Photo London | XING & Sriwhana Spong in conversation: Transcript

Photo London, August 3, 2020

EGL: So yeah you know I briefly introduced your practice, and I was wondering if you could expand a little bit about the semantics that your work deals with.

 

SS: So, I guess like very broadly. I work across the different mediums, and I'm interested in language, the way it writes the body. I'm interested in how to approach the subjects of my films in a way that I guess, sticks to kind of not name up or down but to keep the subjects elusive. I'm very inspired by the texts of mediaeval mystic woman, and the style of writing and using that as methods to making films.

 

EGL: Speaking your practice ranges from a wide spectrum of mediums, wondering like what is your approach when working across this boat.

 

SS: When I started making films so I studied the School of Fine Arts in New Zealand and this department, called the intermediate apartment, which is a really very it was performance, sound, and it was like very collaborative, and we will make costumes and we would all work together and it was very disciplined, very experimental and I think that that's really been the bedrock of my practice.

 

So I really like film, it's really, this diverse kind of medium that I feel most comfortable with. But then I'm also really curious about form and dance.

 

EGL: You have a dance background as well?

 

SS: Yeah, So, that's kind of something I think about in terms of a colonising structure on my body as well. I did ballet for like seven or eight years and I feel like it's resonance my body, this discipline and it's a form that came from French sword fighting, because they had been both so really wise. So it's kind of interesting coordination that has come from warfare. That is, that has affected my skeletal system and muscles and that comes into work.

 

EGL: Jade has some questions on having seen snake which is currently live XING.com

 

JB: Maybe before delving into having seen snake in more detail, really SS  if you could speak about, you know, your experiment with moving image, you just mentioned how and when you started exploring this side of your practice. If you could share a bit about how this side of your practice developed and what role does it have within your practice at large?

 

SS: I started off making with different technologies, I started with digital and then I learned super eight film. My first films were super eight film. I used super eight filmed because I wanted it to look like old tourist footage from Bali. In these words were very much about growing up estranged from my Indonesian heritage. Growing up in New Zealand, and a white family. For these works, I made forms in my parents backyard and that were based on everyday Balinese offerings and then I would film them on the super eight films so it gives them a sense you didn't quite know where they're from or what time they were from and the whole. The idea was I was these forms were forms that in their displacement had lost a function so they were no longer shrines but they were sculptural forms and I was also at the time thinking about what you know what I'm having grown up, but estranged from this heritage, what I'm allowed, what is mine, what I can play with what I can’t and these are things I'm still trying to work out.  A lot of my work has is this kind of approach to something very gently and carefully.

 

Then, I played with digital and now my films I think inspired by these mystic texts I've been looking at. My latest films use both like 16 mil iPhone footage HD video. Having seen snake is 16 mil.

 

The latest work in order to bring this kind of different temporalities and textures, onto the one timeline and working with different methods of filming creates a different approach to filming within the one project. For example, my latest film Castle Christo I used iPhone footage, where you know film something really quickly, so it has this kind of spontaneity to it and your bodies attached to it. I also had 16 Mills so they're involved in a much longer planning and slightly bigger production values, and then I did a performance which I filmed on digital a digital SLR. Each of those technologies bring a different kind of quality, and also allow me to be in the world in a different way, when I'm making the piece, so I'm kind of looking at what's around me what I can film with my iPhone but I'm also back my head slowly thinking through these longer shots. So it's a kind of like mediaeval mystic, they have this texture that both spontaneous and a static and then contemplated in both kind of emotions or feelings, which I think, create this thematic quality of these texts, a prison and the writing and it's something that I'm trying to bring into my film in my own writing and my life.

 

JB: Now we can speak a bit about having seen snake which is the film that we're currently showing on XING.com as part of the screening Nameless , so it’s a film from 2016 on 16 millimetre and I wonder if you could speak about this, having seen snake and, and maybe what is the film? 

 

SS: Yes, well I made this film in Pittsburgh in 2016 and it was just when I was making it I met such amazing people there, and it spread Lynn did the camera work and Ricardo and Marine did the sound. It stemmed from a residency I went there for. On the second day I went for a really long walk through the city and I ended up in the elegant graveyard  and I had this really insane experience, where I was just kind of wandering around and then, I mean, even it's just like really, it feels really ridiculous to put into words you know it's like, and as soon as you do try and put it into words. It just sounds really kind of stupid but, so I was kind of standing there, and then looking at these grave stones, and then all of a sudden it was like my vision and my body went (click) and everything went white, almost like I guess you would say like seeing everything all at once, a kind of blindness seeing thing every thing all at once. There is actually this mystic term it's kind of like sees nothing and sees everything, it was almost like aperture’s of a camera like opening wide up and then sound also kind of became like very pronounced but almost kind of like hearing every single one so it almost kind of seems sort of like being this very open body but at the same time as they say this I feel like I'm embellishing what actually happened so it's very difficult, and  I’m so removed from it now but I guess, lasted like a couple of seconds 10 seconds or something, and then it was like visions like came back, and then it was like words came back and I looked down and there was a snake, and then kind of backed away. Looking at it later I actually took some photos so it was like a photo, just before I saw a snake photo of the snake and it's like 43 seconds. So I walked back to the residency you know it's It was crazy like what was that? I think maybe like a jetlag, dehydrator and then thought this could be a cool thing to make work about and then I was like, but I don't even know what it was But it really felt like this, I really felt like, I, I was for a moment I was outside of language or no longer in language and then what I was interested in as soon as I stopped making distinctions, like snake me and me; essentially fear. Insert so I was kind of interested in this relationship I guess to fear in language and otherness. When I got back to the residency place and I think I was trolling, Facebook, when I used to have a Facebook, and someone had posted this George Sanders interview a white review interview and I was reading it. In it he talks about having seen a snake, and the energy it create’s and he names that having seen snake energy and it's a beautiful. 

 

I'm really obsessed with hyphens or joining words by hyphens. So a lot of my titles join two things together with a hyphen and he is hyphenate having hyphens thing having a hyphen snake, which also looks like his kind of looks like a snake. Anyway, I was like, so they all know he knows what it's like. Yes, I mean, so having seen a snake is about this experience and it's to these three sections.

 

The first section is a more kind of surreal, surreal poetic moment imagining or have kind of my body in nature and this kind poetic expression of what it felt like. And then there's a middle tab which is [still here] and this where I painted the film. So that's painted 16mm film This is very well known New Zealand, out artist, who made a lot of scratch films that you encounter so much in New Zealand history. By painting the film I wanted the film to actually become the image, not to record it but become an image. And then the third part is, like really serendipitous. Some work is so hard to make, and then some of the switches came so easily.

 

I was put in touch with Jose Pattillo who's a cryptologist who was at the time in the studio he was at the county again interesting. and so each of us as asked him about what he did, his job and etc. Such an incredibly nice and generous human being, and so he was. And then on his desk there was this jar with a snake in it, and so I asked him about it and he was like, Oh, I just discovered this snake, it doesn't have a name yet. I'm in the process of naming it.

 

So he goes to the Amazon twice a year to kind of find species. He explains it as a political thing because the more species you can find in the area. The greater chance you have of protecting that area. But what I was really interested in was this thing [snake] didn't have a name, like it hadn't been pulled intellect into culture, yet and this kind of crazy nameless entity I found really fascinating. So then, so I wanted something that was a very kind of different in terms of genres, so the second part of the film is an interview with Jose and it records the site where he works and the alcohol house and mechanic.

 

JD: Yeah, thank you explaining the three parts, because I feel like they all have a very different language and something that is quite striking I felt was the this kind of beginning, maybe the two first part, or it's almost like it increases, and so the beginning is very kind of evocative abstract, the snake is never really mentioned, there's no image it's not represented. But there is this soundscape that which is really striking and, and I wonder if you could actually speak about your thinking behind the sound in the piece and your collaboration with Ricardo.

 

SS: So, the first part, I wanted it to be the sounds to be very natural, but quite.

From memory can be Ricardo went quite watery like this a lot of water and I wanted it just to be like very kind of like sound recordings taken from, from nature, from where we filmed which was an old like water mill.

 

In the second part I wanted it's kind of moved into this kind of sound that was kind of hisses, and she and I think about open vowels and close consonants, so it is like hisses, and in this like, I think was like claps to like close so it's kind of open and closing and then we for this section, we recorded me playing the snake scales, little scales on out there. Then, the third part is just very simple Jose speaking. So there are three very clear kind of things but yeah, I think the middle section was about kind of sounds becoming language so I think it's been a while for my friend kind of his thing and the things she says yeah.

 

JD: I wanted to speak about the text that you wrote for for Nameless, you wrote this text a month ago, kind of revisiting this experience of having- seen –snake and making the film. I wonder if you could speak about this expirinece and this through language because a lot of it is the idea of being outside of language or head of languages, as you say. And so, you know, the film in its own ways, and approach to this experience of having-seen-snake. Could speak about, you know, the text and, and its role in approaching experience.

 

SS: It was an effort to try and pull the experience into language, because I've kind of learned, you know, talking about this work I've learned, you know, like you're an artist and you have a practice and you have to stand by this kind of really amorphous like thing into like two sentences or something. I've now compressed it down to two sentences.So it was it was really good excuse to go back to this  and try and think how to put it in words and also my interest in aesthetics it's almost doing the same thing, they're trying to put words to that isn't that is life will the ineffable and the reality system it was God with the death of God, it's something else so they're trying to put words around us kind of this is Nestle this life saying that it's like a total mystery. And this style comes from this the team's almost this like really like hope But it's an attempt made from love. 

 

I tried to write about this experience, I still think about this experience so much that I think I'll just keep approaching it for a very long time or something.

 

JD: I can Yeah, for anyone who wants to read it, it's also on the website and and I want to share, do you want to read a segment of it? 

 

SS: ‘Colour suddenly flashes and bursts, pushing out to blinding wipes in a snap. The brightness whose edges shimmer with colour and die become like this bright emptiness with shimmering edges an associate of close to sudden humming stillness and a set and allowed silence like the brightness is appearing every sound all at once in a snap, and suddenly spectral and wide open snake, the word slides down into me, I literally feel it. It's like those slow moving shutters wound down against the sun on hot afternoons. I wanted to try and put across to what happened, but there is a divide between the memory and the words that From my mind and venturing creature creatures things not seen since then the blindness the eyes open like a jacket without a zipper and a storm and skin what skin, the seams of snake. Imagine this is how I understand what happened. A moment of indistinction. When is one creature to another, I responded my creature lameness and then language resets itself and with a distinction and then there is me and snake, and then I am afraid. I think I time travelled in a way I rushed out a hit of language and then I was snapped back.’

 

Which is apparently scientifically kind of what happened, so when I was like reading, writing the text I came across this book by a scientist (I  feel bad he name escapes me right now). She had a very similar experience with saying a snake and she came up with the snake detection theory. Basically, you know, we have an older part of our visual system that is attached to responding and fears so and it doesn't, it sees things quickly and it doesn't analyse them and then we have an all vertebrates have this system and then we as mammals, we have a newer system, which edits things out so and it's because they're slightly slower. So it always you know, it's always interesting when we see things in the world. This older system, i's much quicker, it doesn't edit things out. It's just: saw danger, maybe stop and then the other visual system can slowly caught up. So it's kind of like time travel in a way. Kind of like time travel photo, so I time travel back to this kind of primordial, swampy kind of me.

 

EGL: I was gonna say that when I was watching the films, like maybe for the 4th time. I felt like there's just constant pulling between, like science and mysticism because like, in the first part of the film, it's very experiential and it's all from your experiences in Pittsburgh, and then it moves on to this interview with the hepatologist and yet, even though there is like a lot of overlap between, I would say science and mysticism. I was wondering what

 

Are your thoughts on scientific prescriptivism versus like, destroy embodied knowledge? 

 

SS: It’s a good question. I think what I wanted in that work was I'm interested in different approaches towards something like not one singular approach or not one, you know, not one ideology. I wanted to approach the subject through both approaches, and so a more poetic approach and then a more kind of researched approach.  Like I'm pretty like dismissive of distinctions and categories and genres. I like to pull in I guess, different viewpoints and this something you know, one of my favourite mystics sort of got a thing ended so she, I mean, it was kind of at a time before there was separate disciplines before the universities had, taken a understanding and knowledge and captured it and the institution and separated out into different branches and shut woman away from learning basically. So she like she wrote down in sessions, she created her own language or what she said she received a language so she wrote down this language.

 

She wrote books on plants. She knew a lot about like the medicinal properties of plants to also kind of true or directed other people to draw these incredible illustrations of efficiency, like they're insanely, insanely amazing. And she also wrote music and like, This music is still being played. Within that you have the ecstasy of vision, you have contemplation you have like research. You have embodied knowledge you have interest in linguistics. 

 

EGL: I was going to ask you because there's such a strong interest in your research with fool mystics, In this other work of yours, a bit of fish, you drawn the text of this particular mystics and use book value attaching the event at language of the linguistic.. What is what are the roles of these mistakes in, in your understanding of the world? like would you consider yourself as a mistake? 

 

SS: No, When these women were writing it was such a specific time. The world I live in a totally differently context is so different and but what I what I find interesting is this style that's very semantic, and it's very, very there's a lot of reasons for that. I just find them really inspiring. I find the length that they took to speak and write really fascinating really hiring. And I think they also give me courage to be to kind of make work that is very personal, to make work that has autobiographical elements. It's given me I guess, a form or a way of approaching things that is really liberating. 

 

EGL: I guess that brings me to, you mentioned the ineffable in the writing and just now in conversation so your practice is very much I think, for me, it seems that is blurred between margins and there's a lot of spillage and and intermingling and overlapping. Do you consider the inevitable like a recurring present in your work? And also not any work?

 

SS: I think, maybe something like the unnameable or something. And then, I guess, comes from like, very basically as well,  an experience of growing up in New Zealand, being of mixed heritage but not growing up.

 

My father lived in Bali so and so it's kind of like, you know. There is the classic saying in New Zealand if you’re not white you're always asked, Oh, where are you from? And you'll be like, I'm from New Zealand like, I'm from here. and the like. Yep, but But where are you really from? And you're like, I'm from here. Like, it's like you're saying here they always placing you. And actually, the last time this happened, it was, I think it was like when I was there last year, and I was at the bus stop, and it's kind of like, Oh, dude comes up, like, ‘Hi. And he's like, Where are you from?’ ‘I'm from New Zealand. And he's like, well you don’t look it’ and I was like, What does a New Zealand look like? And he was like, oh, but so yeah, this is like so growing up in the space we you kind of people are trying to place you but you also have placed yourself. This experience to me was very nameless experience it didn't have I didn't have a name that I could, you know, even when people called me Asian that was ignore something else. Like I don't know how to identify it with that because I've been brought up in the White House. So what am I? It's a space that was very malleable and always shifting and it's and I think really there has been a very key to my experience to practice.



Q&A 

 

Q: And in two parts, so if you could use one word to describe your artmaking experience during the recent lockdown, what would it be? And how has your practice been affected is it has it all.

 

SS: One word continuous, I think like the really great thing about being an artist and what I do is that. When I when I, when I'm not being very productive, we’re still being productive. Yeah, like, we're still reading. We're still looking and talking to my friends that it has been like we've all been less productive, but this overmatch that we're trying to process right now.

 

SS: I don't think so. I'm in a very different situation because I'm trying to finish a doctor at the moment. So I'm like, I've been stuck in the house where I think basically so I feel like, if anything, I'm like, so desperate to like, make something. Yeah. Like, yeah, I'm sick of I'm actually having talks about words. I'm kind of sick of words right now.

 

EGL: All this free time in the lockdown, and suddenly everything is expected out of you to be productive at work and as an artist. I think even more and more like I feel this pressure to produce and maybe it just really works.

 

SS: I think we like I think it's important that yes, it's like I think I say you know it's like a piece of fabric with lots that you know, you have like dimples. You know, you have different kind of as a practice, you have different ways and methods of producing. And some of them can be quiet,I don't know, I think the times that maybe have been most productive for my work are times when Im not and not necessarily being productive. 



JB: Thanking again London AI and you for participating and also reminding people watching that the film and and the text is is on john on the on the website sing until the 27th July. 

 

SS: and I phone as my index finger, without you here I take a photo because I still need to share my great two radically it love can be made only among three the action of pointing declaratively gestures to something at a distance and in doing so draws you me into it either articulates the dynamic between us. It is not the direct line of the imperative to be shortened as quickly and as expediently as possible. But a relational tracing. This might also be the location of the mystic standing at the threshold between language and the ineffable. declaratively pointing to something I can't quite see. Announcing themselves and may enter it tracing a triad a ground between three that shimmers with kinship and difference.

 

JB: So thank you again Sri for participating, accepting, you know, over rotation.


SS: Thanks for having me in your programmes.