Duende. A Spanish word meaning “a mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain.” The spirit of evocation. The unexplainable power of art to deeply move a person. The duende I speak of comes from the inside, it is the same feeling that fired the heart of Nietzsche and indoctrinated love songs. It is a form of escapism and mystique manifested in tears shed at the opera, or the moment Frank O’Hara stopped breathing after hearing Billie Holiday sing for the first time. It is evoked in the soulful paintings of Frida Kahlo, and the erotically charged poetry of Pablo Neruda.
For L.A.-based multi-media artist Suné Woods, duende transpires in the exploration of touch and boundaries of social space. On Thursday, October 7th, Woods coalesced the power of spoken word with projections of her mixed-media series to create both an auditory and visual experience through various mediums of multi-channel video installations, jarring photographs, and mixed media collage. The public lecture debuted at the William Grant Still Community Arts Center, as the first in a series of lectures hosted by pedagogical platform, At Land’s Edge.
Woods’ subtly subversive series of installations meditates upon the potential for transformation through touch as a means of open ended exchange. In her two channel video installation, "A Feeling Like Chaos," Woods expresses her interest in tangible human interaction, intimacy, and interconnectedness through representations of four archetypal characters— the conjurer, guerrilla, healer, or wandering sage. The characters entertain the politics of touch through both bodily pleasure and violence within a turbulent social climate. The refrain of helicopter sounds echoes throughout the installation, as a compilation of still frame images of shells, spaceships, incandescent quasars, and dream-like landscapes flashes on screen. Woods places jarring images of human contact in guerrilla warfare in close proximity with a sensual, nurturing moment of touch between a woman and her healer. The healer is fully consumed in licking the face of the woman, caressing her head as she embraces his touch—an intrinsic response to healing her wounds. Such representations address the potentialities in divisions of touch and the intelligences each invokes on an a sensual, emotional, and violent level.
In "Human Achievements in Limbo," Woods accentuates the development of hegemonic ideologies and power relations through an aesthetically framed photograph of two torn out pages from the Guinness World Records book. The mixed-media piece confronts the ways in which power manifests, as well as the fetishization of black bodies through a constellation of images—a West Indian limbo dancer, an Apollo rocket, and a luminous quasar resting beneath the iconic black finger—that converge together. While the Apollo rocket represents soaring human achievement, the sexualized image of the dancer calls upon Audre Lorde’s notion of erotic power in expressions of sexuality. As illustrated in "Mano a Mano," the fingers show the ways in which gesture can be used to evoke feeling. The recurring images of reptiles, including lizards and an iguana claw, disturb the senses and shed light on how easily we mistake familiar things as alien.
When asked how she responds to boundaries of social space and intimacy through her work with collage, Woods expresses that “intimacy with collage is tactile and felt through a process based journey… all senses should be activated when making work, and intimacy activates those senses.” To create new forms of power, the mind and body must come together to incorporate all senses and engage in an individual subjective journey through a space of transformation. In an epoch of uncertainty, Woods’ work is more relevant than ever. Through the tracing of formations of knowledge and the inner workings of touch, we are able to create new narratives and free ourselves of our ‘mind-forg’d manacles.’
A Feeling Like Chaos will be screened at REDCAT contemporary arts center in Los Angeles on November 28.
For more about the artist visit her website.
Written by Jasmine Ashoori