To be mesmerised: “My Dreams Are Not Your Dreams” opens at Island House

By Keisha Oliver

This past Thursday was an evening of firsts for Bahamian filmmaking and video art. The Island House opened “My Dreams are Not Your Dreams” the first public art exhibition focusing on video installation, while acclaimed filmmaker Kareem Mortimer premiered “Cargo,” the largest Bahamian feature film project to date. These events speak volumes to the calibre of creativity that is emerging from our islands. No longer is The Bahamas’ international acclaim in film tied solely to the successes of historical icons like Bert Williams and Sidney Poitier, but contemporary artists and creative thinkers are joining the ranks. As they push the envelope of new technologies, re-defining tradition and building the industry, they usher in a new appreciation for how we experience the moving image.

“My Dreams Are Not Your Dreams” opened at Island House on Thursday, October 19th, with an artist talk featuring St. Martin-born, Martinique-based new media artist David Gumbs. All images courtesy of The Island House and Dede Brown Photography.

“My Dreams are Not Your Dreams” is a group exhibition featuring video installations of six Caribbean artists that explore their role as the mesmeriser. Bahamian artists Spurgeonique Morley, Heino Schmid, Tessa Whitehead and Averia Wright exhibit alongside Deborah Anzinger from Jamaica and David Gumbs from St. Martin. Describing figurative and conceptual landscapes through digital renderings of time and space, their works command a presence that interrupts the natural flow of the hotel.

Curated by Tessa Whitehead, the exhibition appears as a continuum of dream-like spaces. “I decided to project the works rather than use display screens because I felt it was important for viewers to be apart of the projection, particularly in the interactive pieces by David.” Black female figures, conch shells, straw bags, tropical waters, all cultural references and objects of much regional public discourse become a Caribbean medley of digital illusions.

David Gumbs’ interactive installation “Blossom” which allowed the audience to participate by blowing into a conch shell.

Deborah Anzinger’s video “Autumn” plays with point of view in the narration. Through sound, viewers feel as if they are standing next to the artist as she directs the figures, “You do everything that you want to do.” Anzinger’s voice comforts the model, who through digital manipulation appears through the lips of a black female figure. There is a sensual yet forgiving quality to the work, as the artist explores intimacy, gender roles and power relations.

Ideas of blackness and femininity are also raised in Spurgeonique Morley’s magazine cutouts of black female figures. Floating within psychedelic backgrounds, Morley uses bizarre colour and erratic movement to enchant her viewer. In the blink of an eye, these modelesque figures’ skin colour is removed leaving behind a partially erased form. Her experimental approach to animation considers notions of perception and indifference related to the female figure as an object of desire.

Spurgeonique Morley’s recent GIF work projected in The Island House Cafe.

Averia Wright’s series, entitled “Tourism Perfection,” is a selection of bronze sculptures, mimicking straw bags, created for the 8th National Exhibition (NE8) in 2016 and are the only physical objects within the exhibition. Exhibited alongside her videos making the connection between the tangible and the abstract, she shares the process of making straw bags as a lesson on cultural value through performance art. While making the permanent objects desirable, the works create atemporality out of an object that embodies temporality.

Although very spirited and light-hearted moments, these works boast the power installation art plays in considering the environment, architecture and how people interact with these spaces. Transforming the interior spaces and grounds of the hotel across three nights offers transient experiences and messages that visitors simply cannot ignore.

Such creative endeavours are synonymous with The Island House and its commitment to supporting contemporary local art practices. From its collection of original Bahamian works to its diverse creative programming, the resort has endorsed the arts as a central part of its brand’s experience. This month, the hotel opened its doors to international artists with the launch of an artist-in-residence program. Its first resident artist, David Gumbs, is known for his focus on interactive videos that challenge off-screen perceptions and he spent most of his time at the residency building and creating works for the current exhibition. Access to his onsite process was planned to engage visitors, through creative immersion and appreciation.

David Gumbs’ interactive installations which picked up the aura of bodies as passing sensors caught audience members mesmerised.

As the exhibition’s featured artist, David Gumbs shared three works that are an expansion of his current practice. Gumbs teaches multimedia and motion design at the Visual Arts School in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and has exhibited his work extensively. His layered drawings, paintings and photography are the foundation of his interactive videos that describe an inner-landscape. Gumbs practice examines the unseen, nature within, the cycle of life and rhizome graphical macroscopic universes. Unlike the other exhibiting artists, his work is supported by a multimedia interface that allows the viewer to manipulate their digital experience. He explores the tangibility of building memory and complexity through recollecting. Two of the pieces in the “Offscreen” series feature the beloved conch shell that is extinct in some Caribbean waters and facing a similar fate in The Bahamas. Like Wright, his use of a cultural object that is fading from the regional narrative offers a new perspective on its distinguished place in the memory and imagination of an island people. He states, “’Blossoms’ is the centrepiece for me and is one of the pieces that use the conch shell. The public can interact with the installation by blowing into the conch that then modifies the visual scape and soundscape of the work. I was interested in using traditional objects and sounds tied to Caribbean heritage to explore our unique digital imprint.”

If you would like to hear more about David Gumbs’ practise, tune in to NAGB’s “Blank Canvas,” next Wednesday, October 25th, at 6:30 p.m. on Guardian Talk radio, 96.9 FM