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Steffanie Ling
Arjuna Neuman & Denise Ferreira da Silva at Or Gallery
October 10, 2018

Artist Arjuna Neuman and UBC prof Denise Ferreira da Silva were prompted by author and academic Stefano Harney to make “a film without time” and they replied with Serpent Rain. While Harney’s challenge may be a provocation to remove temporality from the medium (or to use the medium without invoking temporality), I think all parties knew this was not the project. Serpent Rain actually includes sustained shots of combustion, trees, and waves. There is a distinct rhythm to the editing and succession of sampled and original footage. There is a deeply satisfying, stern but focused score. Formally, time is heaped on. What has been excised is canonical time, which is to say, visible time (or a chronology of events). What we get is time descending upon us from all angles.

Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva, 4 Waters, 2018, video

The video, currently on view at Or Gallery in the exhibition 4 Waters – Deep Implicancy, begins with a statement on slave labour and a long take of a combustion tower. The visuals evoke the process of “forced” decomposition involved in natural resource extraction. This acceleration of the perishing of life is especially concentrated in distinct and racialized sections of society. The suggestion of timelessness charts a consideration of slave labour as primitive accumulation, that is outside of history. Raw materialism is part of the persona of the elements, which, when encountered by the rationality of capital accumulation, is rendered into information, that is within history, within time.

Sometimes, I wonder if these things can be said or shown more directly, simply, and without relying on audiences readily willing to unlock metaphorical wizardry. These interrogations of dominant time and narratives – dominant ANYTHING – are important to make visible, to be conveyed as possibilities. However, at this time, I don’t think they can be simplified without making things sound purely apocalyptic – which is to say, imprecise, yet didactic, an idea rushed to conclusion.

4 Waters is organized into four sections – air, water, earth, and fire – and presents embodied research conducted by Neuman in the Marshall Islands, Haiti, Lesvos, and Tiwi. He describes this research as “distilled” into a few images. Sampled imagery, aerial footage, and animations are focused by a full-bodied score and the voice of Ferreira da Silva among other oral testaments. This method of writing the intelligence of elements through image, sound, and voice weaves together the ways of seeing links between capital and human flow.

Both 4 Waters and Serpent Rain are works that emerged from an experiment in collaboration. Spending time with both videos, one can see how the former departs from the task of attempting to make a “film without time.” Through the interlocking of Neuman and Ferreira da Silva’s research practices and poetic thinking about visibility, the unadorned delivery of image, text, voice, and sound accentuate their collage strategy. In editing a range of high and poor images – aerial footage of land formations, sampled footage of lava, Tarkovsky, and military strikes – their collation evokes a spectrum of speed. In the primordial slowness of capital, which was baked into our future millions of years ago, and the hyperactive, human-driven resource extraction that offends geological time, I see the planet, and wherever capital touches the elements, it winces.

Denise Ferreira da Silva and Arjuna Neuman: 4 Waters — Deep Implicancy continues until November 3
Or Gallery:
The gallery is accessible.

Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.



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