Preview: Urban Video Project, “Lessons in Living Otherwise”

Preview: Urban Video Project, "Lessons in Living Otherwise"

Artists TJ Cuthand and Sofía Gallisá Muriente grapple with grief, fear, and doubt through multimedia projects which share moments of "obstinate joy"
Published: April 17, 2023
Alternative Text
TJ Cuthand's multimedia projects convey the Indigenous, queer, and Indigiqueer communities within systems of oppression.

Light Work’s Urban Video Project (UVP) will present short films by multimedia artists TJ Cuthand and Sofía Gallisá Muriente, through Lessons in Living Otherwise. The films will be presented in dual screening and Q&A programs on April 19 and 20, coordinated on-campus in Shemin Auditorium and at Everson Museum of Art, respectively. These events pertain to UVP’s 2022-23 programming themed “The Porous Body of The Earth,” which scrutinizes environmental injustice through a post-colonial lens.    

The six pieces dreamt by filmmakers Cuthand and Muriente — who are both from homes tainted by colonial legacies and threatening forces of resource extraction— reflect on ways they’ve been directly impacted by these oppressive systems festering Puerto Rico and Indigenous lands in Canada, while simultaneously being entangled and complicit in its wrongdoings. They capture the tensions that exist between these two realities. 

“Both artists are exploring the centrality of being in relation to care and intimacy, of landscape and others,” said Anneka Herre, UVP director. “And that’s kind of the core of it — there’s this kind of intimacy, and there’s care and there’s relationality.”

Within their stylistically divergent films, Cuthand and Muriente imagine spaces that allow themselves — and other inhabitants of these lands — to reconcile grief, fear, and doubt. Strewn with intermittent humor, the filmmakers’ work also carries and celebrates what Muriente calls “obstinate joy.” Simultaneously, outsiders are prompted to evaluate their place in a colonized society — how we (sometimes unknowingly) interact with these toxic forces, and the kinds of support we provide to marginalized communities in return.

Alternative Text
Installation view of Cuthand's "Extraction" projected on the Everson Museum facade.

“Part of what inspires me to make work is it deepens my understanding of who I am and the world around me,” Muriente said. “I really hope that people open themselves up to feeling a lot of what these pieces bring up. And, perhaps, take away some sort of added sensibility.”

Cuthand, based in Toronto, Canada, is a filmmaker, performance artist, and writer. His experimental, narrative work enlivens representation for Indigenous, queer, and Indigiqueer communities. Lessons in Living Otherwise features four of Cuthand’s short films, including his work Extractions, which is currently being projected onto the Everson’s facade at UVP’s projection venue. In Extractions, Cuthand reflects on having his eggs extracted and frozen to make an Indigenous baby while mirroring resource extraction and the child apprehension industry. Whereupon Indigenous children are — like natural materials — being extracted from their communities for monetary gain. 

While coming to grips with a gas mask fetish, a sultry prop that eventually transformed into a symbol of protest, Cuthand’s Less Lethal Fetishes analyzes his involvement in the 2019 Whitney Biennial and poses the question: What does this mean for the artists who are forcibly entwined in the art-washing efforts of dirty funders? “Part of my practice is asking questions that don’t have very good answers,” Cuthand said.

Through Reclamation, Cuthand blends ridiculous possibilities with the seriousness of a new future faced by Indigenous people as they heal their lands and communities after white people abandon the ruined planet for Mars. With similar wry humor, Cuthand stages another fantasy in Just Dandy, where a narrator warns others of an encounter with an evil colonizing queen and her fictitious dandelion offering at an Indigenous revolutionary meeting. 

Muriente, a Puerto Rican visual artist, creates research-based work described as “elegiac” by Herre. Her work proposes mechanisms for remembering and reimagining, that simultaneously bolster historical agency and resist colonial forces of erasure. Two of Muriente’s short films, Celaje (Cloudscape) and Foreign in a Domestic Sense, co-directed by Natalia Lassalle Morillo, will be in conversation with Cuthand’s pieces. 

Merging materials captured on 16mm and Super8, home movies, found audio tape, and hand-developed film, Celaje (Cloudscape) laments the death of the Puerto Rican colonial project and the accumulation of environmental and political disasters that have devastated the Caribbean Island. While overseeing images of destruction, Muriente contends with the loss of her father and grandmother, whom she began documenting in 2005 as a way of perceiving the histories she lived through.

Alternative Text
Muriente's "Foreign in a Domestic Sense" explores the experience of those impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

“Paying attention to cycles of nature allowed me to put my grief in perspective,” Muriente said. “All death and destruction is really just part of larger cycles of transformation. Memory work is always grief work in some way. My work tends to deal a lot with memory, and with remembrance.” 

Foreign in a Domestic Sense is a four-channel film that focuses on the experience of those displaced in Central Florida, the fastest-growing population of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Muriente and Morillo fasten a prismatic constellation of human testimonies with imagery intrinsic to Florida, such as SpaceX, Disney World, and the state’s natural environment, to create an immersive experience. Foreign in a Domestic Sense makes room for the “cast members” of the collective testimony to be unified while illustrating the interconnectedness of human displacement and climate grief. 

“We wanted to move past the disaster porn and the imagery of destruction and suffering that has dominated coverage of the multiple crises in Puerto Rico, but also tell their stories of migration and Hurricane Maria with new images,” Muriente said. 

Beginning at 7 p.m. this Wednesday in Shaffer Art Building’s Shemin Auditorium, UVP will present Just Dandy by Cuthand, Celaje (Cloudscape) by Muriente, and Less Lethal Fetishes by Cuthand. Also viewable through live stream, the second program, Extractions by Cuthand, Foreign in a Domestic Sense by Muriente/Morillo, and Reclamation by Cuthand, will continue on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Shemin Auditorium.