nichola feldman-kiss SIREN

Nov 2,  2022–Mar 5,  2023
Koffler Gallery ⁠ accessible_forward
    nichola feldman-kiss, SIREN, installation view at Koffler Gallery, Toronto, 2022. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

SIREN is a solo exhibition by the Toronto-based inter-disciplinary artist nichola feldman-kiss. The multi-layered presentation encompasses Siren III, a new large-scale single-channel video installation and surfacings, a new installation of video prints commissioned for the entrance of the Koffler Gallery. At the core of SIREN is a reflection on concepts of diaspora, migration and displacement, the paradox of national boundaries and borders within an ecology of elemental flows.

SIREN makes unorthodox use of imaging technology and sonic harmonies to confront the significant humanitarian crises at the intersection of conflict and climate. Underwater video captured in Newfoundland is the root material for all the artworks on display. The dynamics, wonder and uncertainty of the open Ocean and aquatic exploration are reworked and reshaped into seductive keys to multi-layered and mutating memories. Predominantly filmed under a fracturing iceberg, a sense of human peril and environmental fragility resonate within the works. Informed by four years of research and experimentation, this presentation links oceanic memories of comfort and trauma with the brutal histories of the transportation of people as enslaved bodies and the contemporary realities of oceanic slavery and enforced political and economic migration across time and place.

feldman-kiss uses the gallery as a set for a series of encounters that reconfigure found narratives of survival. The harsh majesty of the Atlantic Ocean is harnessed and shaped into abstract portals to enable deeper connection with personal readings. Multi-layered static and moving images combined with haunting vocals offer profound moments of meditation within real and constructed memories. The carefully mixed and modulated soundtrack featuring a female chorus in ululation establishes a layer of connected human presence tempered with an ominous tension.

SIREN soundscape harmonics are composed of ululations. Ululations are a vocal practice performed individually and collectively as a kind of improvised vocal applause, celebrating arrival and clearing paths forward. SIREN harmonics arise from sonic diversity among geo-specific vocalisations in polyphonic play.  Ululation is an ancient tradition that has moved about Africa, the Levant and diaspora over millennia of nomadic passages. Certain sonic innovations to ululation are uniquely possible within polycultural contexts such as Toronto.

In Siren III, ululations act as a warning and welcome, offering a primal presence of awakening and rescue. The polycultural harmonics call for a collective witnessing as the feminine voices accompany and guide us through the fragmented narrative, inviting audiences to perform as unseen witnesses to underwater scenes of near drowning, ascension, birth and rebirth.

Two texts served as primary inspiration for Siren III.  The first was a 2017 video posted by Sea-Watch (A German non-governmental organisation operating in the Mediterranean Sea, notably by commissioning ships to search for and rescue imperilled migrant vessels and their passengers). Sea-Watch footage depicts coast guards protecting European borders from an inflatable boat full of vulnerable refugees. The second is Behrouz Boochani’s celebrated book No Friends but the Mountains, which recalls the author’s traumatic journey of escape and survival from Indonesia to Australia. SIREN calls on us collectively to look, think and, most importantly, feel beyond static surface identifications and historic repetitions and engage with materialised abstract visions of bodily loss, recovery, spiritual healing and the possibility of repair.

Curated by Karen Alexander

Exhibition generously supported by Partners in Art, Canada Council for the Arts, and Ontario Arts Coucil

nichola feldman-kiss is a Canadian artist of Caribbean, African, European and Jewish heritage. Her practice is a performative and relational exploration of body and embodiment, statelessness and belonging, identity and autobiography, witness and traumatic memory, empathy and collectivity. Her art and technology innovations have been hosted by the National Research Council of Canada, the Ottawa Hospital Eye Institute, the Department of National Defense, and the United Nations. feldman-kiss has consulted on the development of Canadian new media art research policy since 2001. The artist holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, and currently lives and works in Toronto.