“How can public art work with, against and beyond the monumental? How can it scale up to address the monumentality of environmental extraction, the long reverberations of colonial violence, or the depths of ideological entrenchments?
Pansee Atta explores these questions in her video projection we only liberate ourselves by binding our liberations to those of one another, which visualizes the counter-monumental as an intervention upon a practice that has directly shaped local histories, politics and geographies in the National Capital Region: the containment of water – a legacy manifested most prominently in the Rideau Canal and Chaudière Falls.
Understanding containment of bodies – of water and persons – to be a foundational ordering logic of colonial expansion, Atta uses her video projection to create a space of excess, setting in motion a counter-flow of uncontainable, surging corporeality. Streams of animated bodies, ungovernable in their form and function, reject atomization to operate as a fundamentally interdependent swarm of subjectivities. Assembling perpetually, they scale up a rocky natural facade of Victoria Island, seemingly emerging out of the watery depths and interacting with the contours of their environment.
Rather than creating a discrete, contained video with a fixed duration, Atta’s compositional strategy is itself an uncontainable system, operating on a continuously running animation script that randomly generates streams of monstrous figures, each mutually aiding one another as they scale the height of the frame. As such, Atta’s work may be viewed indefinitely without encountering a single repetition – a formal irreducibility that exceeds the structural rigor of containment and its relations of enclosure. This is an unruly radiance, bound together by allyship, and borne of a shared struggle.”
PROJECTIONS In cartography, a projection is a transformation of the three-dimensional shape of the planet onto a two-dimensional surface. Mapped projections, by definition, distort the surface to some extent: some of the most accurate projections are less legible due to the lines of division and intersection, whereas some of the most recognizable projections (such as the Mercator projection) distort large portions of the globe by shrinking equatorial regions in comparison to northern landmasses. In psychological terms, projection refers to the impulse to see aspects of oneself — accurately or inaccurately — in others.
Between these two definitions of projection lay fertile grounds for considering the land through the lens of both the affective and the political. It underscores the impact of the epistemic violence of misrepresentation: the map becomes a way of understanding the non-Western world and racialized bodies, so that the ‘distorted’ map imposes just as real a set of political restrictions as the ‘accurate’ one. As a point of departure, this project seeks to ask: How do racialized bodies navigate both geographic and social space? How are bodies codified as ‘excessive’ through normative conceptualizations of space and geography? And how is belonging asserted and denied through interactions with the land and its signifiers? By intervening upon images of the map, the border, and the earth, this project seeks to visualize the tension between belonging and rejection, expressing the effects of that tension through the use of animated images that cycle indefinitely and interact variously with the surfaces upon which they are projected. Dislocation — physical, social, and psychic — is made manifest in its different forms through animated work that is tactile and visceral despite its intangibility.
Funding: I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the City of Ottawa, without which this project would not have been possible!
UNDOCUMENTED is a series of paintings of specific artifacts from the Victoria & Albert Museum collections, more specifically, objects whose records and provenance documentation are missing or incomplete. Displaced from various places of origin, these objects have been re-organized in Western institutions in ill-fitting categories without social & historical context. UNDOCUMENTED stylistically references the miniature painting traditions of the Middle East and South Asia to elevate and re-situate these artifacts in contemporary social contexts outside the museum.
The specific information that is lost or erased from museum records is relevant, too: it is rare for the makers of typically gendered forms of production (such as pottery or embroidery) to be remembered, so the ‘Maker: Unknown’ field becomes a memorial of sorts to under-recognized art forms and all their unrecognized creators.
These paintings are currently being shown in Shiraz Food Market as part of (Chinatown) Remixed, an annual Ottawa art festival that places local artists’ work in community spaces. Shiraz is a particularly rich site of meaning for these de-contextualized and re-contextualized objects. Among the tea, dates, and nuts, they become again what they were once meant to be: objects that enact spirituality through their use and creation, objects that enable meditative creation through practiced forms of making.
These paintings will be shown until October 16th (at the earliest) Shiraz Grocery is at 725 Somerset street W.
Created in conjunction with the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. Sneak peek here.
‘Earthenware’ is a a series of six short animations, each of which is inspired by a specific object in the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s collections and archives. This project, as with much of my previous work, considers questions of collection and colonization, ‘High Art’ versus ‘craft’, and the links between the objects and the places in which they are produced. The animations are shown in three pairs: in each pair, one is based on an object from the European collections, and one from the Muslim world (primarily from Egypt, my own place of national origin).
I think about all those who have been displaced, dislocated, re-located, and misplaced. I think about all the routes they took to get to where they went, and how they got there and found a place that was entirely different than the one the map suggested. I think about those who never got to where they were going, and those who never found a place to go.
I think about these things and it occurs to me that these routes are neural systems, electric pathways along which joy and agony can travel.
I think of these things, and I think of home.
One of the sites where the politics of inclusion/exclusion are felt most keenly is the border. It is there that all the intersections of race/class/gender/coloniality merge to a single, crucial instance, and through the omnipresent eye of surveillance, are reduced to a pass/fail system upon which survival can depend. To pass, the body must become undressed: you remove those articles of clothing that mark your difference, and regardless, mechanized scanners can see through them, right through your skin, your organs, down to your bones. This act of undressing reveals the ways that colonial systems mark racialized bodies with both fear and desire: they are necessary resources that carry a threat inside them, an excess that threatens to spill out at any moment.