was born and raised in the Philippines. She is an Asian Cultural Council fellow.