The video work Things Fall Apart takes its name from a book by Chinua Achebe, in which the author traces the birth of the European colonisation of the African continent. Chinua Achebe had himself borrowed the words from a poem, The Second Coming, by W. B. Yeats. Yeats wrote The Second Coming100 years exactly before the onset of the Covid pandemic, during the Spanish flu pandemic.
‘Things Fall Apart is a video installation, which developed through Haya-Baviera’s desire to create something that was a response to, or at least an investigation of her emotions surrounding the pandemic.
She said, “I often find inspiration in literature, so I picked up a copy of Robinson Crusoe hoping that within it, I would find a manual to build a sanctuary, a place for self realisation and a refuge from the dreariness of isolation, as did Crusoe on his Desert Island. Instead, this video work reveals how the myth of the tropical island has been bestowed upon us for centuries, and how the paradisiacal ideas of immaculate sand beaches, haven for wildlife and fauna, are linked to historical exploitation.” ’
Words by Noelle Collins, Curator at Towner Eastbourne.
Materials & Methods
To create this video work, I research filmic depictions of Robinson Crusoe, which I re-appropriated, transformed and re-edited as a way to reframe and reassessed a story which I once viewed as a positive tale. The research I conducted when making the video work Things Fall Apart, aimed at asking if digital medium can be part of a strategy to question cultural objects and if this can lead to greater empathy and a better understanding of our past.
Within the video work, I also inserted video clips of holiday advertisements found on the internet. My aim was to identify the relationship between the origins of Eurocentric narratives and the way the tourism industry packages culture. I wanted to question the promotional images and commentaries that tourism generates, how it exemplifies contemporary consumerist desire, and the role of tourism within histories of exploration and exploitation.
My research included:
An empirical study of films and TV series depicting the story of Robinson Crusoe
A study of three works of literature (Things Fall Apart, Robinson Crusoe and The Second Coming)
A study of comments left by tourists on trip advisor
A study of recent holiday advertisement
A study of holiday brochures and postcard dating from 1970 to 2000
Text by Lauren Velvick
Recently Maud Haya-Baviera has been interested in tourism; the promotional images that it generates, how it exemplifies contemporary consumerist desire, and this activity’s place within histories of exploration, exploitation and leisure industries. In the artist’s recent work one can trace the development of this preoccupation, from an initial break with the past and necessary reassessment of a culturally foundational text in Things Fall Apart, through to a narrated slideshow of oversaturated postcard imagery. Seemingly typical, or innocent, snippets of holiday correspondence reveal troubling attitudes in Wish You Were Here. With Things Fall Apart, shown at Site Gallery as part of the exhibition Heavy Water, an initial plan to engage with themes of self-sufficiency and the diaristic form through Robinson Crusoe swiftly became untenable on rereading, leading to a parallel engagement with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, from which the work takes its name.
Haya-Baviera’s original idea had been influenced by the isolation and repetition of living under pandemic lockdown restrictions, and the way that this intuitive response evolved through a critical reassessment of the source material is indicative of the artist’s approach in general, whereby once a realisation takes place it must be addressed. A markedly political and socially engaged turn has taken place in Haya-Baviera’s work during the past few years, beginning loosely with The Waves (2019) and Kinder (2019), however it is important to foreground aesthetic experience even in these works that refer explicitly to contemporary phenomena and prominent political issues. The look, sound and feel of each work is dictated by the starting point and subject matter, meaning that style and visual language can differ greatly between works. This is indicative of Haya-Baviera’s method of taking the viewer on a narrative journey through her recent thoughts and realisations, without being particularly didactic about it; speaking from a position of discovery rather than authority.
For example, within Things Fall Apart a painterly vision of watery disaster is soundtracked by a highly edited collage of Maria Callas singing in Bellini’s Norma, evoking associations of drama and tragedy from the Western cultural cannon; J.W.M Turner’s The Slave Ship also comes to mind. But, the footage used by Haya-Baviera is solarised into shades of cyanotype blue and bleached white, precluding a straightforward reading and contrasting unnervingly with the saturated palette of holiday advertisements that follow. Clipped footage from Robinson Crusoe adaptations and decades-old representations of indigenous cultural practices creates a stew of imagery that nonetheless draws a clear line between racist colonial narratives, anthropological practices and the tourism industry.
With its associations of bright sunlight and hazy memory, the visual aesthetic of tourism is also present in Wish You Were Here, presented on a much smaller screen to the side of Things Fall Apart in Heavy Water, appearing like an offshoot of thought that does indeed continue and evolve further in the artist’s most recent work, and her still developing ideas. For Haya-Baviera it was also important for these works, developed during Platform 20, to function in conjunction with the work of Victoria Lucas and Joanna Whittle at Site Gallery. While each artist had been working individually, there are points of convergence and comparison that seem inevitable in their poignancy, with an exploration of alienation and a striving for the sacred in unlikely places uniting the cohort.
In this sense, the adaptability and openness of Haya-Baviera’s practice creates the space to harmonize aesthetically while traversing the artist’s specific interests. For example, alongside this ongoing consideration of tourism, travel and consumerism, there is the performance and artifice inherent in hosting tourists, which is something that Haya-Baviera has played with in Choose Your Own Adventure in Whitley Bay, a public digital artwork commissioned by ArtHouses and accessed via Wifi hotspot. From a reassessment and critique of the desire for ‘self-sufficiency’ in ‘paradise’, picking apart these concepts through re-presentation and juxtaposition, Haya-Baviera is currently interested in desire itself, and in particular the tension between a necessity for ethical critique and the inherent danger of policing desire. Holiday advertisements and tourism in general continue to provide rich ground for this exploration whereby availability, sexual or otherwise, is yoked to consumer happiness.
Wish You Were Here
The period of research also led to the realisation of the video work Wish You Were Here. The research took the form of a study of holiday brochures and postcard dating from 1970 to 2000. I also studied hundreds of examples of reviews left by tourists on TripAdvisor. With this material, I composed a narrated slideshow of postcard imagery. Wish You Were Here, made during the pandemic, when long-distance travel was compromised, instilled a tantalising dose of escapism while it also exposed the conventional tourist gaze and the relationship between tourism and colonialism.
The Relics of D0> became a collection of combined rituals and relics mixing mythologies drawn from the Welbeck estate. Glazes and the aesthetic of Do><ian and Pastijware were carried through to this collection creating an underpinning identity in the ware created by the inhabitants of D0>. (D0><ia)
Relics of D0>.
This collection was created for Platform 20: Heavy water exhibition at Site Gallery in 2021.
The ceramic works were created following my period of research the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Some of the artefacts came directly from this collection. Others were items which expanded this collection and formed the relics D0>.
This process represented an investigation into the evolution of myth and ritual. Objects in isolation become other to themselves through curation, contextual display and the information provided by the unseen hand of the archivist of the collector and what they choose to reveal.
We believe there to be an honesty in the object; believing with our eyes that we can hold it in our hands and its weight will signify its truth. Yet inserted into a cultural continuum, real or invented, it loses itself and re-emerges from skeins of meaning, of signifiers and our own superimposed emotional and cultural histories in a kind of cultural phenomenology. Where once the object was solid, it now flickers and vacillates between narratives and mythologies, between assumed knowledge and uncertainty, so this once solid thing becomes motile and subverted and the glass which separates us enables no retrieval of certainty through touch.
There is an almost visual onomatopoeia (which of course is a contradiction in itself) in the Relics of D0>. In which rocks and objects sit still in the held breath of the display case, but their lava like appearance makes one imagine an almost imperceptible movement, so that in time one would turn back to find them puddled in the base of the case. Holding form, losing form, histories rise and dissolve. Objects emerge slyly, holding their half truths about them.
Forest Accretions, Dark Water and Dusk
The paintings emerged from the unrealities of the Welbeck estate, these liminal spaces which become and unbecome, woven from half told histories and the drape of leaves and silks. So we have a silk draped tent, ruffled and hunched in dark dusk, seeming to gaze down, narcissus like into dark water.
Like my paintings in Between Islands this too mirrored other works, but here Francois Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour1; supine, hidden, but invulnerable and politically powerful. This painting is hidden under the eaves of a wayside shrine structure. It is illuminated so that its green silk gleams and beckons almost breathing, almost watching.
I was interested in these shrine structures, both in the ritual of their placement and for those who tend to them and pass them in pilgrimage, and their weight in the landscape. They are like watchers from another world, luring and unsettling. The shrines in the exhibition, in a darkened room, beckon you with light, call you to them and the paintings look back at you from somewhere behind themselves. You are in their presence and from the pinning, pinning and winding of dark rags and fabric flowers you know there have been many before you.