"There are mechanisms in place" an exhibition by Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
22 Aug 2018 - 15:00
PAMELA PHATSIMO SUNSTRUM
‘THERE ARE MECHANISMS IN PLACE.’
23 August 2018
My work is based in drawing and includes works on paper, installation, animation, and performance. I am interested in using my work to explore parallels between ancient cosmology and advanced theories in science. I find it fascinating that both our most ancient ancestors and the most futuristic scientists have always been asking the same questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How was the universe made? What is it made of? Of even greater interest to me are the constructs of power -- often politicised -- that have fuelled the quests to answer these questions.
The research I do in my studio yields an assemblage of: mythology, historical heroics, and speculations on the structure of the universe. I think of the figures in my work as time travelling, fantastical, alternate selves. The landscapes they traverse are simultaneously futuristic and prehistoric. As such, Time, History, Space, Place and Self-Hood – whether actual or invented – are all significant narrative and conceptual concerns.
Recently, I have begun to think more seriously about TIME as a constituent of identity as well. I am interested in how memory – an agent of Time – persists through ancestry, and across space. I discovered, for instance, that memory can persist beyond our bodies, and beyond our own lifetimes in DNA, in sub-atomic particles, in landforms, and maybe as the mysterious ‘Dark Matter’ of the universe.
Linking my interest in mythology and science is a subtle politic at work in my process of image making: I believe the act of imagining is a political action. More to the point, as a contemporary African artist, I believe the act of imagining and occupying yet-to-be-known futures is a particularly radical political action. I point here to Deleuze’s writings on ‘becoming’ in which he describes that a people oppressed is at its most powerful and most potent when it is in a state of ‘becoming’: that is, a fluid, yet-to-be-known form. As such, I often think of my work as diagrams, schemas, maps, beacons, and navigational devices that are invocations to a radical yet-to-be-known identity.
About the exhibition
In October 2015 South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education and Training gave a speech in response to student protests in which he stated: “It is a challenge, but I wouldn’t call it a crisis. A crisis implies that the situation is so bad that there are no mechanisms to deal with it. There are mechanisms in place.” I am interested in how this ominously delivered threat served to confirm that the historical mechanisms that were once in place to ‘deal with’ student uprising are indeed still ‘in place’ now.
The installations included in this exhibition are reflections on mechanisms of an entirely different sort that are also ‘in place.’ First featured as a component of the 2015 installation ‘BEACON’ as a 5-channel animation installation, ‘Homing device’ is composed here on 10-channels. The animations were created by making collages from 19th century photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge’s animal motion studies. The work includes audio by Kwelagobe Sekele who created the sound using samples of various sonar, radar, and other military tracking and communication technologies. At one level, ‘Homing device’ is a musing on the science of various phenomena of avian flight such as the murmurations of starlings, and the mysteriously accurate navigational abilities of homing pigeons. A more subtle reading, however, reveals a longing for one’s own ‘place’. Making reference to global positioning and navigation devices, ‘Homing device’ is meant to activate one’s own personal return to an ever shifting home-place.
POLYHEDRA is installed here as a 2-channel animation and includes original sound composition by Kwelagobe Sekele. The animation is a poetic cosmogony and personal interpretation of the mechanics that direct the order of things: stars, earth forms, the insides, the outsides, and the beyond-what-we-can-see. POLYHEDRA contains references to star mapping and the superimposition of mythological characters into the movements of celestial bodies through the sky. The animation also includes archival photographs and plates by 18th century volcano photographer, Tempest Anderson. The animation was partly born out of a study of 18th-century European philosophers’ preoccupation with ideas of the Sublime. I have reimagined those ideas here as a meditation on the scale of the universe and the geometric laws that govern all objects.
The works in this exhibition are a message in code. The code reveals the connection between the ability of a pigeon to always find its way back home; how even the most explosive of volcanic eruptions is the result of imperceptible infinitesimal subterranean shifts; and how our very place in the universe may itself be proof that we are each our own private 'mechanisms in place.'