Video exhibition curated by Maura ReillyJune 1 – September 30, 2021
An exhibition of 13 video works addressing today’s most pressing global concerns, Wandamba yalungka/Winds change direction, takes its title from the traditional language of the Waanyi Aboriginal people of Queensland. The language is on the verge of extinction, spoken by only 16 people as of 2016. Expertly curated by Maura Reilly for the Performa website, the exhibition brings together an international and multi-generational group of artists: Sheila Pree Bright, Mel Chin, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Suzanne Lacy, Teresa Margolles, Mary Mattingly, Tracey Moffatt, Gary Hillberg, Carlos Motta, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, Pedro Reyes, Gregory Sale, and Judy Watson. Their works address violence against women, Indigenous rights, racism, mass incarceration, climate change, refugee crises, police violence, and LGBTQI rights. With the phrase “wandamba yalungka,” Reilly poses the provocative question: will we succeed in addressing the problems that define our present moment, or will we continue to take one step forward and two steps back, trapped in a Sisyphean cycle?
The videos play on a daily loop, starting with Wangechi Mutu’s The End of carrying All (2015) and concluding with Shirin Neshat’s full-length feature Women without Men (2009). These two works, which have a cyclical structure and feature women navigating a treacherous world, give the exhibition a feminist framing. In The End of carrying All, Mutu makes her way across an African landscape at sunset carrying a basket on her head. As daylight fades, she navigates flocks of birds and dust storms, commercial and industrial items accumulating in her basket. Eventually the load becomes unbearable, her body is swallowed by the earth in a volcanic eruption, and the cycle begins again. Women without Men, which chronicles four Iranian women in Tehran as they attempt to find personal freedom, begins and ends with the same exquisite and terrifying image of a woman jumping from the roof of an apartment building. We hear her thoughts as she falls. She finds liberation and agency in death, which she explains “isn’t so hard.”
Several of the films examine responses to violence and abuses of power. Questioning the usefulness of forceful political action, Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg’s REVOLUTION (2008) intersplices clips from Hollywood movies showing scenes of oligarchy, destructive mass uprising, and an immediate return to the status quo. Teresa Margolles’s Women Embroidering next to Atitlan Lake (2012) and Pedro Reyes’s Return to Sender (2020) are reflections on sexual abuse and gun violence. In Margolles’s documentary, Guatemalan women find healing through the collective act of sewing traditional embroidered quilts, while Reyes appropriates violent weapons as musical instruments. Judy Watson’s the keepers (2016) takes us into the Aboriginal Australian archives at the British Museum, documenting the erasure of Indigenous cultural heritage caused by imperialist collection practices.
Suzanne Lacy’s Code 33: Emergency Clear the Air! (1998-1999), Gregory Sale’s Future IDs at Alcatraz (2018-2019), and Sheila Pree Bright’s #1960Now: Art + Intersection (2015) offer case studies in community activism. Lacy chronicles a program of candid conversations between majority white police officers and primarily Black high school students to address issues of power, crime, and racial discrimination. The initiative provided hundreds of young people with workshops, mentorship, trainings, and jobs, and a permanent youth-officer program that became part of Oakland Police training. Sale documents a recent year-long art program that helps convicts re-enter society with a positive identity and strives to dismantle the social stigmas these individuals face. Bright is more critical of the ability of activist movements to affect change. Following the murders of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, she chronicles the Black Lives Matter movement in Baltimore, highlighting parallels with the 1960s, and complicating our understanding of the achievements of the civil rights era. Her images capture the pain and hope generated through decades of sustained activism.
The converging crises of environmental destruction and immigration are addressed in Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Exit (2015), Carlos Motta’s The Crossing (2017), Mel Chin’s The Arctic Is (2015), and Mary Mattingly’s Swale (2016). Exit uses infographics to quantify the movement of global populations, while The Crossing offers personal accounts of displacement by eleven LGBTQI refugees from Muslim countries. They share intimate, tragic stories of the persecution they faced in their home nations and in refugee camps while seeking asylum in the Netherlands. In the performance piece The Arctic Is, Inuit hunter Jens Danielsen travels to Paris wearing a traditional parka and pulling a dogsled to underscore that climate change is impacting lives across the globe. Mattingly’s Swale provides an encouraging counterpoint, documenting her community-based agricultural program, which brings fresh produce to the South Bronx through an interactive public artwork on a reclaimed barge. Her concept of an “edible landscape” is a model for new approaches in urban centers and beyond.
The exhibition makes excellent use of the digital format, which is much better suited to presenting films than to the reconstruction of physical exhibitions using virtual 3-D models. Hearing the sound of so many different voices from across the globe humanizes issues we typically think about in the abstract and reinforces our interconnectedness—everything is at our front door. While many of the videos force us to grapple with injustices, failures, and horrors that cannot be undone, the acts of their creation, curation, and viewing are themselves statements of hope that winds can change direction.