How Stephanie Comilang And Simon Speiser Trace The Connection Between Human And Machine Through Their Ancestry

Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation; virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), color, sound. Image courtesy of the artists.
(Left to Right) Simon Speiser and Stephanie Comilang. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), colour, sound. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), colour, sound. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), colour, sound. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?, 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), color, sound, installation view in “Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?” at JSC Berlin, 10 March – 7 July 2022. Photo by Alwin Lay. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.
TOP
1034
34
0
 
5
Jul
5
Jul
CoBo Social Design and Architecture

Kicking off an exhibition programme that spotlights emerging artists at the Berlin outpost of Julia Stoschek Collection (JSC), artists Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser dive deep into the intertwined histories of their respective ancestral roots in the Philippines and Ecuador, reflecting on and questioning traditional belief systems, and how technology plays a part in shaping our interpretations of the past.

TEXT: Kate Lok
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection

 

(Left to Right) Simon Speiser and Stephanie Comilang. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.

 

In their latest institutional exhibition “Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?”, Berlin-based artists Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser speculate the unlikely possibility of connecting ancestral knowledge and the promises of future technology. Comilang, who is of Filipino descent, and Speiser, who is of Ecuadorian descent, explore this connection through the matriarchal lineage among healers and activists in the indigenous communities of the Philippines and Ecuador, countries that have a shared history of Spanish colonialism.

Traditionally, piña is a Filipino fibre made from leaves of pineapples. The word is derived from the Spanish word for pineapple, which becomes the recurring motif in the show. “We tried to think of a thing that could connect both Ecuador and the Philippines, an object that could do that,” explains Comilang in a recent interview via Zoom. “And the pineapple was something that [came up], this fruit that symbolises wealth and status.” The pineapple, the artists tells me, is not native to the Philippines, but was introduced from South America by Spanish colonists who were looking for a place to grow them for the European luxury market.

 

Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), colour, sound. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.

 

The pineapple is embodied and represented in various forms throughout the show. In a hybrid video-VR installation, Piña is a spiritual medium and the narrator of a short film. Part-fiction, and part-documentary, the film features interviews with mostly female indigenous figures and the different methodologies they adopt in communicating and disseminating knowledge, while the voice of Piña, narrates the video in Tagalog through drone footage of lush landscapes and abandoned buildings. “The idea of this piece is a lot about what is the relationship of these people that we’re interviewing through their ancestral knowledge,” Comilang tells me. “How do they talk about communication, about their connection to their culture and how can this be passed on into the future as well?” Piña shares many traits that are inspired by Babaylan—a pre-colonial matriarchal figure in the Philippines who possess shamanistic capabilities and ancestral knowledge. Imagined as a form of artificial intelligence in the film, Piña has the ability to receive ancestral knowledge, messages and dreams “uploaded” by people around the world to save them for the future.

During the production of this film, Comilang and Speiser travelled between the Philippines and Ecuador, visiting locations and communities connected with Comilang’s family in the Philippines and Speiser’s great-grandmother, who was a shaman, in Ecuador. One of the indigenous groups featured in the film are the “Ciber Amazonas”, a network of Quichua-speaking, pan-Amazonian female journalists, writers, and broadcasters who uses the radio, internet and other forms of technology to build a community and make visible their realities in the face of territorial and gender violence, despite being in the remote villages of the Amazon. More importantly, as the members of the group state in the film, the information they share will still be available in the future for their daughters and granddaughters to access. Like Piña in the film, the purpose of communicating through technology extends beyond their past and present realities to connect with what lies ahead.

 

Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), colour, sound. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (still), 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), colour, sound. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.

 

In the VR component, which acts as an extension of the film, the artists invite the audience to take on a third-person perspective through a VR headset, just like in a dream. In an up close and personal encounter with Piña, who is embodied in a gender ambiguous, human form, we see them swimming towards us, uttering the words “I am here for you. Made out of all of you. Out of your lost world.” We follow Piña around carrying out mundane everyday tasks, before we are led into they’s inner world—a rendered virtual space with a hazy, dream-like quality that houses fragments of data transmitted to them.

“Because it’s such a new medium, it’s often used in a way that is gimmicky or something,” Speiser explains when asked about the intention behind incorporating VR. “But I feel like the way we ended up using it, it expands the aspect of film in a way. It brings a new purpose in there, one that you could not fulfil with video or film because it becomes such an intimate experience.” To augment that emotional impact and sense of intimacy in this encounter with Piña, Speiser tells me they were filmed with a camera that is mostly used for VR porn. “Using that in our way really opens up ways of intimacy that each viewer gets, it gets very close. We have people coming out of the VR and start crying.”

 

Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser, Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?, 2021, mixed media video installation, virtual reality headsets, 28 min (video), 16 min 18 sec (360° video), color, sound, installation view in “Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?” at JSC Berlin, 10 March – 7 July 2022. Photo by Alwin Lay. Image courtesy of the artists and Julia Stoschek Collection.

 

In addition to the film and VR components, the exhibition features textile collages made of woven pineapple-cloth sewn together by hand. On each square of cloth, Comilang and Speiser have 3D-printed a mix of traditional Ecuadorian and Filipino patterns along with new designs generated by a self-learning algorithm. In the film, the indigenous communicators, who become the protagonists, are seen collecting and creating the same weavings, embedding in them their own stories and messages that are kept hidden from the audience, before sending them off to Piña, who will preserve them into the far future.

While historically, piña can be interpreted as both a cultural commodity and a symbol of the destruction of indigenous sovereignty through colonialism, the way Comilang and Speiser introduce shamanism in a post-colonial, digital context in their work seem to signal a resurrection, giving these age-old practices a second life. Their Piña embodies the interconnectedness between culture and communities, they are a vessel, in which knowledge is safeguarded for future generations and can be disseminated through a range of media—from the rivers of the Amazonian forests to digital technologies such as the radio and smartphones. Through Piña, the duo not only challenges the assumptions of how ancestral knowledge is communicated, they also offer a new way of seeing how knowledge can be passed on, and how they survive, even through devastating moments of history.

 

Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?
28 April – 4 December 2022
Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin

 

You might also enjoy reading

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply