Stored in the Himalayan ice caps is more fresh water than anywhere on earth, save in the polar glaciers. Himali Singh Soin’s exhibition “The Third Pole” drew attention to this water source, building upon the artist’s research conducted in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles as the recipient of the 2019 Frieze Artist Award. The show opened with a group of photographs titled Inverted map, 2022. One of them is a digital montage of two photographs: one taken by the artist’s father during an expedition to the North Pole in the 1980s, and an image she recently took of Antarctica’s similarly dramatic landscape. The bare stretches of earth in front of her are a testament to the melting of glaciers produced by global warming. This introduction gave way to a diaphanous space, without internal walls and illuminated mostly by the light of three video installations. The result was an astral and mystical landscape, occupied by images of depopulated places redolent of some dystopian future. A soundtrack by David Soin Tappeser—the artist’s partner, with whom she collaborates under the moniker Hylozoic/Desires—hummed mysteriously in the background.
The first installation comprised a pair of videos from Singh Soin’s ongoing series, “we are opposite like that,” 2017–, projected on either side of a screen suspended over a pool of water so that the images of the polar ice in degradation appeared reflected on the water’s surface—a nod to the progressive melting of the glaciers. The threatened status of ice glaciers was already a topic as early as the nineteenth century. In one of the videos, quotes from articles in the popular press record paranoid panic over an imminent glaciation that might cover the British Isles and, implicitly, undo the country’s imperialist and colonial project. Building on this idea of dispossession, the sound piece Antarctica was a queer rave before it got busted by colonial white farts, 2020, proposes the South Pole as a utopian space for monsterizing Western norms. Mountain, pixelated in the water, 2021, two tapestries woven by artisans of Andhra Pradesh in India’s southeast using the traditional ikat technique, graphically reproduces sound waves based on the codification of Antarctica was a queer rave. Lastly, a three-channel video installation, As Grand as What, 2021, takes Tibetan healing rituals as its subject, proposing the recovery of ancestral symbols in a constant renovation for ceremonies of the future.
In line with the artist’s ecological vision, the use of sustainable materials was central to the display of the exhibition. For this show, natural nontoxic materials and traditional plastering techniques were used to treat the floor and walls. The latter were covered with marble dust, alluding to Britain’s failed 1912 attempt to transport marble from one of the polar settlements to be used commercially in England, an incident detailed in “we are opposite like that.” The extreme environmental conditions of the journey reduced the stone to dust by the time it reached the metropolis.
Singh Soin’s works align with an Asian-accented futurism. The severity and extreme beauty of the landscapes she depicts conjure a dystopian extraterrestrial planet. Ice represents both a source of life and an archive endangered by climate change and colonial-minded exploitation. And yet the videos are rich with references to specific forms of spirituality and communion with forefathers. Symbols and concepts of the Tibetan cosmovision abound—drums and their rhythms, masks, as well as mandalas. The presence of spirits inhabiting the ruins of ancient civilizations is evoked through masks, stones, and images of animals. All these cosmologies are intertwined through a shared sense of the union between poetry and sound art, the confusion of one in the other. This synthesis is the very essence of Singh Soin and Soin Tappeser’s collaboration.
Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.