These Monsters are Real
The title of a 7” record by riot grrrl band Heavens to Betsy, “These Monsters are Real” conjures feelings of anxiety, fear and panic. While the reference to monsters elicits the realm of fiction and fantasy, the insistence on their realness re-centers experiences of horror and trauma, summoning images of mutated and abject beings.
Monitor 11 takes this title as its starting point and asks that we claim a space for the imaginary and the make-believe that can emerge from and entangle with the most monstrous acts, which have become a part of our everyday reality. We began with these questions: How does trauma haunt us? How do we build fictions that tell the stories of our lived realities? And finally, how do we fantasize our way out?
The films offer us various spaces through which to reflect on these questions, from the local and national, to the organic and natural, as well as the imaginary and extraterrestrial. Rather than being the backdrop to the action, these spaces take centre stage, emerging as threats, mutations and sometimes, anthropomorphic fantasies. The program deconstructs reality while oversaturating it with possibilities. Reflecting on the increasing social anxieties about environmental catastrophes, current geopolitical crises, and global tragedies, the films generate a fertile ground for meditation and hope through fantasy, humour and parody.
The program begins in a state of groundlessness with Sahej Rahal’s Forerunner. The film brings together passages from hyperfiction writer Jorge Luis Borges, with an account of a Medieval hunting lodge in Delhi that doubled as an observatory, and the story of a sage who mysteriously vanishes from the lodge. The fable of a Tughlaq emperor and his followers search for game leads us to a mystical bird in the sky, which the film juxtaposes with images of the International Space Station. Rahal proposes that this infinite labyrinth of human history and human trauma can coexist and be moved through by looking at other illusory times and places.
In contrast to Rahal’s work, Kush Badhwar’s Work Starts Now takes place at a precise time and place: June 2nd 2014, Telangana, India, the inauguration of the celebrated K Chandrashekar Rao, chief minister of India’s 29th and newest state. Rao, a staunch believer in astrology, numerology and Vaastu (the ancient treatise on constructions), is said to have fixed the precise time of the ceremony on advice of his priest, and to suit his lucky number six. The film, shot on the same day, depicts workers deconstructing and, quite literally, unceremoniously bringing down the head of the new state.
The dismantling of icons is echoed in Tala Madani’s stop-motion animation Apple Tree. A reflection on the kinds of control and pain cliches of masculinity inflict on the body, Madani offers a darkly comic response to the playfulness, perversity, and at times, violence of gender performance. In Eye Stabber, Madani takes surveillance as her subject to ridicule. Whilst the figures that appear in Madani’s work are stereotypical, iconic and loaded with associations, the activities in which they are engaged are strange and absurd causing them to oscillate between self-assurance and humiliation.
In Weapons of Mass Destruction, Payal Kapadia paints an apocalyptic image of 21st century agricultural practices. Here, it is food—the very essence of life—which is the culprit of acts of mass destruction. The film tracks the evolution of certain foods from mythological and sacred to mechanically produced and genetically modified. The real life exploding watermelons, which appeared throughout Asia as a result of growth hormones, are shown here bombarding the collage-constructed urban landscape.
Anjana Kothamachu also creates her built environment in her work, somewhere, elsewhere – an animated sculpture relates a phantasmagoric story accompanied by celestial images. The work entraps the viewer in a dystopian surreal state where desire is spoken, and perhaps realized, only through fantasy.
In Mahardika Yudha‘s North East Shadow, it is a mundane scene of people walking in the distant shore which is digitally manipulated into a shadow-like dream sequence. The work references the ongoing conflicts between the government of India and militants in Assam province. Through mythological and literary references, Yudha suggests that history and memory are generative forces for dealing with contemporary struggles whose shadow continue to haunt us.
In Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Planking, it is the artist’s body, frozen in position that produces an uncanny within the staged order of gestural respect during the royal anthem. The Thai anthem, blasted twice per day on every channel and on public speakers, beckons citizen subjects to stand still and pay respect. Siriphol’s performative act interrupts the nationalist memorialization of the past with a profound gesture that takes place in the presence of various publics.
Finally, the program ends lost at sea. The theme of nature as site of fantasy reemerges in Laleh Khorramian’s work. Reflecting on human themes of odyssey and conquest, the film follows the voyage of a ghost ship as it rides the ocean waters through an epic seascape. Like Kapadia and Kothamachu’s work, Water Panics in the Sea is constructed out of material artifacts, here made unrecognizable through manipulation of monotype prints and drawings. Maneuvering through space, time, and distance, the film offers a site of contemplation, introspection, and perhaps escape.
In History’s Disquiet, Harry Harootunian writes: “art offers relief from life without relieving one of living”. The goal of this program is to reflect on possibilities of relief for the living, and to insist on fantasy as a legitimate mode of operation.
Azar Mahmoudian is an independent curator and researcher based in Tehran. She has curated exhibitions and screenings for Cultuurcentrum Bruges, Belgium; Contemporary Art Brussels; SOAS, University of London; Blackwood Gallery, Toronto; and was a 2014 Fellow of Global Art Forum 8, Dubai. She currently works as a lecturer in Tehran universities and collaborates with a project-space in Tehran.
Leila Pourtavaf is a Toronto-based writer, independent curator and doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Toronto. She was a founding member and coordinator of the projet Mobilivre– Bookmobile project, and editor of The Bookmobile Book (2015) which chronicles the project’s history. She is also the editor of Féminismes Électriques (2012), a bilingual collection of essays which reflect on the last decade of feminist art production.