Connecting the dots between economics and geography

In a dark room in a bylane off Colaba Causeway, grey waves engulf the words, ‘The Poet’s Antidote.’ The tiny art space has been converted into a visual box, playing a 12-minute video on repeat.

The film pans through Northern Norway, switching from scraggly black rock surfaces, frothy waves, to a close-up of black fur, breathing heavily. Suddenly the viewer is confronted with a full screen of a black cat, that fiercely stares straight into the lens, with its silver-grey eyes. Techno club music begins, and the viewer is taken into a factory, churning iron ore, over and over again, prompting a trance.

Fictitious reality

The film, titled The Poet’s Antidote (2018), and currently playing at the Mumbai Art Room, is the creation of Norwegian-Canadian visual artist Tanya Busse, and has been curated by Norwegian-Germany film curator and producer, Sarah Schipschack. “The [project] came about against the backdrop of the arctic: Cold War fears, a changing political landscape, and remnants of post-military architecture embedded deeply into the earth from World War II,” writes Busse in an email interview. Merging both fantasy and the reality of the military industrial complex, Busse wields a conversation between herself and a “noaidi,” a poet and shaman of the Sami people, the indigenous people of Scandinavia. As a team, they envision a spell that will destroy the “war machine”.

As described in the exhibition note, the work attempts to confront the aforementioned military complex, which has been placed inside a mountain through spiritual actions. “As an act of resistance, the female noaidi does not cast the spell. She does, however, offer a ritual of protection, and in that sense, a cure for the deceased mountain,” continues the note. The overall theme of the film urges viewers to introspect on the unbalanced relationship of human beings with nature, and puts forth the prospect of indigenous thinking.

Power play

The idea for the film first came to Busse when she was invited to make new work for an exhibition taking place at Olavsvern, a decommissioned NATO submarine base located at 70° North. “From the moment I stepped into the massive underground complex; its long corridors, labyrinth-like hallways, monumental torpedo halls, etc., the architecture became present and expressive of an exertion of power. Intuitively I wanted to counter that power, through different means, and searched for alternative approaches to doing that,” shares Busse.

Since Norway is considered to be one of the world’s largest arms exporters, the artist sets her film in a Norwegian town called Kirkenes, which lies within the border zone between Norway and Russia. “Historically Kirkenes has been tied to mining activity, with soils rich in iron ore, to make steel for military and industrial purposes,” Busse explains. The consistent churning of iron ore in this film, is representative of “the dark disease,” which is symbolic of capitalism.

Over a period of three years, the artist continued to probe into what she’s most drawn to — how power is articulated through material relationships and histories of place. Busse talks about how the extraction of iron ore drastically transformed the landscape and carved new spatial geographies. “For example, the city of Kiruna in northern Sweden is being moved 3 km to the east due to the extraction of iron – the city will sink under its current condition,” she says.

Old vs. new

Using animism, belief, and a tinge of magic, the artist and the noaidi, attempt to create resistance through the landscape in the film. An Arctic terrain ready for a cold and harsh winter, and venomous plants evolved with biological and mechanical defences; act as antidotes for the looming war machine. Busse explains the approach of resistance rather than ‘casting a spell’, “We’re at a time in history when people no longer believe in the old gods. They have been outpowered, and replaced by the new gods of capitalism; Internet, media, resource extraction, petro-states, the trade of arms, etc. The noaidi didn’t want to give her power over to the new war machine gods.”

Facing capitalism and its complexities on a day-to-day basis in a contemporary world, Busse is inspired by award-winning author, curator, and activist, Lucy Lippard’s thoughts. As Lippard states in her book, Undermining. A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (The New Press, 2014) , “…undermining as what we are doing to our continent and to the planet when greed and inequity triumph; undermining as a political act–subversion is one way artists can resist.”

The Poet’s Antidote is ongoing at Mumbai Art Room, Colaba, until February 21

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