Projects produced in October 2021 while in residence at, and with the support of, the Kathmandu International Artist Residency (KIAR) at Space A.
compositions between experimental music and nonfiction soundscape composition
Dawn Koras is an album-length exploration and evocation of the Kathmandu soundscape, realized by compositing field recordings that I made throughout my month in residency there, with synthesizers, clarinet and voice, to create hybrid documentary-musical compositions. For my final exhibition, at Bikalpa Arts Center, I gave a live performance of part of the work, but also “installed” the album as a site-specific walking-and-listening experience using the Echoes.xyz platform. The album’s title is a pun on the nature recordist’s beloved dawn chorus of birdsong; the kora is a ritual circumambulation that’s an important part of the local Buddhist devotional practice. I also wrote a song called “Circumambulations” that opens and sets the program for the album, and which offers an autobiographical testament to the strange search for interesting sounds that continues to propel my own lifelong circumambulations. Stream the album here, or follow the link to Bandcamp, where you can read the liner notes.
In a world where the screen has become the ineluctable frame for the body, these sculptures instead imagine bodies as “frames” for the screen. Produced during my artist-in-residency at Space A in Kathmandu (Oct 2021) and clad in traditional Nepalese lokta paper, these were the first in my series of figural video sculptures (which I have since continued, in plaster and ceramic). Surrounded by representations of the seven chakras superimposed on bodies (an omnipresent image in Kathmandu, from ancient manuscripts to contemporary advertisements for sound healing), I made a major leap in my video practice by deploying the chroma and texture of the screenlight in my video pieces as something akin to the colored lights associated with the chakras. While at one level, this is meant as humourous critique (we’ve traded authentic sources of inner light for our screens), I also understand these works as seriously proposing and investigating the ways that screen technologies have varied and distinct effects on bodies. Moving beyond simplistic discourses of screen fatigue and screen addiction, how might we take screens more seriously as sources of light and energy — elemental forces that may prove helpful and healthful, or not?
In Nepal, I also produced and printed several digital image works, which were exhibited locally first at Bikalpa Arts Center, and subsequently in Nepal’s second city, Pokhara, as part of a group exhibition entitled Inside Out (Nov 15-30, 2021), at Zero Gallery, curated by Monique Romeiko.
Some of these images (entitled Stilled Soundscapes) flowed directly from the sound work that became Dawn Koras: my audio editing software’s attempts to “freeze” a moment of sound — which it does quite beautifully, though it intends only to create visuals useful for the sake of analysis — join in poetic audiovisuality with the space that I was attempting to render sonically.
Echoing a major theme in Dawn Koras, I became interested in visually reflecting on the clattering rub between Kathmandu’s noisy post-earthquake construction and the ongoing ritual practices and calm symmetries of its temples and other religious sites. In the image on the left, a thread of musical composition, inspired by these visual symmetries and created for Dawn Koras‘ fifth track, is pasted on top of the real-world architecture that inspired it. Dawn Koras is full of similar such superpositions of nonfictional Kathmandu with my abstracted and digital renderings of it. These diagramatic attempts to “still” and to visualize that soundworld, in turn, gave shape and clarity to the soundwork I was making at the same time.
Indeed, this whole still image project is in tight conversation with my time-based work. In a similar vein of “freezing” something temporal, I also produced a series of prints (the Stilled Motion series) from still frames extracted from the capture of my video art. Often, these were the same videos that I was “embedding” in the Screenbather sculptures (above). I came to understand that, while those videos have low-resolution by the standards of contemporary digital imaging, adjacent frames of video could be layered and offset (which increases detail and resolution), which meant that one still image could contain a succession of frames. Though the results don’t necessarily disclose it, this is a kind of riff on Muybridge’s famous images of horses in motion.
A bell, caught in the midst of ringing for several adjacent frames, suggests the possibility of fusing the concerns of the Stilled Soundscapes series with the process of the Stilled Motion series. And further delving into the ancient-future hyrbidities of the scaffolding-clad temples, I explored printing these intensely technologized images of ancient places on traditional handmade Nepali lokta paper.
Some of the particular quirks of Kathmandu’s modernity – the tangles of telephone wires in particular — became paradigmatic of the city’s energy for me, and imagining the signals coursing through them as an electronic din resonant with the signals in my video practice, I began to layer my video stills with photos of Kathmandu’s wires. I imagine these wires them as “energy channels” in the “subtle body” of the city (an urban superposition of the local argot and theory of yoga and the chakras) while, as in the videos inside my Screenbather sculptures, the contents of those energy flows are visualized by the chromatic glitches of my video art.
All of the work above (and more! including ceiling projection and various works on lokta paper) were exhibited at the end of my residency, at the Bikalpa Art Center:
Many of these works were subsequently included in my Screenbathing exhibition, and one Kathmandu collage (again, a superimposition with stills from my video art) was re-edited for the risograph printing method, and published in an edition of 25 by Stolen Prints/Zaratan in Lisbon, Portugal.