Sekula beyond Sekula: Films by Salomé Lamas and Mikhail Karikis

Apr 21 2017
Scherzergasse 1A
1020 Vienna
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Salomé Lamas
Teatrum Orbis Terrarum, 2013. 23 minutes.

In civilisations that do not have boats, “dreams dry up, adventure gives way to spying and pirates are replaced by the police.” Theatrum Orbis Terrarum creates a territory where we can imagine another kind of geography, formed of chance and contingency, with sailors on land, and lands adrift.

The “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” (Theatre of the World) is considered to be the first modern atlas. Written by Abraham Ortelius and originally printed on May 20, 1570, it consisted of a collection of 70 maps. The concept of map as an imaginary and constantly evolving representation of space is at the origin of this extremely singular ‘adventure piece’ by Salomé Lamas, who seems to extend the ambiguously fictional nature of maps to museums and archives, seen as other “theatres” of representation. Although the filmic spaces Lamas creates are often no man’s lands or terra incognita, there is actually always somebody on this supposedly forbidden territories. Somebody who is not feeling safe, nor comfortable: somebody challenging the situation. From Encounters with Landscape (3X), to No Man’s Land, from The Tower to the most recent Eldorado XXI, the Portuguese artist clearly states her desire to explore the limits, being those of linear storytelling, chronological perspective, or documentary material itself. Often this challenge includes the artist’s own physical limits, revealing a process which is also at the core of several of Werner Herzog’s works: confronting hostile environments as the necessary conflicted condition for images to appear. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is no exception within her body of work, as viewers embark on a daring dialectical journey through the borders that separate sea from land, surface from depth, and define all sort of conventional temporality, while chronologically historicised objects become only elements of a subjective multi-layered storytelling. Lamas creates an elegantly controlled perceptive confusion, which carries the original DNA of the three channel installation, first presented at the Museu do Chiado (The Portuguese National Museum of Contemporary Art) in 2013. As viewers, we navigate through a mythological sea, a dark epic ride where the boundaries of knowledge expand, before realising we are caught in a clash of temporalities, floating in the ocean of memories and lost in the pleasure of deep sensorial fascinations. It’s almost unavoidable to fall for the magnetic mystery of the unknown and dive into the realms of research, which by definition implies unprecedented connections, overlapping and collisions. Birds announce the land and a new day. A new territory is conquered, temporarily defined; a new view is expanding our perception of the world. Exploration will write new lines in maps and new histories in memory. Actress Ana Moreira plays a character with the traits of a lost guide; coming from the fictional universes of Teresa Villaverde (Os Mutantes, Água e Sal, Transe) or Miguel Gomes (Tabu), she seems to suddenly find herself in a environment closer to Jean Rouch’s, speaking the language of Antonioni (“I can't look at the sea for long or I lose interest in what’s happening on land.”) and not really knowing her way around. She seems to be following the map of her memories, which leads to an intimate and mysterious bar, where she is the only customer. Representation and reality dissolve as she fades in the haze and echoes of the memory of a lost love; a memory which, on her own personal map, is located across the ocean, out of reach. Utopia. Like an anthropological alchemist, Salomé Lamas slowly prepares a smoking and bubbling magic potion, which causes historical vertigo and sensorial excitement at the same time, temporary disorientation and sudden clearness of vision.
(Paolo Moretti – La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival)

Mikhail Karikis
SeaWomen, 2012. 21 minutes.

SeaWomen is a video by Mikhail Karikis focusing on a fast vanishing community of elderly female sea workers living on the North Pacific island of Jeju – a jagged patch of black volcanic rock that belongs to South Korea and floats between Japan and China. The work was created over several months and during Karikis’s residency on the island, when he heard the unique sounds of a group of women called haenyeo (sea-women), now in their late 70s and 80s, who dive to great depths with no oxygen supply to find pearls and catch seafood. This ancient female profession became the dominant economic force on Jeju island in the 1970s, establishing a matriarchal system. Doing away with documentary conventions, SeaWomen depicts a day at work in the women’s lives in moving image combined with field sound recordings which focus the haenyeos’ sound subculture, including work songs and the extraordinary half-human-half-dolphin high-pitched whistling sounds produced as part of their breathing technique, a work craft which takes years to perfect, is transmitted from one generation of women to the next when they start learning to dive deep at the age of eight. The film witnesses the women’s insistence on sustainable eco-feminist work practices operating outside the trend of industrialisation, it observes the reversal of traditional gender roles, the women’s sense of community and egalitarianism, their collective economics, and their sense of professional identity, purpose, fun and independence in later age