Tabita Rezaire, 'Orbit Diapason' in Symbiose Immaculée at IMPAKT, photo: Peter Kers

Sites of stargazing – Tabita Rezaire’s 'Symbiose Immaculée' at Centraal Museum and IMPAKT

Issue no4
aug - sep 2021
Onbeperkt toegankelijk & Eindexamens 2021

It takes time and willingness to open up to Tabita Rezaire’s subversion of scientific imaginaries and Western narratives. But once you lay down in Rezaire’s dome Orbit Diapason her criticality and humor start to shine, giving you a chance to reconsider the colonial orders often (mis)taken as the order of everything.

The room is painted an earthy purple. Inside, my sight meets a geodesic dome and its hexagonal panels with hues of heath, lichen and wet clay. The dome’s geometry conjures up images in my mind, first of a temazcal — the earth-bound Mexcian sweat lodge used for spiritual healing — and, uncannily, of Biosphere 2 — a building complex in Arizona, US, constructed as a proof-of-concept substitute for Earth's biosphere. Surrounded by the sound of stones clinking, I enter the dome. Two of the hexagons project moving images. Aliens, body parts, bees, Black people flash in front of my eyes. Speeches on energy, chakra, nature and capitalism pass through my ears. I lie down on the cushion, overwhelmed by the density and pace of the information, and close my eyes. I hear a crowd dancing. I hear men harmonizing. When I open my eyes again, I am looking at a bright and cloudless sky, against which a female figure dances. She is god, a woman sings, and all is love.

This is how I encountered Orbit Diapason, an installation by the artist Tabita Rezaire in the Annex at Centraal Museum Utrecht. Along with three other works at the IMPAKT Center for Media Culture, it is part of Rezaire’s solo exhibition Symbiose, Immacullée. At a first glance, the work is packed with symbolism, metaphors and statements. It took me time and willingness to open up to Rezaire’s discursive visual and textual language. However, once I found rest in the dome, her criticality and humor started to shine. (I ought to thank the cushion in the installation for the rest, another hexagonal structure large and comfortable enough to lounge on, perhaps, for an hour.)

Orbit Diapason requires deciphering. Its aesthetics is specific, its space has an aura, yet its meanings take effort to uncover

Tabita Rezaire, 'Orbit Diapason' in Symbiose Immaculée at IMPAKT, photo: Peter Kers

Tabita Rezaire, 'Mamelles Ancestrales' in Symbiose Immaculée at IMPAKT, photo: Peter Kers

Orbit Diapason requires deciphering. Its aesthetics is specific, its space has an aura, yet its meanings take effort to uncover. Rezaire uses “decolonize” often in her work, as in decolonizing science, technology and time. “Science explores the universe outward to understand it,” prints one statement in the video, “spirituality explores the universe inward to experience it.” Over her interviews with African healers, scholars and a beekeeper, Rezaire collages game simulations, pop songs, memes, news clips and 3D renderings of technological objects.

Under these layers, I gradually perceive Rezaire’s effort to honor and elevate the plurality of experience and understanding outside of Western narratives. I find the thread of the parallels between alien invasion and colonial invasion particularly illuminating. “We are frightened by ideas of alien invasions because [the invasion of Columbus] has happened,” says one of her interviewees, “so much of what we marvel and praise can be tied back in great part to these dark moments. We don’t want to discuss it at all, so instead we create the magic of stories of alien conquistadors descending from the sky, toppling our civilizations and erasing us from existence.”

Throughout the video, Rezaire shows simulations of men dressed in neon yellow alien suits — at times in a hot tub and at times in a conference room full of market charts. To me, these cheeky parodies of Wolf on Wall Street speak to the conquistadors of our time, those who get rich from financial neoliberalism. (It is ironic, then, that the usage of “alien” takes place in legalese such as “alien resident”, which frames and excludes migrants as if they were responsible for the collapsing of our world.)

Rezaire refers to herself as “infinity incarnated into an agent of healing” and her works as “offerings”

Tabita Rezaire, 'Mamelles Ancentrales', still, courtesy the artist

Tabita Rezaire, 'Mamelles Ancentrales', still, courtesy the artist

On her website, Rezaire refers to herself as “infinity incarnated into an agent of healing” and her works as “offerings”. I find myself resisting this type of mystification. As I spend time with her work, however, I realize that the artist embraces mysticism and spirituality as a means to defy the confidence in scientific research. In Mamelles Ancestrales, one of the works exhibiting at IMPAKT, Rezaire visits megalithic sites in Senegal and The Gambia and interviews guardians of the sites, astronomers, archeologists and theologians. “I wish to take some distance from archeology and lend my own dreams to the megalith builders,” says an African scholar, “I believe the configuration of these sites are not random. It’s my belief. I have no evidence.” Gathering these accounts, Rezaire questions the supremacy of Western science as a system of knowledge-building shaped by colonial values.

While Western science scoffs at “I have no evidence”, a mindset I realize that I have inherited myself (unfortunately, though never too late to acknowledge), Rezaire challenges this self-assuredness. In her video, she introduces other forms of knowledge and knowledge systems — for example, the school of Guédé based on Arabic sources independent from European influences. The installation of Mamelles Ancestrales consists of a stone circle made from 12 pieces of slate surrounding a screen, in which the artist layers renderings of satellites, solar winds, magnetic fields, along with aerial imageries of megalith sites and cutouts of praying beads and flowers. The circle seems to invite criticism of its quasi-sacredness, whether or not it is Rezaire’s intention. As I walk in and out of the circle — reminding myself that to dismiss the mystical is to be complacent with what I already believe or do not — the hierarchies of meanings embedded in these images start to flatten. The work is not easy to read. Regardless, it exposes how Western science — together with its technologies and time-keeping practices — has claimed itself as the most viable way of knowing and in this framing lent itself authority.

Rezaire’s two earlier works in the exhibition also explore the subversion of scientific and technological imaginaries and concepts. She does so in coarser ways, which I see as preludes to what she unfolds in her later work. In Peaceful Warrior, the artist performs yoga poses and stands among renderings of tropical fruits, inviting us to be in a world full of “decolonial self care”, “ancient future” and “spiritual science”. In Sorry For Real, an iPhone rotates on the screen. Its caller, Western World, calls The Rest of the World to apologize. The message is clear: Western World is insincere and stays at a rhetorical level, while The Rest of the World responds with doubt, sarcasm and anger.

Tabita Rezaire, 'Sorry For Real', still, courtesy the artist

Tabita Rezaire, Symbiose Immaculée at IMPAKT, photo: Peter Kers

The process of decolonizing values with roots in colonialism can be deeply uncomfortable and confusing. In a way, Mamelles Ancestralles and Orbit Diapason are sites of stargazing. We gaze at the stars, we gaze at the screen, we gaze at the walls of the institutions where all these take place. In doing so, we have a chance to reconsider, unlearn and reevaluate our knowledge of the world and the colonial orders that we have (mis)taken as the order of everything.

Symbiose Immaculée takes place at two institutions in Utrecht. Orbit Diapason is located at the Centraal Museum and the rest of the works at IMPAKT Center for Media Arts. The physical exhibition is currently closed to the public and has been extended till August 15, 2021. A web portal has been launched to make parts of the exhibition available online: https://rezaire.impakt.nl/

Coming Sunday, the 27th, there will be a guided tour at 15:00. 

Jue Yang
is a writer and filmmaker

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