Rima Sater & Laura Acosta at Forest City Gallery, London
By Kim Neudorf
“There is no pain that lasts a hundred years…or a body that can sustain it,” intones the narrator in Rima Sater and Laura Acosta’s collaborative audiovisual installation You Can’t Have Honey Without An Onion. Evoking the impossibility of this idealized body as a vessel for suffering, the work speaks of sedimentation, shedding that which erodes, and building a mode of healing that can move across time and into the future. The exhibition’s title, inspired by an old Middle Eastern proverb, draws from the artists’ own familiarity with cultural expectations of healing as perseverance and resilience. By combining pop therapy, retro video aesthetics, and futuristic time travel, the artists examine what it means to inherit trauma as an immigrant and foreigner (or “foreign body”) while practicing an awareness of how trauma, particularly as experienced intergenerationally by women in Latin and Arab cultures, shapes and frames one’s life.
Water permeates Sater and Acosta’s installation, immersing visitors in the texture of it through sound and visual effects. In the darkened gallery, a video is projected into a plexiglass tank. Half-filled with water, the tank’s translucent surfaces split the projection into tiers, twinning and distorting any direct view of a single screen. The video itself suggests further segmentation in allusions to measurement, searching through darkness, or ways to visually order the nebulousness of what remains through loss (“pain remains”) as well as what continues to move in and through the body. In an opening scene, a reclining figure in white flashes into view as if via a portal. This repeated digital effect of a window rimmed in bright blue is reminiscent of retro editing styles seen in old music videos, local TV commercials, or, more recently, the familiar online vibe of low-tech digital nostalgia. These overlays and transitions are charmingly clunky, earnest, and at times, even skittish, grasping and holding visibility lightly as faces, bodies, and figurative details are replaced by an abstract shimmer. The video rushes through light-dappled foliage, wide stretches of sand and water, and the intimate surfaces of rock and earth, expertly contrasting the vulnerable beauty of grainy visual effects with natural and physical decay (“our bodies perish as time relentlessly moves forward”) to imply that this reflective play of surfaces was never meant to last (“in its nonexistence”).
Light ripples across the leaves of a fiery-red bloom, evoking a snake-like pattern and rhythm. Pointed leaves appear as tongues and traps for insects. Portals provide access to time travel. Figures in futuristic or protective clothing seem both removed from their surroundings and temporary as entities. The narration connects time travel to the strength of stone and the endurance of pain “as far back as the Stone Age” or in real time through nostalgia. The romance of nostalgia becomes the focused, zoomed-in experience of longing, which the artists are careful to ground in experiences of displacement – “without ever having known another place.” Viewers are not only asked to think through how they long for what no longer is, but what methods of construction, control, and compulsion may have been learned through a lifetime practice of longing – longing that might mean a partial fiction is needed for its seductiveness to be sustained.
Cheerful tropical music is played throughout this line of thought as the travelers return, lounging and posing as if in ads for touristy beach and ocean splendor. Comparisons are made between this easy familiarity and the “cheap thrills” or endorphins (“the rush”) gained in the process of longing. “What if I enjoy this part?” A grid or trifecta of longing appears: “pain, sadness, sorrow.” The narrator suggests moving beyond this cycle of longing by looking for the pattern in “our emotional coding” or in what has been so deeply inherited, while being gentle and patient with an internal and external insistence on being a body that can endure “a pain that lasts a hundred years.”
This ritual of return – the visual and textual storyline going full circle – echoes the video’s surreal sequence of events which, while anchored by a loose sci-fi narrative of time travel, invites multiple viewings and readings. Hypnotically and comedically, the artists both invite and obscure narrative coherence by playing with musical and visual cues that slyly skewer broad audience expectations of relatability. Transformative and playfully intimate, Sater and Acosta’s evocations, poetic images, and sharply elusive thought experiments deliberately oscillate, reflecting what viewers bring to the work while deflecting easy, unearned access to narratives of trauma.
Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer based in London (ON). Their writing and paintings have appeared most recently at Embassy Cultural House, London, ON; Support project space, London, ON; McIntosh Gallery, London, ON; DNA Gallery, London, ON; Paul Petro, Toronto; Franz Kaka, Toronto; Forest City Gallery, London, ON; Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston; Evans Contemporary Gallery, Peterborough; and Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto.