Travel for me is a time of heightened observation. Without the burden of meetings, deadlines and day job commitments, one is able to enter the day in a posture of silent expectation. Serendipitous images, compositions and textures populate the day, waiting to be seen, admired and captured on one’s camera.
My artist-residency experience in Hong Kong plunged me into a hyper-frenetic metropolis full of street vendors and corporate slaves running around and hustling for the money. Yet amidst the never-ending rush-hour lay hidden pockets of stillness. Moments of gentleness and quite that refused to be consumed. The series of videos I documented from Hong Kong are a testament to these beautiful vignettes of silence.
The video Woman Outside the Apartment was taken as I was about to leave my apartment. Outside my door sat an elderly woman watching the rain. Never have I seen her before, and never will I see her again. I stood there, amazed, amused and enchanted all at once. There she sat, calmly and quietly watching the rain. No errands, deadlines or taxis to catch. No care for the dumbfounded stranger that stood there for what seemed like hours—a stranger, a brother, an artist—who watched her as she watched the rain.
Perhaps it is precisely because the act of looking is inextricably linked to the activity of drawing that I found myself transfixed on this old woman watching the rain. There she sat in solitude, watching the rain and letting it all pass by.
The island of HK is defined by towering skyscrapers of economic efficiency, yet what I found most fascinating lay below on the streets and alleyways, manual traditions that today seems inefficient. In a landscape marked by progress and advancement existed remnants of activities from an older world: the pushing of carts uphill, the sweeping of streets with bamboo brooms, the collecting of discarded cardboard in the markets. It was these sorts of daily, repetitive and manual activities that truly fascinated me. Not only because of their tactile and meditative qualities, but also because they remind me of drawing as a manual and menial craft, an analogue activity far removed from the shiny world of coding and robotics soon to overtake the developed world. It is against this backdrop of an imminent A.I. ascendency that these menial tasks suddenly feel like living artefacts, meditative pockets of stillness that refuses to be swept away.
I am interested in the value of simple and menial forms of labour in the context of a developed society soon to be dominated by A.I and robotic technologies. As an artist who renders images using manual analogue modes of mark-making, I find a strong affinity between drawing as a repetitive “manual” and “menial” task with the sorts of activities taken by these street workers. Both activities are tactile, tedious and hand-performed actions contributing towards a larger meaning, whether it be for one’s livelihood or the production of an intentional cultural artefact.
The footage above was taken during a recent research trip to the Philippines. Taking a walk from my hotel, I chanced upon three workers installing and repairing cables for the local internet network. I was captivated by the image of three pairs of hands twisting, pulling and threading in silent choreography. In this video, we have the tactile materiality of fingers and metal mingling with the ethereal realms of ‘the cloud’: a name used to describe the invisible networks of data flying to and from unseen servers across the globe. The internet is often conceptualized as an immaterial ether disconnected from the base physicalities of the offline world. Yet this video flaunts the fleshy materiality that sustains it all. Without the greasy fingernails and tangled lines of steel cables, there will also be no conceptualizing of The Cloud, The Post-human, or The Virtual. Indeed, the online world begins and ends within the grounded tactility captured in this footage.
What I also found fascinating was the chance presence of the rainbow along with with the trinitarian imagery of the three hands in this video, both of which evokes an image of celestial activity that transcends the offline and the mundane.
UNDERNEATH THE MASK
Exhibition Essay by Sophia Cai
History operates under a myth of factuality, and there are certain events and figures that have dominated the narrative of Australia’s colonial history. From the arrival of the First Fleet to tales of notorious bushrangers such as Ned Kelly, the story of modern Australia has been largely shaped by a Eurocentric lens and perspective. In truth, however, history is a reflection of cultural and social values as much as it is based on facts and dates. Coloured by human interpretation and power struggles, what the history books tell us is far from neutral.
In his first solo exhibition, Forgotten Faces, Sydney-based artist Kristone Capistrano reconsiders Australia’s history as a penal colony through a personal migrant lens. The exhibition was inspired by an initial visit to Old Melbourne Gaol and the discovery of the death mask of an obscure Filipino cook – Filippi Castillo. Sharing the same cultural heritage as this man, Capistrano became interested in the place of ethnic and migrant voices within the well-versed narrative of Australia’s convict past, which remains heavily white-dominated. Who was Filippi Castillo, and what was his place in this part of history?
ON THE FACE OF PRESENCE: THE WORK OF KRISTONE CAPISTRANO
Exhibition Essay by Dr Robert Tilley
In the Torah it is forbidden to make an image of God, and yet in the first chapter of Genesis this is exactly what God does, He makes an Image of Himself, male and female, and this is humanity – it is us. Through the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, the words translated into English which denote being “in the presence of” God are, in Hebrew, literally “to be before the face of” God. God, face, and person all come together and define what it is to be present; presence is person. When we admire a landscape, or talk to animals, or speak to plants, or trace out the pattern of the stars into mythological shapes, we personify them, we give them a face, and thereby we and what we see become truly present to each other.
One of the major trajectories in the history of art in the twentieth century was one in which the attempt was made to reach a state of pure formal abstraction. A work devoid of representation and personality. Not surprisingly the accompanying critical focus came to be on absence. But in more recent years, alongside the rise of a more socially and politically engaged populace, there has been a growing return to the person in all their social, political, cultural, and religious peculiarities and circumstances. Presence has returned and, all of sudden, we turn and find ourselves ‘before the face’ of those we might otherwise have never really seen..
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© Kristone Capistrano 2021