Zadie Xa leads visitors on an urgent environmental adventure
SASKATOON, Canada — In her latest exhibition, Moon Poetics 4 Courageous Earth Critters and Dangerous Day Dreamers, London-based artist Zadie Xa takes us on an adventure through a dying planet. Loosely referencing the Korean tale of Princess Bari, who travels the underworld in search of life-saving water for her parents, Xa orchestrates a multimedia installation that comprises theatrical lighting, spatial audio, hand-made costumes, and sculptures created in collaboration with artist Benito Mayor Vallejo. This immersive high-end production sets up a story told through five characters: Seagull, Cabbage, Conch, Fox, and Orca — whom she calls guides — to convey a planet in crisis.
Almost an hour in length, the audio narrative takes the visitor deeper and deeper into the planet’s layers. Performed by voice actor Samantha Lawson against the background of an ominous soundscape, five personal accounts describe interspecies relationships from perspectives of each guide, as well as matriarchal social structures symbolized through the role of the moon. The audio component, commissioned by London’s Somerset House Studios, is also available online as part of ASSEMBLY 2020 — an online experimental music platform for spatial sound art.
Well known for her performances, Xa interestingly takes a step back from the spotlight in the exhibition. Instead, the artist assumes the role of director and positions visitors as participants by referencing a “you” and “we” constantly in the voiceover. Lawson’s emphatic diction combines with Xa’s skillful direction, enabling the guides to shape shift seamlessly. From Seagull’s aerial view to Orca’s ocean depths, they lead us on a detailed tour of their increasingly precarious environments as a result of our destructive relationship with them.
Complementing this narrative , Moon Poetics employs a concentric layout of sculptural elements that draws the viewers to the center of the installation. From this spot, we are surrounded by five costumes representing each guide in Xa’s story. Meticulously crafted by hand, each costume bears symbols and images that depict the unique environments of each guide, including seashell ornaments, and red orcas emerging from the deep sea.
With its innovative theatrical techniques, the exhibition experience verges on that of a RPG (role-playing video game). Far from allowing the visitors to remain passive bystanders, Moon Poetics’ immersiveness allows visitors to make their own journeys through the story. Periodic aural reminders keep us alert of not only our geological impact, but also the future survival that desperately needs our transformative action. In this sense, the exhibition recalls Donna Haraway’s advice for surviving the current Chthulucene: by staying with the trouble, and traveling deeper into the underworld, we’ll be able to find the resources to aid our planet.
Zadie Xa: Moon Poetics 4 Courageous Earth Critters and Dangerous Day Dreamers continues through February 21, 2021 at Remai Modern (102 Spadina Crescent E, Saskatoon, SK S7K 0L3
Canada). The exhibition was curated by Rose Bouthillier and will travel to Leeds Art Gallery, where its presentation will be curated by Holly Grange.