Fairytales have never been about fairies per say. They carry deep, disturbing connotations that would be deemed inappropriate for their target audience if not cloaked in the linear felicitations of filial, romantic and moral closures. They have also always been White, and in colonial extensions of epistemic occupation, shaped reading experiences around the world, cumulatively moulding how most people think, speak, and aggregate.
The tear of paper. The fecund abdomen of an animal. Could the uterus be a disc?
The hieroglyphic arrangement of long ears. Grass blades and sound waves forget their ontological boundaries in a pulsating stream.
Alice was a Black baby. Humpty Dumpty was an old woman who broke her hip with the fall. Maybe the hare did win the race.
Actant Deepa Jayaraman weaves a series of figurines modelled in contradiction to the Golliwog ragdoll, a racist imagination premised on aggression and its association with a purported ugliness in departure from White purity. The prejudice practically extends to all non-White children, and particularly those that depart from the surface signifiers of Whiteness; just as there are differences in scale and interiorities even in microscopic vision. The treatment meted out to characters with Black skin in conception and formulation is formative – it seeps into the child’s conscience, and continues into adulthood through an internalisation of the bias. Its roots grow deeper in maturity, with the violence then often originating from and finding victim in coloured bodies.
What is an ‘ideal’ reflection? Is the reflection that of the same counterpart in matter? Does it contain the same molecules and microbes that sustain the body in question?
Shadeism starts with adjectives in formative text and fosters a sense of isolation in the child reader that doesn’t identify with its literary double. Creating a counter-visual through “Gollieth”, the artist re-negotiates the terms of her engagement with familiar fables and rhymes; he is sketched as the protagonist in a story panel with sound-sensors animating his motions. The video denies narrative linearity as much as it departs from ‘ideal’ representations of its protagonists. A current of impulses is set in motion as image and sound intersect to create a new lens through which to un-view the tales we grew up consuming and projecting. The new protagonist of the anti-fairytale, Gollieth, reclaims his Blackness, wields a sword, and does not smile to please.
The tabula rasa is hypothetical – the slate can only be a palimpsest, never blank for new calculations to chart an equitable state of being. There are generational knots to be untied, violence to be recognized, abuse to be healed from, and plural understandings to be cultivated. One can only enter veiled or sideways in deflection of a linear route – the centre moves, but it consumes power and produces chaos first.
The chaos can manifest in a more subliminal area as well – sleep. One cannot rest peacefully if their bed is infested with bugs; the latter leech on and permeate the epidermal security of the human to deny absolute rest. The bedbug, as Actant Bazik Thlana explains, is an archetype of the parasite, which, in its subversive association with disruption, challenges the idea of order and preservation. The parasite, in living sideways, becomes a mode of resistance, an interruption as both embodied matter and articulating force (in its intangible iterations on digital media). The parasite invokes body horror in dreaded anticipation of its invasion – it is almost invisible in its maneuvers, eating through skin, paper and fabric, setting in motion a decomposition of the extant.
The deployment of the bedbug in ocular technologies such as film has resulted in revealing studies of motion. Early archival images of the bug are found in Grace Hopper’s log-books and the first experiments in motion when Lucien Bull and F. Percy Smith recorded their subjects in different calibrations of the limbs and objects of the everyday. The conflation of human time with animal time through a documentation of movements otherwise imperceptible is evidence of an excess of attention and its resultant capture of detail – time is now subject to dissection. The slow motion, however, is also a result of the specular economy of the human, where “parasite” itself is a definitive example of anthropocentric taxonomy.
In its aerobic motions in dilated time, the fly is rendered comic, its resistance to gravity causing discomfort to the watching eye. On the other hand, the upright fly could be searching for gravity itself. The bug is miniscule and almost invisible, unwelcome unless available for perusal. It is interruption to routine, invading manicured scapes with irreverent force and naiveté, often ending their lives between the pages of a book or in the swirl of tea-cups. The carcass persists; the exoskeleton could just be disposable armour. Oblivious to the invasion, the host perishes in slow motion as the proverbial rabbit-hole starts to regurgitate.
We The Photons, an image and sound experiement by Actant Deepa Jayaraman | Collaborator: Sneha Khanwalkar
Begbugs Intimacy and Manifesting Para-situ (an online workshop) by Actant Bazik Thlana | Collaborators: Silvia Bombardini, Siegrun Salmanian, Sanjita Majumder, Rodinliana, Josephine L. Pudaite, Matti Bakor War, Jaidev Deshpande | Blogs for insight: https://bazikart.wordpress.com/2020/02/17/bedbugs-intimacy/ | https://outoflineofline.wordpress.com/
Cover Image and Inset 1: Screengrabs from the video, We The Photons @Deepa Jayaraman
Inset 2: Bedbugs between pages @Bazik Thlana