Archive for May, 2021


Friday, May 7th, 2021

I have a ‘sliding doors’ story.

Two women, grow up roughly at the same time, in the same part of North East London. Their histories faintly mirror: early adventures playing on the Wanstead Flats, Saturdays in the shadows of mothers haggling at East Street Market and everlong teenage meanderings down Romford Road. They arrive at 188 Grosvenor Square. Mayfair, London on the same day, at the same moment. They don’t even notice each other.

Their childhoods were spent in the mid nineties, in the shadow and aftermath of the squatted communities of the M11 link road protest camps. Protestors campaigning against the construction of a new motorway created micro-nations with names like Munstonia and Wanstonia across the area, building community with the locals, including a lone 92 year old resident holdout of the government compulsory purchase orders named Dolly Watson. Our protagonists weren’t quite old enough or present enough to remember the squats themselves with any kind of clarity but the freedom of that living seeped into them. It was redolent in the atmosphere of the three intersecting outer London boroughs they circumnavigated. One of them thinks this must be the explanation for her persistent desire for communal living.

L: Munstonia, the last house on Fillebrook Road, in 1995, during the M11 Link Road protests. R: The eviction of Munstonia.

The moment of intersection is October 2008, a midpoint in ‘The Great Recession’. Politics is on the tip of their tongues, in both crytalising and oblique ways. They are both lost, looking for anchor(s); a vocation, a calling or at least a home.

They are separated by three years and five months — an Aries and a Virgo. One has just finished sixth form college and the other has recently returned to London from time away at university in another part of the country, a part they didn’t know existed until they were there.

One of them is nervous. She dilly daddles outside the front of the building, reading the ‘literature’ on display — zines, leaflets and propaganda. She feels out of place, sensing the whiteness of the room even before she opens the door. She is black and alone, here. She wonders why she didn’t ask anyone else to come with her, why she never thinks of it. She remains in the well of the staircase summoning courage to climb the stairs and participate in this thing she has always been curious about, always needed.

The other, perhaps we might say, has the energy, naivety and gumption of the eighteen year old that she is. She doesn’t know the rules, or recognise the sneers she will surely encounter once she enters. She is wearing the wrong clothes, has the wrong accent and is ignorant of the right terms. She is oblivious to these social cues, or she has been trained, by her performing arts background (another thing they both share), to pretend that she does not notice.

The older woman does eventually make it up the stairs but her incongruity consumes her, dampening her reserves of confidence. She cannot open her mouth to respond to any entreats that might lead to a conservation, so she does not charm, and is charmed by no one. Instead she sits for a while, sees through smiles and then ghosts, returning to the shared flat she rents in the east of the city. She never comes back.

The younger of the two bounds up the stairs, asks questions and catches the eye of an older man (of course!). That man invites her in, attracted by her sweetness, and for the next five years she squats, with him, and others that she meets here or through here, across London in homes with names like THE GYM or COLORAMA.

The staircase at 188 Grosvenor Square.

They could have met here, but they don’t. They meet at another communal home in North East
London four years later, when the dreams of collective living, for them both, have warped,
romanticised, subsisted, morphed, extinguished and petrified.

Now they are old friends.

Onyeka Igwe is an artist and researcher working between cinema and installation, born and based in London, UK. Through her work, Onyeka is animated by the question — how do we live together? — with particular interest in the ways the sensorial, spatial and non-canonical ways of knowing can provide answers to this question. She uses embodiment, archives, narration and text to create structural ‘figure-of-eights’, a form that exposes a multiplicity of narratives. Her works have been shown in the UK and internationally at film festivals and galleries. She was awarded the New Cinema Award at Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival 2019 and the 2020 Arts Foundation Fellowship Award for Experimental Film. Onyeka is part of B.O.S.S., a sound system collective that brings together a community of queer, trans and non binary people of colour involved in art, sound and radical activism as well as a curatorial and research initiative on alternative and anti ethnographies, together with Rachel Rakes and Laura Huertas Millán.


Friday, May 7th, 2021

Below is the transcript from various conversations, which we recorded while filming Taming the Garden. The film tells about a hobby a wealthy and powerful man, Georgia’s former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, which is to collect century old large trees. He commissions his men to uproot these trees and to bring them, via land and see, to his private garden.

These conversations spoken in Mingrelian language were left outside the film either because they were recorded poorly or the images, the scenes did not fit in. Written here, they seem like an extract from a play the setting of which needs to be imagined.

Scene 1. 2 Workers sit on the roots, having a lunch break.

– It is a beautiful tree, ha?
– Sure, it’s really pretty.
– Really great. If they take it…
– Now, when they will take this, it will arrive there plucked. It will be bare without leaves, but it’s a beautiful tree…
– Will they cut the sides too?
– This will be trimmed and that will be trimmed… They said let’s cut this, that and I wonder, what will remain.
– How can it fit, man!
– In fact they cannot take it. And then that tree in Orsantia. I don’t know how they plan transporting it.
– Is it big?
– Ah! It’s twice as big as this one.
– Really?
– It belongs to the Chkholaria family. Haven’t you seen it?
– No. Is it in the courtyard, or?
– It was an ancestral tree and the family could not divide it [referring to the compensation]. They offered them 250 000 but still they did not give it away.
– And what is this tree? Is it an oak?
– Yes, it’s an oak.
– It’s magical.

Scene 2. Women stand by the road, waiting

– Did you know, that man has a tree and they say they were offering him 2 millions but he refused to sell it?
– A woman was telling me about it yesterday. That he didn’t give away the tree. It’s two centuries old.
– I wish my ancestors had planted something nice!
– There’s the apple tree… but…
– They don’t want apple trees.

Scene 3. People stand by the road, observing

– I would have never imagined this tree would walk like that.
– Come father!
– What do you want, dear!
– Look, it moves! I must follow.
– I hope it won’t fall over! We won’t even have time to run.
– Everything changed suddenly!

[Bidzina Ivanishili acquired approximately 200 trees from villagers and the state. These conversations are precious to me also because they refer to one family, who were one of the very few who refused the deal. They preferred to keep their magnificent beech tree in their yard declining any sum of money, even if their living conditions were modest. And they kept low about it, not wanting to be part of the film.]

Salomé Jashi was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1981. She is a documentary filmmaker and a video artist. She has been attracted to filming micro environments from the very beginning of her career. Her visual approach is minimalist, poetical, sensitive and rough. Salomé Jashi’s TAMING THE GARDEN (2021) premiered at Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition and Berlinale Forum. Her previous film THE DAZZLING LIGHT OF SUNSET (2016) was awarded the Main Prize at Visions du Réel’s Regard Neuf Competition, as well as at ZagrebDox, Jihlava IDFF, FIC Valdivia and several other festivals. Her earlier work BAKHMARO (2011) was nominated for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. All three films were produced in collaboration with Arte’s La Lucarne. She holds an MA in documentary filmmaking from Royal Holloway, University of London (2006) as well as an MA in journalism from Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (2003). Salomé Jashi was a fellow of Nipkow Scholarship in 2017 and DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program in 2020.


Friday, May 7th, 2021

Diane Severin Nguyen is an artist who uses photography and time-based media to transform natural and inanimate objects into something uncanny. She currently lives and works between Los Angeles and New York. Nguyen earned an MFA from Bard College in 2020 and a BA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013. Her work will be included in the recent exhibition MADE L.A. 2020: a version, at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. She has had solo exhibitions at Bad Reputation, Los Angeles (2019) and Empty Gallery, Hong Kong (2019). Her film TYRANT STAR has screened at Yebisu Festival, Tokyo (2020); IFFR Rotterdam, Netherlands (2020); and the 57th New York Film Festival, New York (2019).


Friday, May 7th, 2021

Linking a causal chain of events together in an attempt to understand the origins of my existence is a task with no obvious starting point. One must draw clear boundaries, set parameters and definitions otherwise it is “turtles all the way down”.

On a macro scale we can start with simply being a child of the American 1970’s counter culture. My mother, who ran away from her suburban Long Island home at 17, joined a silent hippie commune in the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado. On Sundays, they came down from the mountain to eat the free vegetarian feast at the Hare Krishna temple. There she was exposed to the philosophy of self realization, which deeply resonated with her lifelong seeking of connection to a higher power or God. Months passed and one day her commune all dropped acid. At the height of the trip, their de facto leader broke his vow of silence and said these words. “To be free, you must die”. She interpreted this as, “the ego must die”. The next day she left the commune, walked down the mountain and into town where she joined the Hare Krishnas. Robed with makeshift saris that were simply saffron dyed bed sheets, she and her new spiritual family hit the streets of Boulder, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and selling Back To Godhead Magazine for a quarter.

She took the initiation vows from the guru, the founder of the modern Hare Krishna movement, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada who had arrived from India to NYC in 1965. Soon after she had an arranged marriage, according to Vedic tradition. She adopted an infant boy whose mother was in no position to care for the child. They were then instructed to go help establish a self sufficient farm community in rural West Virginia. There, they lived in an abandoned school bus, while my father built a house equipped only with two oxen and an ax.

Things at the community quickly deteriorated as their leader, Kīrtanānanda Swami, revealed himself to be a violent megalomaniac, racketeer, and child abuser among other things. My parents, who now had two other children, left to start a farm in upstate New York, where I was born. Kīrtanānanda Swami was eventually involved in murder and drug trafficking all of which landed him in prision. He and the entire West Virginia community were excommunicated. I have often tried to fathom the impact he and Prabhupada had on my life. Prabhupada arrived in NYC in the 70’s, with no money and no support. He had a mission to spread the spiritual teachings of Bhakti Yoga to the West. His strategy was simple, he would sit down under the large tree at the center of Tompkins Sq Park and chant Hare Krishna. People began to gather, soon he had a small following which grew to a global movement of thousands in less than 5 years. There is a city plaque next to the spot he used to sit, enshrining it as “The Hare Krishna Tree”. This unlikely place has become a site of pilgrimage for devotees of the faith. On most days you can still find flower offerings and incense burning under the tree, paying homage to Prabhupada. There is no astounding epiphany here, only the plain strangeness that this tree is like a cosmic navel around which my very existence in this world revolves.

While my mother was in Boulder and in West Virginia, my grandfather who was a self identified secular atheist Jew, took a supportive, loving and anthropological view on my mothers choices. While visiting her, he made 36 minutes of super 8mm film of her activities and wedding. This is a short compilation of those films. I present the films as a meditation on young idealism which speaks to my mother as an individual, and the culture as a whole.

Balarama Heller lives and works in New York City. His practice reimagines archetypal symbols found in the natural world. He explores primal symbols and patterns, both real and imagined, working towards a visual language of preverbal awareness. These symbols interact in a ceaseless cycle of creation and destruction, referencing the cosmological, mythological, and atomic scales.

Recent exhibitions include Sacred Place with Aperture Foundation / Artsy. Recent group shows include Maelstrom, at 303 Gallery, New York, You Can’t Win, Jack Black’s America curated by Randy Kennedy at Fortnight Institute, What’s Outside the Window at ReadingRoom, Melbourne AU, Agnes B New York, New Artists at Red Hook Labs and the 2015 Aperture Summer Open. In 2014, he published his first artist book, Into and Through. Zero at the Bone received 1st place for the 2017 Center Awards Editor’s Choice and runner-up for the 2017 Aperture Portfolio Prize. His 2019 project Sacred Place was featured in Aperture Magazine issue 241, with text by Pico Iyer.


Friday, May 7th, 2021


“I want to see what is secret. What is hidden amongst the visible. I
want to see the skin of the light.”

— Hélène Cixous from “Writing Blind: Conversation with the Donkey”, in Stigmata

Dear Hélène,…I begin by conveying to you the shock of what I have witnessed. These words are a translation of the visual experiences I had last night and early this morning. My words will be absolute, nothing left to interpretation. From my lash to your lobe. Trust me. Forget the perfidy for which I have become so renowned.

Tran T. Kim-Trang, a Vietnamese-American artist who lives in Los Angeles, dares to call her video work Aletheia, the philosophical concept of truth and possibility. To me the word is a proper name, an ethereal girl I might have known, Aletheia. I begin a precise tracing of the Aletheia image path that Tran lays before me. Go blind now, with me, Hélène. I will not let you loose in the darkness.

“Night becomes a verb. I night.”
— Hélène Cixous

We hear screeches. Mechanical hysterics. Braille surfaces flip and flop across the screen, overlapping, flowing by … completely unreadable without fingers of course. I wonder what this surface feels like to touch. Tran tells us that Trinh T. Minh-ha writes about reaching out through blindness. I think she finds the same freedom in the darkness that you discuss with the donkey. Hélène, vision is there within you but you too refuse the ease in life that it offers.

I am watching a woman’s mask being pulled off. Can you hear the woman’s voice? She’s accusing them (the people who claim to make history) of not being able to see into her “little squinting eyes.” They don’t reveal a thing!! Asian eyes are extremely good at closing out, keeping secrets, says the voice. So why do the little girls start slicing their own eyes? To my mind the slits are power! They open and close when they damn well please. Like the vagina, don’t you think, unless it is raped. Tran continues. She thinks about having her lids DONE. Her camera is slowly, slowly pulling out to reveal a cosmetic surgeon holding the face with the mask. I’m watching hundreds of Asian faces, listening to punk rock music screaming “I can’t see what it’s all about! Lights out, lights out!!!!”

“Let us close our eyes. Where do we go? Into the other world. Just next door… In a dash, we are there. An eyelid a membrane, separates two kingdoms.”
— Hélène Cixous

I listen to addresses of plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills, revealing locales on Sunset Blvd. I am eavesdropping.

I see a sign that reads “the Jew as blind.”

Then a parable of a child and the story of Cambodian women who have witnessed war horrors about becoming blind, then suicidal.

Aletheia is Tran’s farrago of blindness metaphors, her textual defense of an obsession with the receptacle of sight. She plays brazenly with the allusions, spinning them around like riddles we must decipher in order for a laugh and then…. a poignant sigh of tragic recognition. Tran is angered by the constraints put on the slanted eye in the modern kingdom, the West. As I watch this modern kingdom, I find nothing appealing about it, at least her view of the wealthy kingdom donned Los Angeles. I’d much rather close my eyes.

Next. There are more listings of addresses in LA. We’ve tumbled into the hell of Hollywood! Richard Pryor, blind groping men at peep holes … Sidney Poitier with a blind white girl,…blonde woman in vulgar, pornographic Hollywood movies about sex and blindness. A lascivious doctor talks about a cure for blindness. I am nauseated and wish I could close my eyes, Hélène. I never mentioned how much of life I would prefer not to see.

Return to mapping of LA, then ranting, ritual, obsessions with fashion, animals, a Native American parable in which a white man borrows an eye from an animal but it does not fit. “A candy colored clown they call the sandman tiptoes to my room every night” croons Roy Orbison. Oh, how I long for the dirt in my eye, the unconscious filtering of grit before it enters my consciousness. A clean, soporific blindness.

“…but I say that he who looks into my eyes for anything but a
perpetual question will have to lose his sight.”

— Frantz Fanon, from Black Skin, White Mask

Tran ends with Frantz Fanon’s rigorous, righteous eyes demanding only a perpetual question. Do you think that Tran would agree that eyes with this brilliant, curious questioning are windows into that rare thing — a lucid mind?

Tran’s next film is called Operculum An operculum is the plug of mucus that fills the opening of a woman’s cervix. It is also the bony flap covering the gills of a fish. An operculum also has something mysterious to do with fungi. Here flora and fauna are merging in a bewildering visual confluence. Tran is also thinking about cosmetic surgery to reshape her eyes, another approach to the sculpture of the face. She is doing research with her black and white video camera by visiting cosmetic surgery doctors who specialize in blepharoplasty (eyelid crease surgery) and learning that “the Vietnamese have a better crease.” I read text scrolling on the side of the screen about hallucinations after a lobotomy, while we are hearing seemingly objective descriptions of eye surgery for Asian people. I believe that Tran is telling us that both operations are a form of shock therapy. They both use a prick.

It is 4 AM. I am watching Tran’s Kore (sexuality, sex, fantasy, AIDS). Feeling promiscuous, but unaroused. “The eye, like the camera, seeks out its owner’s reflection.” The phallic gaze, horror movies, loads of ugliness, club dance music – all bombard my psyche. Kore suggests that the clitoris is another eye that can be shut: lesbian love making then takes on an all-powerful presence on the screen. A female AIDS health expert talks about blindness and drug treatment, like a perverse Public Service Announcement. She tell us to choose between death or blindness, that there is a problem with so many women being infected by men. We watch a penis image, graphic and grotesque. Kore seems to find an assertive comfort with the abject: “No erotic act has any intrinsic meaning.”

Again, I watch lesbian lovemaking with technomusic, one of the women is blindfolded. Do her eyes inhibit desire?

“the eye-penis”
“the phallic gaze”

— Luce Irigaray from Speculum of the Other Woman

I am reminded of that revolution I experienced in my mind and in my body the moment I laid eyes on Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Woman. It was as though she were bringing a hidden awareness I had always treasured to my epidermal layer, finally visualized and sublimely conscious. With Tran, the meeting with Irigeray is not only beautiful but also violent, at least on the level of the imagination. Like a confrontation. For me, you Hélène Cixous and Luce were and are dear, dear friends. Everything in both your writing feels so lustful and wild, yet somehow completely outside the sensual.

Ocularis is another piece on surveillance as erotic. It’s more aggressive. Now the eavesdropping feels transgressive and dangerous, problematically pleasurable. I hear the narrator tell me about a childhood bully who called her a “rice head” on the bus. The story feels like a rant from a standup comedian, and I am entranced without really seeing the performer’s face. The woman remembers the surveillance camera documenting a racist picking on her on the bus. “Kent began his harangue on the bus, then he beat me up on camera.” This recorded act of violence, becomes the pivotal weapon against the bully. It is a GREAT STORY. We are watching buses in a garage depot and hearing this fantasy. We are listening, feeling fascinated without seeing the cause of our satisfaction.

Later, a woman editor falls in love with the man she sees on a surveillance camera. She knows him but he does not know her. Then there is the story of a small Asian teenager whose best friend was the largest girl in class. The large girl was attacked by a man who was a friend of the family. We hear this while we watch two good friends trying on clothes, the white girl asks for the opinion of the Asian girl. We hear about a young girl who carries a camera in her teddy bear. Counter surveillance services are discussed while we watch police at work. A young woman surveillance expert gets fired for a mistake she made on the job.

This movie has a sense of humor. It asks us if surveillance creates anxiety and boredom at the same time. Has all behavior become spectacle?

Finally, the sun is beginning to peek her head out from the lip of the horizon. Morning is knocking on the window, and I am watching Amaurosis. Amuaurosis is the word for vision impairment, especially when there is no obvious damage to the eye. All night, I have been inundated with cinematic reflections on the effects of blindness. I must admit I am feeling disconcerted by the light. I somehow find it difficult to remember that there may be something out there I would want to see. Then Tran introduces me to Nguyen Duc Dat, a blind classical guitar player to whom she has offered a flute in exchange for writing a song, or maybe for doing an interview. It appears to me a blissfully innocent arrangement that spins lovingly around a deep respect for the music this Vietnamese American makes with his instrument.

Tran begins this movie with a black screen as I hear a poem dedicated to childhood’s hour. “I have not seen as others saw… All I loved I loved alone.” These words are accompanied by guitar playing that I later realize might be Duc’s. Then I see a boy alone, walking the streets. The images are old, like a home movie, and the textures tell me this may be Vietnam. Tran then reveals the story of this blind musician through his own recounting, his philosophy of living in darkness, his commitment to active listening. He speaks eloquently about delivering speeches to an audience, really being heard and feeling more alive than ever, knowing that his words are able to open his mind to others. Duc articulates a concept of beauty in his blind experience that is so distilled and precise. He wonders if this connection between the lip and the ear, or between the guitar string and the ear, might be ruined by sight. Tran decides to illustrate this dichotomy, scientifically, with humor I believe. We are watching two large scale depictions of the cell, a biomorphic metaphor I would call it. One cell is imagery. The other is perception. Can a blind man appreciate the difference? Does it matter? Duc asks us: How far is close? He saw light as a child. Noticed that the sound of thunder had a fraternal twin, lightening born just moments later. In silhouette, Tran does her final interview. She breaks all the rules of good photography, covering the details of Duc’s face with darkness and allowing the sun to surround him with light.

I am almost finished watching ten years of Tran Kim-Trang’s opus on blindness. I listen to Duc speak of the ocean: it is big, it is horrible, the seaweed smells, the waves are music. This man has no need for blue. As you said “Night becomes a verb. I night.”

Lynne Sachs
2004 – 2021

Films by Tran Kim Trang:

Aletheia, 16 min, 1992
Operculum (cosmetic surgery on the eyes), 14 min, 1993
Kore, 17 min, 1994
Ocularis, 21 min, 1997
Ekleipreis, 22 min, 1998
Alexia, 10 min, 2000
Amaurosis, 30 min, 2002

Lynne Sachs was born in 1961, she is an American filmmaker and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her moving image work ranges from documentaries, to essay films, to experimental shorts, to hybrid live performances. Working from a feminist perspective, Lynne weaves together social criticism with personal subjectivity. Her films embrace a radical use of archives, performance and intricate sound work. Between 2013 and 2020, she collaborated with renowned musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello on five films.

Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in each new project. Between 1994 and 2009, Lynne directed five essay films that took her to Vietnam, Bosnia, Israel, Italy and Germany – sites affected by international war – where she looked at the space between a community’s collective memory and her own perception. Over the course of her career, she has worked closely with film artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Ernie Gehr, Barbara Hammer, Chris Marker, Gunvor Nelson, and Trinh T. Min-ha. In tandem with making films, Lynne is also deeply engaged with poetry. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first book YEAR BY YEAR POEMS