Minnette Vari / In the Viewing Room 2012
In the next instalment of our viewing room programme, Minnette Vári will present her 1999 hard-hitting and highly acclaimed video work Oracle, as well as recent ink drawings that are “remastered” stills from the film.
Oracle takes Francisco de Goya’s famous painting Saturn Devouring his Children as a starting point and shows an affinity with Goya’s visceral treatment of supernatural subject matter that allegorises socio-political realities. In her research for the work, Vári looked into the identities of the children of the mythological figure of Saturn. “I have found that each of these gods and goddesses had specific powers, duties and areas of concern, such as death, agriculture and the wellbeing of women,” says the artist. “I have chosen footage from the media in accordance with these characteristics, and wound up with a portrait of South Africa during the late 1990s. It is this portrait that becomes the setting for a more personal interrogation of the history that has shaped who I am.”
Characteristically, Vári establishes herself as the central character of Saturn. “In Oracle I become a maniacal golem,” she explains, “cramming all the conflicting histories of present-day Africa into my mouth, in a fit of hunger that makes me gag. To re-incorporate the disparate truths into one body, to make it whole again, is an excruciating task.”
Within the film, triggering this ferocious act is the ubiquity of conflicting information. “A history as dense and traumatic as South Africa’s has been,” says Vári, “can sometimes prove too much, and one reaches saturation point. Unable to deal with the influx of information, unable to digest all the different versions of reality, the figure in Oracle must reject mouthfuls of it, spitting pieces out, despite the forceful urge to ingest more.”
The ink drawings that accompany the film mark an interesting reversal of derivation for Vári. While she would normally use drawing as her point of departure for her films, here she does the opposite. Vári describes the drawings as, “in part, a meditation on intermedia practice, and how sometimes technological ‘advancement’ can in fact be set in motion the other way, i.e. starting from a ‘new media’ position and working in a retrograde process that results in something ‘done by hand’. With video works such Oracle, it would not make sense to produce a digital incarnation other than that which it is already in – moving image. However, if the strangely distorted, digitally mediated performances that constitute the video works could be captured and re-interpreted through another, more ancient kind of performance (painting), this would produce ‘portraits’ that could not have existed without the prior technological intervention.”
She continues to explain “using the term ‘remastered’ for this series, I consciously reference the fact that the ‘master’ is a source located elsewhere and here, re-interpreted. The idea of ‘remastering’ has become commonplace in the digital era. Remastering is the process of making a new master for an album, movie, or any other creation. It often involves going back to an older, analogue version of a recording, effecting certain ‘improvements’ in terms of colour or signal-to-noise ratio, and producing a new digital version, which would then function as the new master copy. In this case, the ‘remastering’ process has yielded thoroughly analogue ‘masters’ from a digital source. While this ‘re-mastered’ series may provide a fresh way to engage with the video works itself, in turn it offers a way to unlock new meaning from the original context. In unstitching the electronic fluidity of video, one performative gesture is translated into another, which heightens aspects of ritual in both new and more traditional media.”
Oracle was one of three of Vári’s video pieces selected by director Harald Szeemann for Plateau of Humankind at the Venice Biennale in 2001.