Friday, March 31, 2017
Exhibition Essay: The Future Behind Us
The Future Behind Us revisits a collective project initiated by Romeo Gongora in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in March 2013. Each artwork and object in the exhibition enacts a series of subtle shifts, ruptures, and translations across time and space, re-presenting and relocating the project from Kinshasa to Calgary.
The project in Kinshasa
Romeo Gongora’s research-led practice involves the creation of temporary situations, each uniquely structured around collective creative, critical processes of production. In line with this approach, and in response to an invitation to be a facilitator for a workshop at Kin ArtStudio in Kinshasa, he proposed to collaboratively produce a science fiction film, from scratch, over the course of a three-week residency.
Kin ArtStudio - a cultural platform set up by artist Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo - produced the annual ‘Master Art’ workshop as a fluid, alternative education program offering young artists the opportunity to work in close collaboration with an invited international artist. A group of around 14 young artists from DRC took part, and the pilot film, Perinium, was created over fifteen days of production.
Before arriving in Kinshasa, Gongora kick-started the collaborative process of producing the film by creating a sci-fi literary competition, circulating a poster via Kin ArtStudio’s online networks. Two of the winning entries later formed the basis of the script for the pilot film and its title, Perinium.
The film was written, directed, and screened within three weeks. Working with little to no budget, the team self-selected their roles, producing DIY props, soundtracks, and costumes in the lead-up to the shoot. The shoot itself took place over three days and was edited right up to the final hour before its first public screening.
The installation in Calgary
The installation, The Future Behind Us, at TRUCK Contemporary Art translates the experience and process of shooting on-location in Kinshasa from different angles and perspectives; offering a sense of the energy of the city whilst reflecting the wider socio-political contexts that informed the making of the film.
A series of questions thread in and out of the work throughout the space: What do we do with the past? Is it possible to re-present an artwork that was based as much on process as on final outcomes? If the film was a project defined by collective work, how can it be exhibited?
The film: a pilot
The central installation and screening framework at TRUCK echoes the structure of the bar in Kinshasa where the film was first shown. The site, which is a meeting point for locals in Kinshasa, becomes a communal point in the centre of the gallery. These two moments are connected by the film banner, hung here in the space but originally printed to advertise the event in Kinshasa.
Romeo Gongora took a series of images in what he describes as ‘gaps of time’ whilst travelling through the city; in the midst of producing the film on route to and from Kin ArtStudio and the Academy of Fine Arts where he was staying throughout the production. They act both as a counterpoint to the moving images of the film, and as contemplative imprints of Gongora’s subjective experience of the city.
Gongora’s mode of creating communal, creative, critical projects is inspired in part by the theories and praxis of Brazilian radical pedagogue Paulo Freire; and equally by artist collectives from the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, to name a few, the Mousse Spacthèque, the Fusion des Arts group, and the Fondation du théâtre d’environnement integral, as well as the periodicals Parti Pris and Liberté. His recent project Just Watch Me (2014) transformed the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery into a social club. For the duration of the show the space became a radical site of production, dialogue, collaboration, and collective creation. Taking similar starting points, but expanding beyond the walls of a gallery space, Commun Commune (June 2015) was a month-long experiment that brought a disparate group of strangers together to temporarily experience life in a commune.
The process-based project in Kinshasa took a similar approach: while Gongora initiated the film, his role gradually shifted within the group from catalyst to collaborator, from instigator to interlocutor. In his own words, “over time, the project became horizontal”.
While these subtle processes of negotiation, which played out within the dynamics of the group behind-the-scenes remain invisible, for Gongora they are integral to the work. For this reason, the film Perinium was first screened at the 10th edition of the Bamako Biennial of Photography in Mali (2015), as a collectively authored project.
The Future Behind Us represents a new departure for Gongora, as an exhibition presented as a solo show rather than a collaborative project unfolding within the space. And yet, the performative act of staging the exhibition in itself involves the creation of a temporary space for collective, creative, critical, and transformative processes of reflection. A workshop taking place on March 25th, 2017 - almost exactly four years to the day since the pilot film was originally screened - loops back to Gongora’s collaborative impulse and takes a step further in this direction, feeding back into the exhibition with science fiction objects created by visitors for future use in the space, for the duration of the show.
By Lily Hall
Lily Hall is an independent curator and writer based in London. She holds an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London, UK (2012) and a BA in English Literature and Art History from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK (2007). Forthcoming curatorial projects include Surface Tensions: Pavla and Lucia Sceranková, at Pump House Gallery in partnership with Czech Centre, London; and Soft Walls, curated in collaboration with Mette Kjærgaard Præst and Daniela Berger at Museo de la Solidaridad Salvaldor Allende (MSSA), Santiago de Chile (both 2017).