Like a chimney you sometimes have to get through the dark before you see the light
Chapter XVIII: Flying Birds, Back Mirrors
An exhibition divided into as many chapters as the tally of 21 is something I haven’t come across very often; neither for a retrospective of an artist with decades’ worth of work, and certainly nor for an emerging artist. Knowing and believing Cia Kanthi to be a true visionary, I’m not in doubt, but rather in anticipation as to how this large number of parts will possibly be substantiated and knitted into the semblance of a whole on site. Irrespectively, I know I’ll likely find my gems from a greater lot to draw out into a personal, narrowed down display with which to engage the mind further, in so far authoring the text that I’ve been assigned to write. Passing sculptural brick chimneys, set with humidifiers blowing out smoke, early in the exhibition, I quickly come to the discovery of cars and birds being two fixtures appearing omnipresent in Cia Kanthi’s output inside Skåne konstförening. Chimneys, cars and birds. I do a “headcount”, reminding myself that the common denominator that sets stage for further elaboration is a certain quality of domesticity and transition inherent in all three of these notions. As for cars, I haven’t seen their presence this prominent in a while and thoughts more than once on a mere whim shoot to Anna Kleberg’s iconic photographic series Bilar (1999-2001). However, if that body of work bore trackings to wealth by material expression and could connote to consumer-fetishism, while placing its emphasis visibly on the aesthetical facet of cars, cars before Cia Kanthi’s lense are vessels to live and move through life; an appendage of their owners; a representation per object of who they are and perhaps as well aspire to be.
Chapter XVIII: Flying Birds, Västra Hamnen
In Chapter XVII: Is Nature a Cat? darkness, night sky and daybreak casts over the scenes in aestheticized and saturated images recalling a plurality of life in the urban city, in terms of a temporal frame. You’re figuratively speaking either an “early bird” whose life ends on a daily note when that of the “night owl” begins or you might find yourself fluidly moving in-between a spectrum as both. For some, however, these moduses of living life never intersect at all and they can be assumed to represent vastly different social realities and mundanities. One significant of norm and conformity and the other more seated in disenfranchisement and puzzling a singular scheme together from the cracks around these norms. Something tells me that some verbs that can be extracted from these images; moving, breaking, changing are of symbolic value for Cia Kanthi, as an artist but as an individual too.
For a moment, unrelated to the exhibition but related to the actual works, TV adverts for Volvo featuring Zlatan Ibrahimović dawns before my eyes, prompted by the exhibited views. Crisp, sleek, picturesque scenic landscapes which sees the traction of a moving car. Some ethereal rendition of the national anthem, Du gamla, du fria, plays out as the sound score before the end credits roll out: Made by Sweden. Not Made in Sweden like we used to call it. It’s an idealized narrative composed in 120 seconds. One that tells you that, yes – pun intended – you can reinvent the wheel (at least of sorts) and which operates on the subtext that you can own your own narrative about your identity, just like Zlatan. All the while many of us have heard of his hardships in this country that made him. I recall a couple of years ago reading about his sharing that the domestic media has over time treated him differently because his name isn’t Andersson and Svensson. “If that were my name, they would have defended me even if I robbed a bank”, he was once quoted saying. I wonder if this Zlatan episode comes to mind as well knowing that Cia Kanthi’s name on my Facebook profile when I’ve gone to tag her on posts still appears as Cia Jonsson. As for what Zlatan was saying I think the idealistic Sweden that occasionally turns a blind eye has often been one of those places where some realities can only really be understood by those who share them with you in their own life first-hand.
Chapter XVIII: Flying Birds, Hisham & Mahmoud
On a podium in Chapter XVII: Is Nature a Cat? rests an open book spread beginning with the word CHILDHOOD, capitalized and in bold letters. In it, Nicola Tesla, the iconic electric engineer shares a story from his youth about the notion of being struck by questions you go through life without ever finding the answers to. Without very few evident traces of her own personhood in the exhibition, I know this must be Cia Kanthi’s way of letting you know and stress that the exhibition counter to what might seem at glance, is indeed very personal and meant to reflect her personal realm. I can’t pretend to know what exact journeys Cia has gone through, but I’ve conversed with her and know her enough to have a fair idea. I find a quote from Alighieri’s Inferno in her claustrophobic spatial video install in Chapter XXI: Night Travel, of already little light literally being suffocated and consumed by increasing darkness, that helps me contextualize some thoughts thus far around the exhibition, as far as the personal goes; I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
There’s no Du gamla, du fria or some puffed-up complacent elf-like soundtrack in the exhibition. The only music you hear is a short drumming sling/vignette from a monitor that comes back in loop and which sounds like something stemming from a 70’s blaxploitation film. There’s not a Zlatan or one key figure in the exhibition through the many images that appear recurrently but there is Hissam and Mahmoud in Chapter XX: Flying Birds. These two handsome men posing next to a car in what per a figment of the imagination could appear as a moment relating to a nightly street racing situation. That could have been prejudicial had it not been for a sequence of nightly fast driving in an alley-like setting appearing through the monitor in Chapter XX. The men seem fiercely proud. Flying Birds. I wonder whether it is their cars that are metaphorized as birds or if it’s the two men themselves, or perhaps both? People just like cars are like mobile moving homes; an extension of immobile physical geographic fixtures more commonly thought of as a home. With both there is the aspect of leaving the nest but whether in spirit or person, similarly there is the tie-in aspect of coming back; as a law of gravity of sorts, figuratively speaking. I believe that along these lines lie Cia Kanthi’s interest in cars and people’s relationship with them. There is a photographic collage that almost literally links cars to homes, where cars have been photographed in front of their relating house facades. There is also a slide projector of images that depict the personal embellishments which evidence a singular distinct life, that car owners display inside car, hanging by the front-seat rear-view mirror.
Chapter XVIII: Flying Birds, Back Mirrors
Apropos of Volvo earlier, I come to think of what the choice of car and brand says about its owner. I think of this quasi-prejudice that I haven’t heard of in a while but that used to make the rounds. One of those things more people have thought silently to themselves than have been uttered out loud in public. Suedis who live “inoffensive”, conformist and comfortable family-oriented middle-class Jante-kind-of-lives drive a Volvo. At least in my mind Volvo still epitomizes this lifestyle and living. By some Jante state of mind in this society we live in here, a car brand is something that mirrors your social status in society; something that is earnt and not bought. A saturation of fancier show-keen sort of car brands, the BMW’s and Mercedes-Benz’s of the world and even more extravagant sportscar brands have as I can remember been linked to immigrant communities who don’t bide by a reductive Jante norm and probably don’t have it as deeply embedded in them. This is a silent cultural clash at most. Clash and opposition between society and the individual is something I’m realizing Cia Kanthi’s titles also connote to. Is Nature A Cat?, she asks. A cat like in the Looney Tunes cartoons, where Sylvester, the cat, categorically displays a challenging if not all-out antagonistic rapport with Tweety, the canary bird. Is nature an acting cat with its flying birds? Ok, got it.
Chapter XV: When Do You Come Home?
One of the chapters where birds literally and physically make an entrance in the exhibition holds the artwork that is the most arresting to me throughout the whole. It gets me at the core. Chapter XV: When Do You Come Home? It’s easy to miss among the grander more eye-catching works but to me appears like that cheating password in a game that lets you access a special door, if you know how to read it. It’s a collage of two images. One is a black-and-white photograph; a breezy shoreline scenery of birds flying above the sand. The other one is the white empty back of a view card that reads Sri Lanka. You’ll have to imagine the view. This strikes a chord with me having collected view cards in the plenty; similar surely to the one whose front we are now not seeing, as a child while visiting Bangladesh which is the country of my parents’ origin. Picking these view cards with their typical motifs up in the 90’s and sending them back to Sweden are memories that rest within me. I don’t need an image to revoke them. A blank page; a clean slate, bearing only Sri Lanka as a fact in the collage is telling enough of much regarding the artist herself, considering the title. A rhetoric question of belonging. When Do You Come Home? I might be out of line and overreaching here, but perhaps a very unexclusive answer to that simply is; when you are ready to fly.
This text was written by C-print's editor-in-chief Ashik Zaman for Cia Kanthi's publication Dark Light, produced in conjunction with the artist's exhibition at Skåne konstförening as the 2020 recipient of the Sven and Ellida Hjort Exhibition Award. The exhibition is curated by Tawanda Appiah (March 25- April 27). The publication includes texts as well by Linda Pistol, Maj Hasager and Max Ockborn.