Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? by Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser
Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser
March 3 - July 30, 2023
Wednesday - Sunday | 12:30 - 17:00
Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser’s multi-media and virtual reality exhibition centres on an omniscient artificial intelligence named Piña, a fictitious digital repository that has gained consciousness through machine learning. Piña has acquired knowledge through extensive data uploads from Ecuadorian and Filipino knowledge-keepers. Through Piña, viewers meet real-world healers and activists including members of the Ciber Amazonas, a community of Indigenous organizers comprising journalists, writers and broadcasters who use radio and other forms of technology to build community and circulate cultural information. We also meet Alba Pavón, an Afro-Ecuadorian community leader who shares how a history of Black enslavement and displacement has shaped her knowledge of plant medicine. And Janet Dolera, a Filipino babaylan or spirit-medium who practices a form of massage called hilot, alongside other healing techniques. The spiritual and land-based knowledges of these women are stored, safe-guarded and transmitted for future generations through Piña.
Piña derives its name from the Spanish word for pineapple, introduced to the Philippines from South America by Spanish colonists. In the Philippines, piña is a fibre produced from the leaves of the pineapple plant and used to weave very fine, lustrous cloth known as nipis. A series of digital drawings included in the exhibition are based on traditional Filipino and Ecuadorian weavings and are printed on piña cloth. These drawings also reference neural network patterns used in machine-learning and appear in the film as the image of the knowledge systems held within the AI repository.
Ultimately, Piña is an allegory for the possibility of colonial resistance. It portends the capacity to re-narrate the violence of Spanish colonialism and to resist against ongoing narratives of cultural erasure. In this way, Piña is the sign of a hopeful de-colonial future. It is the sign of a benevolent and enduring matrilineal power.
Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? was organized by Haema Sivanesan, Curator, Walter Phillips Gallery. It was previously presented at Gallery TPW (Toronto, ON), curated by Heather Canlas Rigg; the MacKenzie Art Gallery (Regina, SK), curated by John G. Hampton and Lillian O’Brien Davis; and at the Julia Stoschek Collection (Berlin, Germany), curated by Lisa Long.
The exhibition is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Stephanie Comilang is an artist living and working between Toronto and Berlin. Her documentary-based works create narratives that look at how our understandings of mobility, capital and labour on a global scale are shaped through various cultural and social factors. Her work has been shown at Tate Modern, Hamburger Bahnhof, Tai Kwun Hong Kong, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Julia Stoschek Collection, and Haus der Kunst. She was awarded the 2019 Sobey Art Award, Canada’s most prestigious art prize for artists 40 years and younger.
Simon Speiser is an artist who conjures fictional concepts that merge nature with technology. Placing a variety of media and disciplines in dialogue with one another—ranging from writing, sculpture, and printing to video and VR installations—Speiser’s work expands the possibilities between art and science fiction. He has exhibited at the Tate Modern London, Julia Stoschek Collection Berlin, Frankfurter Kunstverein, MMK Frankfurt, CAC Quito, Oracle Berlin, MMCA Seoul, among others.