Body as resistance: Vanessa da Silva on the intersection of culture + identity in Stranger than Paradise

31 January 2018

Vanessa da Silva presented solo exhibition Stranger than Paradise at London’s StudioRCA Riverlight which opened December 7, 2017 and ran to January 28, 2018. Curated by A- – -Z, the event is part the Displacement Exhibition Series which features work by artists who are exploring the “deconstruction of pre-conceived/imperialist knowledge” including Marianne KeatingErica ScourtiLarry Achiampong and PioAbad among others.

The sculptural installation was activated by a choreographed performance that took place on January 24, which included an accompanying sound piece (featuring poetry spoken in both English and Portuguese against the backdrop of the birimbau – an instrument played in the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira). The poems were also written onto the wall of the space, with an excerpt that reads:

Vanessa da Silva, ‘Stranger than Paradise’ (2018) Installation view. Courtesy the artist, A—Z + StudioRCA Riverlight, London

By internal waterfalls
I move
I consume
I am consumed

Solid liquids
Intense flows
Stuburn hopes
Motion emotions
Water in the stone

In collaboration with choreographer Mary Feliciano, the performance acts an extension of the object-based works which were produced during her time at Ox-Bow Residency, as well as recent editions made specifically for the space. Drawing from her “ongoing research on cultural identities through body language, spoken words and improvisation,” the Brazil born and raised, London-based artist also looks to her own lived experience as a way to explore a more embodied approach to the theory of movement and migration.

In a short Q+A about the recent work, da Silva speaks with us about the wider context of borders and nationality and the complex terrain of tradition that happens at the intersection of culture and identity.

** Your work has a bright aesethetic, and a vibrance to it –  maybe you disagree, but is ‘joy’ something you’re interested in and is this a political act of resistance for you?

Vanessa da Silva: I am from South America and I believe growing up in Brazil will always influence my work and my aesthetics – the colours, the way I work with materials, my rhythm. Through my work I’m interested in exploring histories that are not necessarily related to joy but perhaps with the hope to inspire some kind of positivity through it.

** When static objects and a room are being activated through performance, are there certain narratives you are trying to play out – are characters being anthropomorphized and made into a bodily presence or is it more about abstracting and moving away from the ‘body’ as we understand it

VdS: I see the performance aspect of my work as a continuation of the static work – I use it as a way to investigate and explore further elements of my research – I have presented two performance pieces up to now and in both of them I worked with a narrative but also with an interest to investigate the body as an extension of the sculptures – with an intention for the body to continue the sculpture and vice versa.

** What is your process of translation and ’translating political resistance’ – does your choreography
and exploration of movement come from a memory, something abstract, somatic or from a
specific time/place/person(s)?

VdS: The exploration of movement is very much related to my research, and how I started thinking of the work as a way of political resistance or the body as a political tool. I have been specifically interested in the practice of Afro/Brazilian martial art capoeira which at the time of Brazil’s colonisation was practiced by the African slaves – as a way to keep their traditions and resist the coloniser. I believe that through my performances I’m able to give a ‘body narrative’ or tell a story that comprises more than just the physical/ material aspect of my practice.

** It’s hard not to think about exhaustion, energy and resilience when thinking about (political) resistance – are these states something you think about or translate in the work, the state/movement of emotion?

VdS: I think a lot about movement within my practice – that be my interest in the movement of cultures and traditions, the movement of people/ immigration histories. When it comes to making the work I specifically choose materials that can somehow ‘hold’ movement or a material that can translate ideas of movement – which I am interested in continuing through the body when it comes to the performance. In my 2017 performance ‘Resistance’ I was specifically exploring the flow of the body and thinking of it as a political tool through the mix of contemporary dance/capoeira choreography and engagement with the sculptures.

Vanessa da Silva, ‘Stranger than Paradise’ (2018) Performance documentation (gif) Courtesy the artist, A—Z + StudioRCA Riverlight, London

** What does a new geography look like for you, is it a place, an imaginary space, art? 

VdS: For now, a new geography for me is still a utopian space, a more positive space where geographies mix and meet and where borders disappear.**

 Vanessa da Silva presented solo exhibition Stranger than Paradise at London’s StudioRCA Riverlight which opened December 7, 2017 and ran to January  28 with a performance that took place on January 24, 2018.

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Chooc Ly Tan @ StudioRCA Riverlight, Sep 14 – Nov 1

12 September 2016

Chooc Ly Tan is presenting a new video installation ‘Disobey to the Dance of Time’ at London’s StudioRCA Riverlight, opening September 14 and running to November 1.

The London-based, French-born artist and DJ’s video work features an Akira Phase music visualizer moving to a 148 bpm-trance track, Terbium Energy Catalyst by Goch, “a 3D representation of Africa hovering in space-time, and the artist dancing to a hidden track coming from deep space”.

The installation —that carries on Tan’s practice which seeks to understand  and subvert the logic of the world through its systems and tools in an effort to realise alternative realities— opens with an evening of performance at Battersea Barge next to Studio RCA. Live acts include Alexis Milne, back to back DJ set by Tan’s Spacer Woman project and Evan Ifekoya, who also features as part of the Dusk programme with ‘Okun Song‘ in May, along with Rehana ZamanDaniel Shanken and Benjamin Orlow.

See the StudioRCA Riverlight website for details.**

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David Blandy + Natalia Skobeeva @ RCA Dyson Gallery, May 11 – 23

9 May 2016

Artists Natalia Skobeeva and David Blandy will show three new videos in joint exhibit, Oracles of Humankind at London’s RCA Dyson Gallery, opening May 11 and running to May 23.

Oracles of Humankind is the final show in the current series, ‘Rise Up & Envision’ held in Dyson Gallery, and will be presented by curatorial platform, A- – -Z, who recently organised the premiere of Evan Ifekoya‘s video ‘Okun Song‘, which runs in an exhibition until May 31.

According to the press release, Blandy’s ‘Hercules: Rough Cut’ (2015) is a four screen installation that layers archival political imagery with “pulsing poetic rap (that) narrates an alternative history of the City of London”, taking heed from “language, style and cadence of Roman declamations, Thomas More, Samuel Johnson, William Blake, 1950s Beat poets and contemporary street talk”.

Skobeeva will present both ‘The Horrors of Archiving’ (2015) and ‘Lewis Carroll meets Godzilla’ (2016), the latter of which also takes and constructs content from across a vast timeline including “quotes from St Augustine, Hussels, Lewis Carroll, contemporary theatre productions, songs and conversations”. Apparently “the work needs to be watched at least 50 times”.

See the RCA Dyson Gallery website for more details.**

Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, 'Finding Fanon Part Two' (2016) film still. Courtesy the artists.
Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, ‘Finding Fanon Part Two’ (2016) film still. Courtesy the artists.


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Evan Ifekoya @ StudioRCA Riverlight, May 4 – 31

2 May 2016

Evan Ifekoya is presenting premiere a video, ‘Okun Sung’, at London’s StudioRCA Riverlight, opening May 4 and running to May 31.

The London-based artist’s new commission is the second in the Dusk Exhibition Series at the Royal College of Art (RCA)-run “test-bed and exhibition space”, which shows work that becomes fully visible in the dark hours, to be experienced from outside the gallery.

Ifekoya’s piece explores “identification across mixed realities”, inspired by artist Lubaina Himid, music from British band Eurythmics and the Yoruba myth of the Olokun. This follows Dusk#1, which was shown at the RCA Dyson Gallery in January, a video installation by Zina Saro-Wiwa curated by Zoe Whitley.

The series is one concerned with “trans-gender, Science Fiction and Post-Human” ideas, that in turn builds on the RCA’s ‘Rise Up & Envision*‘ 2015 lectures. Works by Daniel Shanken and Rehana Zaman are to follow in the coming months

See the StudioRCA Riverlight website for details.**

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