13th Gwangju Biennale — Minds Rising Spirits Tuning

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Theo Eshetu

Theo Eshetu has initiated a range of explorations into cinematic representation and visual grammar of the moving image to develop works in formats across television, Super 8 recordings, documentary, experimental video, installation, and photography. His projects consistently stitch together histories from African modernity and European imperialism to arrive at a unique aesthetic that captures the interrelation of cultural worlds and communal knowledge. Denoting a sonorous overlay and cosmological approach to the electronic imagery, he experiments with mirroring and kaleidoscopic effects to induce hypnotic undertones into the way images are perceived.

His latest audiovisual journey Ghostdance (2020) looks at the relations between the ethnographical display of Asian and African collections and the choreographing of their metaphorical death and life as they enter the museum space. What does it mean for objects to possess subjectivity in representing spheres of life and social bonds? This question circulates through the bodies of two exceptional dancers, who channel the kinetic energy as a repository of spirit-objects and rituality suspended behind the museum’s walls. Butoh dancer Yuko Kaseki’s moves resemble the transmutation of the human body into other forms, resonating between eerie and majestic moments, while Edivaldo Ernesto’s improvisation blends contemporary and traditional African dance into an attempt to shake off and escape the confinement of the vitrines.

As the dancers step into the roles of objects and migrate from one space to another from one cultural context to the next, Eshetu taps into the ongoing debate around the restitution of looted goods from colonized territories. Ghostdance was filmed at Berlin’s Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art as well as the yet-to-be unveiled Humboldtforum, which takes the form of the reconstructed, reimagined Prussian Stadtschloss in the heart of the city. The video allows a glimpse beyond the logistics of restoration and the taxonomies of storage and display, and exceeds the objectifying descriptions on museum labels. Ghostdance temporarily releases the hegemonic museum from its linear narrative into the realms of the polyphonic and the unexpected.

Krisztina Hunya