God In Reverse online at the Richmond Art Gallery

By Yani Kong

“How to connect to people, to oneself, to the Earth, without feeling like shit?”

This phrase flashes on the screen in Tabita Rezaire’s work Premium Connect. I screen-capped it to save for myself because it so gestured towards a contemporary ennui – a culture now worn raw from racial violence, a global pandemic, and (don’t forget) the muscularity of late capitalism. Rezaire’s video is one of fifteen on view in God In Reverse, an online program curated by Mohammad Salemy and released in weekly screenings over the summer in advance of the titular exhibition at Richmond Art Gallery slated for 2021.

Tabita Rezaire, Premium Connect, 2017, video

Premium Connect, which screens later in August, gathers African divination systems, mycelium networks, and ancestral dialogue to explore a capacity to connect. The images swim almost, with a kind of comedic levity that peeks through colourful, purposely dated CGI graphics. Where do technological and spiritual worlds connect? And how may we link our own bodies to these networks? In the video, the character Morpheus from The Matrix appears as a floating head to define what is real: “What you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see … [are] electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Rezaire and Morpheus help to show us that our embodied experience is transformed through, maybe reduced to, information. To connect this information back to the body – and hopefully to the infinite, the spiritual, the Earth – the first step is to highlight the body among the flow of images and information mediated through experience.

Susan Schuppli’s offering to the collection is a short-form documentary from 2017 titled Material Witness that examines rough-shot camcorder footage of the ethnic conflict in Izbica Kosovo in 1999 and an execution video from northern Sri Lanka in 2009 that was recorded on a mobile phone. The fitness of this footage as evidence is debated in human rights trials and enquiries, showing deftly how traumatic real-time imagery is rinsed of affect to become information. Early in the film, Schuppli poetically problematizes the transformation of machine-made images to evidence, as if to ask what other forms can bear witness. Her narrator says, “a single tree can register an event,” but how may we hear it speak?

Susan Schuppli, Material Witness, 2017, video

Schuppli and Rezaire are among exciting company. God In Reverse offered screenings in June and early July from Manuel Correa, John Gerrard, Slavs and Tatars, and Patricia Reed. Turner Prize winner Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s 2017 video Rubber Coated Steel is beautifully curated among his contemporaries because it also explores the conflicting relationship between testimony and evidence, calling on the viewer to act as a juror for a trial that never happened. Flashing still images recall the civil contract of photography and the responsibility we hold in regarding images of human trauma. In the eyes of the viewer, the image can become more than simply information.

Salemy’s curatorial statement on the exhibition website begins with a quote from the Martinique philosopher Edouard Glissant, who envisions the cultivation of relational processes that cross bodies, places, and objects. The filmmakers of this screening program take up the materiality of information and repurpose it, almost like an incantation, to make palpable the vibration of process. In the weeks to come are works not only from Schuppli and Rezaire, but also Francis Ruyter, Zach Blas, Ali Ahadi, Giroux & Young, Andrea Taylor, Alphabet Collection, and The Otolith Group, whose video The Nucleus of the Great Union was commissioned for this exhibition and is not to be missed.

God In Reverse continues online until September 9.
For information on screenings and dates: https://www.godinreverse.com/schedule/

Yani Kong is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow of Contemporary Art at The School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. She is the managing editor of the Comparative Media Arts Journal, a freelance writer and critic, and an instructor and TA in Art History and Communication.