Being Eaten While Eating

Julia Stoschek Collection, Stephanie Comilang und Simon Speiser, ›Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?‹, Videostill, Courtesy by the artists

In our series ›The Work‹ the Berlin Art Week team presents art works that attracted our attention. The selection is subjective—and with open criteria. This time, Margarete Rosenbohm writes on Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser’s ›Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?‹

Typically, talk about ›virtual reality‹ and ›big data‹ quickly conjures dystopian visions of the future, not to mention observations that sometimes (if things really go sideways) end with comments to the effect of »I swear, yesterday I was talking about milk, and now Instagram is showing me ads for milk«. Then again, whenever those same, possibilities-rich media find their way into the hands of individuals with a great trust in and understanding of the world and one other, entirely different scenarios come to mind.

And that is precisely what ›Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?‹ hopes to accomplish. The 28-minute blend of reportage and fictional narrative features interviews with activists including Kankwana Canelos and Rupay Gualinga of the Indigenous feminist collective CiberAmazonas, in addition to those with healer Alba Pavón of Las Martinas de Piedras Negras in Ecuador and Babaylan (shaman) Janet Dolera of the Philippines.

»Technology has a positive connotation here, where the focus has less to do with dystopian notions than with the various opportunities and benefits such innovations have to offer.«

The truly memorable images in this case are those showing members of the aforementioned activist collective, a group that embraces technology as a means of communication and uses it to educate audiences about the customs and traditions of various tribes. They trudge through the South American jungle equipped with the latest VR technology. Technology has a more positive connotation here, where the focus has less to do with dystopian notions than with the various opportunities and benefits such innovations have to offer. Shots of the activists are interspersed with those of nature. Looming over all is a seemingly omniscient, disembodied voice.

It is the voice of Piña, the pineapple, a fruit with symbolic power. The genderless entity—Piña is neither female nor male—can reproduce in various different ways and even ingests parts of the mouth’s mucous membrane when consumed. Which is to say no one can eat it without also being eaten by it. Although pineapple is not native to the Philippines and native to Ecuador, the two places share the fruit as an important agricultural product thanks to periods of violent Spanish colonialism in both countries. Its fibres are even woven into silk. That same material also finds its way into Comilang and Speiser’s larger overall work, which features wall-hung pineapple textile collages leading into the video installation.

»Fantasies of power and greed aside, the Internet of control—a long-feared spectre in the West—turns into a place of trust and knowledge exchange.«

The CiberAmazonas, healer Alba Pavón, and Babaylan Janet Dolora stand symbolically for resilience and for an alternative to the Western, capitalized world. Although the tools they use may have their origins in capitalism, they have been repurposed to such an extent that the output no longer has anything to do with market-driven society. Fantasies of power and greed aside, the Internet of control—a long-feared spectre in the West—turns into a place of trust and knowledge exchange.

VR goggles in the exhibition space allow visitors to immerse themselves in a different world of experience. The physical space itself appears ghostly and decayed, downright tattered. Emerging in the holes of its materiality is the emptiness of the virtual realm. And then Piña appears. Now they become visible—a person peering directly into the camera, and hence directly into the eyes of the visitor. Piña comes from a future where all that we know has been destroyed, giving rise to a new utopia. The settings slowly shift: in bed on a mobile phone; at a mirror putting on makeup; later in the water along a rocky coastline; in the jungle. Images slide from everyday situations into surreal, dream-like scenes of a nature where only Piña and one’s own self exist. The fact that you’re sitting in a video installation in the Julia Stoschek Collection—long forgotten.

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