A Conversation w/ Shubhangi Singh
The following email conversation took place in October 2016, upon the acquisition of Anywhere But Here (2016) directed by Shubhangi Singh for active Video Out distribution. The interview was conducted by Matthew Ballantyne for a University of British Columbia undergraduate co-op placement with VIVO Media Arts Centre.
MB: Matthew Ballantyne
SS: Shubhangi Singh
MB: There are moments of Anywhere But Here that are very dreamlike. What role does the dream play in your work?
SS: Portions in Anywhere But Here emerge less from dreams and more from my memory’s version of events. I feel like we are often suspended in the undefined areas between fact and fiction, my works seem to exist within those very blurred lines.
MB: What do you look to outside of art for inspiration?
SS: Outside of art itself, I look to a whole panoply of events, literature, politics, everyday incidents, conversations and communities that go on to inform my practice. I am particularly interested in folktales that I do admit to indulging pretty heavily in.
MB: Tell us about your artistic community or scene.
SS: Well, while there’s a lot of energy in Mumbai that the artistic community partakes in and contributes to, I’m also set at some distance, geographically and otherwise, from the center of where things take place. Realizing how we were traveling a fair distance each time we wanted to access any artistic scene since our own neighborhood was rather bereft of one, we were looking at ways to address this matter of creative aridity. To remedy that, me and others from our area started an initiative called New City Limits to initiate dialogue and shared practice closer to home, relevant to things going on where we are. NCL isn’t just limited to visual arts but extends across the arts to other practices in the community as well, thus, allowing us enough room to experiment, collaborate and learn from on another.
MB: Is there something specifically that video can express more ideally than any other medium?
SS: Questioning form is, somewhat, part of how I conceive a work. To consider a myriad of forms or a combination of forms before recruiting it as a medium is a process of reimagining the forms a single work could possibly take– which excites me. In the case of Anywhere But Here, for a while, I considered a photo book instead of a video but eventually felt that video was the right medium. Perhaps my formal training nudged me in the direction of motion, but I feel that video proved to be a medium democratic enough to allow me moments of voice and silence which further, seemed to value the viewer’s choice at flexible points of engagement with the piece.
MB: You live and work in Sydney and Mumbai, what are some distinctions between these places, and how have they come through in your Art?
SS: There are some undeniable advantages and disadvantages of living between two places. While staying relevant and effectively engaged with the environment can be a continuing struggle, it can also help reveal perspectives that are invisible otherwise. While I try and engage with each city on its own terms, because comparing can sometimes lead to romanticizing the other place, Mumbai and Sydney are fairly different from one another and the various politics of either place, on face value, either don’t intersect or don’t agree with each other. The inability to resolve the differences between the places finds its way into my work.
MB: What does it mean to express elements of folklore through new media? Is there a transmutation that occurs with the source material?
SS: Folklores are an interesting resource– nobody owns it and the stories, itself, resists ownership. The stories don’t quite belong to anyone, often, not even to the community whose milieu the stories are set within. Over time folk tales change — who knows what the story once was before it reached me. This makes folktales very desirable to my sensibilities; they possess that possibility to expand, regardless of the age or nature of the medium used to enact them.
MB: Do you tend to fixate on particular ideas or topics? Do you ever feel a sense of resolution after completing a work?
SS: Yes, I often find myself fixating over ideas. I don’t feel a work is ever quite completed, that it is ever fully done and dusted. I sometimes revisit older work to see how it feels or to work present ideas into an older work, as if its a base to see how the present resonated with the past. There’s also multiple processes going on that feed off each other. I might draw in order not to forget things, which serves a function at the time, but then that process might combine with another at a later point in time.
MB: The scene in which the main character zips herself into luggage was very familiar to me– something that many children play with. How does play inform your images?
SS: Anywhere But Here, the video piece was originally conceived as an installation. So the various portions of the videos are created as stand-alone narratives that have, over the period, fused into a single whole. The piece was also made at a time where I was exploring and questioning the idea of home and movement. The part where my friend and protagonist, Apurva, zips herself into a big bag does come from the times I and my sibling have done the same as children. Formative memories are known to influence many of our current personalities and a lot of my works stem from my past experiences as well. Without indulging overtly in the romantics of it, I do like to treat my memory not much different than a folklore– questioning the very authenticity of it’s ‘true version’ but using the memory, directly, as a reservoir of stories that may or may not really affect my present.
MB: How might you position yourself within a history of Feminist expression?
SS: It is hard for me to drawn congruence between my practice and those that fall within the existing framework of feminist works, predominantly because I don’t feel like my works have lived through the conflicts that define some of the avant-garde feminist expressions, albeit, they are not completely removed from it either.
In spite of the fact that works of Joyce Wieland, Germaine Dulac, Audre Lorde and Margaret Kilgallen amongst a few, have influenced my view of society, I would continue to question implications of the associations inherited via these influences.
Through my works, I would hope to speak of and for not any one gender but would like for it to be relatable to all, regardless of genders and communities. Considering the times we currently live in, to be a feminist would, perhaps, mean to be inclusive– to continue to devise ways to reach out to the other beyond oneself. It is difficult to position myself as a feminist filmmaker particularly since that term, I feel, has implications that, I doubt, I could live up to. I am still at a place where there’s an endeavor to expand and reroute my own understanding of self by means of the external, the society and the other.