Sandra Mujinga's videoart combine audio and image to highlight our presence on the social, digital grid, ultimately invoking a fear of Solipsism. By Lisa Bernhoft-Sjødin.
Lisa Bernhoft-Sjødin: When I first entered Real Friends, on view this November at Oslo Kunstforening, I was struck by the constant shifts between physicality and immateriality through the initial video pieces He who was shared (2016) and Throwing Voice (2016). The former depicts the search and finding of a silverback gorilla in Virunga National Park, the latter a fullscale avatar being with audio excerpts of youtube tutorials running alongside it. How do the two intersect?
Sandra Mujinga: I'm interested in ambivalence, specifically the underexposed kind in the ways we construct ourselves. The works you mention are indeed independent, but it made sense to put them alongside each other as they explore the same notion; what do we lose once we try to expose an image? Do we accept that?
LS: The ambivalence we experience in your art is a study on how this inhabits us as subjects. How does your use of an audio/visual-dichotomy relate to this kind of loss?
SM: The audio is the active communicator and forms the visual. He who was shared is the closest I've come to a visual narrative, my pieces are often based on loops in an attempt to avoid singularity or a finite narrative. But with He who was shared, there's a story granting us access to our own perspective, and our confidence in it.
LS: It starts violently, we follow a man cutting through the jungle with a machete, and ends with the tranquil contemplation of the silverback gorilla chewing leaves. It's a very human perspective. I mean, this is an endangered species, and the only way we are able to protect it is through our projection and recognition of our feelings towards it. At the same time, we're both objectifying it and subjectifying it.
SM: Well, my main objective is to create that kind of ambivalence. The gorilla doesn't care if we're there or not, still it's there because we have decided to protect it from poaching. The work itself functions as a teaser to the portraits of the same gorilla futher into the exhibition, examining the notion of a hierarchy levelled.
LS: On the other hand, other visuals you create are less narrated and have passive, screensaver qualities.
SM: Visually, these are passive modes of experiencing something and they create a kind of aquarium effect or screensaver aesthetic. There doesn't have to be a climax. There's no start or finish, and it encourages the viewers to make their own narrative. The audio is a choroegraphic tool, and juxtapositioning audio and visual elements enable us to examine the discrepancy between the physical and the immaterial ways of existing as human beings. I loop the two elements but don't synchronise them, so the two can exist independent of each other, yet in the same framework. We live our lives more and more within the digital, I'm interested in what happens to subjectivity within that kind of structure. We have a highly developed sense of how to curate our selves in the digital, but how do we deal with the loss of complexity? It's a very violent thing, I think.
LS: The more you designate an object, the less complex it becomes.
SM: Yes. I'm mesmerized with how much you can strip the body of its subjectivity. In Throwing voice I've created an avatar through a live model by deforming their facial features after filming them. It highlights their outer visuality, their pure physicality. The audio, consisting of youtube tutorials by black women on contouring, is trying to give substance to this digital object, or the other way around. Who's throwing their voice to whom? Furthermore, with the audio loop shorter than the visual one, the avatar that depicts a body survives without what we perceive as physicality. Can it be free of the physical, its pre-determinate narrative, and if so, can we be free of subjectivity?
LS: Frightening. Do you think we're aware of this type of violence on our imaged selves? My impression is that we feel even more like subjects online, at least within the social platforms.
SM: Sure, we are very much in charge of our digital selves, we choose all the time, both in our outputs and our inputs. I don't know if we're aware of this ambivalence, ultimately we still trust our perspective and our choices as unimpaired.
LS: But with the mathematics of the Internet, our gaze is being led into the singular.
SM: Or we choose the singular to avoid friction. Video is a very interesting medium, because it's all about capturing the essence of something. It has to be captured within the first ten seconds, otherwise the viewer loses interest. This is how we watch stuff online, if it doesn't captivate us straight away we move on to the next excerpt in our feed. How do these excerpts co-exist?
LS: How do you experience this? Do you fear isolation?
SM: Definitively. It's a fear of Solipsism.
LS: Where existence is based on premises entirely set by yourself?
SM: Exactly. I fear we're being overly saturated and one-dimensional, existing in a constant feedback loop, perfectly and thoroughly created by a singular self. The paradox is that a sense of not being so isolated also arises, because within the isolation you're constantly sharing your output with others. We have become polybodies.
Sandra Mujinga is based in Malmø, Sweden. Her exhibition Real Friends is on view at Oslo Kunstforening until November 13 2016.