Sofia Montenegro: In the mangrove, the roots fall from above

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

Performative reading entangling 3 different discoveries of diverse value and materiality: a snake, a ship and a dolphin. The narrative locates forms of fiction that take place in real life, moving from the aesthetical to the political.

Ana Teixeira Pinto, Ghalya Saadawi, Laura Harris and Rachel O’Reilly responded to the question:

Why do materials, objects, beings and organisms replicate each other?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

The artist walks around holding a mic in the darkened space. She reads from a script with a light attached to it about dissecting a dolphin. The light comes up, and we hear birdsong, a description of nature sounds, the sea, walking and sitting. And then we hear another story about finding a sunken ship and the corals and bones of those who perished with it accompanied by birdsong and deep sea sounds. Montenegro sits down and gives a first-person account of the excavation and extraction process. She draws the drapes and walks around the room; her breathing is audible. She launches into a story about a female figure and a snake pretending to be dead told from the reptile’s point of view. Blinds are taken down from upper levels, so there is a new source of light. Everyone looks up as the sound of a storm gets louder and louder; the room shakes with the sound of a tropical storm that continues till the end. 

Ana Texeira Pinto found the first image compelling – the dog’s extraction of a bone that is a dolphin as a moment of magical realism, of enchantment and disenchantment. She said the artist moves between registers to move between stories, so that at the end it is not clear how to place ourselves.

Ghalya Saadawi begun her analysis at the end in which the opening of windows and sound of thunder made it feel for her that the audience was at sea. ‘How is the ship story connected to histories of colonialism?,’ she asked. Further, Saadawi wondered whether the artist’s movement facilitated or destabilized the narrative. 

Laura Harris enjoyed the sparseness of the performance and lushness of the sound at the end. She experienced it as a flow between the animate and inanimate, where death was part of a regenerative process. For her, the boat located within the colonial process in the flow of life called to mind Alexandra T. Vazquez’s ‘Learning to Live in Miami’ (2014) in which the scholar looks to adaptable mangroves in Florida for inspiration. Of the performance, Harris asked: ‘Are there mangroves in this space?’

Rachel O’Reilly liked the attention to semiosis that moved between anthropology, legalism and eco-Marxism. She saw this as a good example of what artists bring to disciplines generally, with no end point to sensitivity. The sound didn’t work for her, however, as it brought this space into Europe. ‘Performance has a tendency to gloss over the deep research and working-through in the dissertation,’ she said, unsure whether the performance added to the already strong text.