To do a studio visit with Prima Jalichandra – Sakuntabhai is to look at Google Drive, Dropbox, finder windows, digital file folders, projections of found footage, video documentation of prior performances, paper collages, post it notes, overhead projections, transparency sheets, and excerpts of text. Moving through these systems of organization and presentation, one begins to wonder if this is all a performance as well. Documentation of performance, a notably complicated relationship with reproduction has never really being able to convey the nuances of live performance. Prima’s answer to this has been to create film trailers of the performances, narrating over footage and images and even adding new content after the fact.
The results, lay out a precise argument to the crux of Prima’s work – what are systems of power, how do they operate in our lives, what do our beliefs look like up close?
Born in Bangkok and receiving a primary school education in France, Prima was taught civics with the underlying message of how to be a “good” French citizen. Understanding that educations and historical accounts often exclude people of color and queer narratives, Prima investigates systems of power and weaves together new inclusive narratives, that insert their own experience into the collective information stream. Often engaging the textbook as a system to deliver information, the works on the walls of Prima’s studio physically layer texts, information, and diagrams on torn printer paper. The groupings of text reconstitute information delivering poetic or absurdist messages. In one grouping of transparencies, texts, dioramas and images lay stacked, unactivated by the light of an overhead projector but are charged by their comparisons, narratives, and the insights Prima has gathered. Flipping through the stack, Prima shows us what is thought to be the last picture of Le Corbusier, standing half submerged in the Mediterranean, wearing only swimming trunks. It is thought to be the last photograph of Le Corbusier before he drowned. Is that accurate? Does it matter?
I am reminded of a National Public Radio story I heard years ago in which a scientific study investigated context and its power over us when interpreting information. Two groups of participants were played a sonnet. One group was told nothing and asked to describe their response to the music. The other group was told that the author/composer of the music was killed in a genocide shortly after composing the score. The group that had access to the composer’s back story had a much stronger reaction to the music than the group that was told nothing. Context is sacred space.
Riffing on the structure of “the lecture” Prima shows us the performance Other Symmetries, a 20-minute lecture on the subjectivity of symmetry. We watch documentation of this performance projected onto the studio wall, a setting much smaller and more intimate than the original presentation. Speaking in English, French, and Thai while images flash on the lecture hall’s projection screen, subtitles occasionally appear on the bottom of the documentation. The images in the lecture are projected, projected over and drawn over. Prima reads from textbooks and a cellphone, occasionally moving in front of the projection screen, inserting their physical form into the lecture. Steps displayed in both projected image and physically in the auditorium. The physical steps hold stacks of books and microphones. At one point in the lecture, thunderous booms echo through the speaker system when Prima steps onto the stairs and the books fall to the ground.
Over the course of our two-hour visit (on Valentine’s Day evening no less), our conversation ranged from fan fiction, artificial intelligence, how to calculate infinity, Greek mythology, modernist architecture, and the desire to belong. Retelling common myths like Oedipus and the story of Le Corbusier, with a slight twist to include segments of their personal story, Prima reshapes our understanding of these highly-constructed narratives. Myths have a way of getting us to remember something that we didn’t experience. This comes at a cost when used to control and regulate in restrictive binaries. It is with ample curiosity and a compulsion for education that Prima utilizes performance, object making, video, collage and writing to dissect and rebuild new systems of knowledge and dissemination.
Their Website: www.primasakuntabhai.com