The point upon which it turns (2022). Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, ‘The Navel of the Dream’ at Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam
Just float here a while and consider all the possibilities – Beatriz Santiago Muñoz at Kunstinstituut Melly
Running somewhere between and beyond dream-weaving and an archiving of discreet or disinterested details, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s filmmaking is like a smiling, spiralling ellipsis. Ada M. Patterson visits the artist’s solo exhibition The Navel of the Dream, which has the palpable feeling of a recurring dream.
A sea cut into pieces. A lens of scattered attention. A blue as thick as a roaring underwater trench. A gathering of worlds narrowed to a point. Your senses don’t know where to land. Just float here a while and consider all the possibilities. You find yourself cradled in The Navel of the Dream, an exhibition of works by Puerto Rico based artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz at Kunstinstituut Melly, curated by Annalee Davis and Iyawo (Holly Bynoe Young) of Sour Grass, offers up a collection of video fragments that deranges fixed ideas of memory, time and place.
I first encounter a world split in two: The point upon which it turns (2022), a meditation on repetition with a difference. A two-channel video installation cut between hurricane-shifted mangroves and a seismically active quarry in the Lajas Valley in Puerto Rico, it catches you between two temporal pockets. Each video offers a different geological time signature; one of seasons and one of tectonics.
How might the shattering lens of crisis or disaster make other ways of being in the world possible and imaginable?
Scenes of the quarry pace between images of barely swaying plants, dazed scrawny calves and frozen statues. Here, time passes in almost undetectable ways. Tectonic shifts and the changing contours of the island escape your limited perception. You are only clued in through the dense accompanying soundscape piecing together earthquakes and animal sounds. Against this ancient slow, the mangrove flows much faster, yet you can’t know how it has changed after years of accumulated hurricanes. You are left with these moments, these mementos of an aftermath, of afterclaps still unfolding. Between quarry and mangrove, each side of this point in time and place is caught in a flow of upheaval and redistribution. And with this, there is a complicated sense of grief and possibility in the air. How might the shattering lens of crisis or disaster make other ways of being in the world possible and imaginable?
Hiding in the dark from the opposite side of the exhibition, Otros Usos (2014) and Black Beach/Horse/Camp/The Dead/Forces (2016) each give a different shape and weight to the above question. Paired similarly to The point upon which it turns, like a reflection cast in a watery mirror, these two silent 16mm single-channel works zoom in on Vieques, an island in Puerto Rico once annexed as a bombing range by the US Navy for several decades, now finding afterlives in what remains. Black Beach/Horse/Camp/The Dead/Forces shares a debris of vignettes. It pictures lives being lived towards the island’s geological and spiritual decontamination. It’s difficult to grasp at all the life abounding here. Black beaches, waters and different walks of people tending to and exorcising the land and their own bodies in unique ways. An image of children playing with a toy skeleton in the water feels both unsettling and promising. It’s the silliest memento mori I’ve ever seen. There is so much work to be done here. So much work to be undone. And it takes everyone—each in their own small ways—to make a liveable difference in what is one of the many aftermaths and afterlives of US colonialism in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean region.
Otros Usos looks at an old battleship fuel dock in Vieques which has since been repurposed by fishermen. Most of the film is shot through a kaleidoscopic crystal lens, breaking the water, dock and fishermen into pieces. Splitting time, direction and possibility, Otros Usos makes a shattering feel like a ripening. There is something so promising, so harrowing, about the sea being dreamed in different flows, where the waves run backwards, sideways or even upended entirely. Where fixed horizons can feel stifling or stranding, the geometry of Otros Usos unearths possibility in line breaks and fragments.
The exhibition has the palpable feeling of a recurring dream. The sounds and images loop seamlessly, but there is a secondary looping at play. Echoes begin to surface within the bodies of the works, where an echo might be a ghost or an aftershock. Stories within stories. Bubblings below the surface that make waves above the surface. Not immediately or easily legible, things make their own kind of opaque sense, depending on when and where the focus settles in each of us.
This feels most apparent in El cuervo, la fosa y la yega (2021), a pensive fever dream of patchworked images and narratives. A mare itching itself on an old beat-up car, a flour vèvè being drawn in reverse, sea creatures idling in the depths of the Puerto Rico trench, the film sums up each of these wholes with an elegant refrain: “the world narrowed to a point”. At the surface, these fragments feel disconnected, yet Santiago Muñoz presents them with a reassuring honesty. Stories here are shared at their own frequencies, translating each other and being transformed in turn. While still unfolding with plenty of sumptuous visual wonder, nothing here is trying to mystify, elude or delude you. That being said, these artworks might very well displace you from your own singularity—your own narrowed point of reference—into a more scattered and plural kind of seeing. A detour of endless unique present tenses, independent together.
There is a visual delight concentrated on the not yet, the soon to be, the now, the happening and the happened
The Navel of the Dream revels in an anticipatory promise buried in the commas and forward slashes abundant in many of the titles of the works. Running somewhere between and beyond dream-weaving and an archiving of discreet or disinterested details, Santiago Muñoz’s filmmaking is like a smiling, spiralling ellipsis. There is a visual delight concentrated on the not yet, the soon to be, the now, the happening and the happened. There is always more to come, always pieces to return to and reconsider.
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: The Navel of the Dream runs until December 31st, 2022, at Kunstinstituut Melly
Ada M. Pattersonis a visual artist and writer