This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.
The titular work of visual artist and filmmaker Shireen Seno’s first solo in Berlin consists of a bank of 16 CRT TV sets arranged in a grid, and one monitor. The monitor sits atop a desk, along with a rubber band ball, a notebook, and a two-way radio. The tableau is completed by a jacket draped over the back of a desk chair, a pair of rubber boots, and a shirt hanging beside the bank of screens. While the grid resembles a CCTV system, some screens remain dark for minutes on end, with others lighting up at seemingly random intervals. The images onscreen are of migratory birds, taken by Seno in Candaba, Pampanga, in a wetland that lies along the East Asian-Australasian flyway.
The title, “A child dies, a child plays, a woman is born, a woman dies, a bird arrives, a bird flies off,” (which is shared by this centerpiece and the exhibition itself) invites meditations on the transient and the tragic. In quick succession, it cues the overwhelming grief that comes with a child’s death while prompting questions on the events that lead to a woman being born, accompanied by the quotidian rhythm of birds flying in and out.
Anyone who has spent time watching birds is bound to develop a keen awareness of their surroundings – to look and listen more intently, and to understand what is actually meant by the phrase “blink and you’ll miss it.” This is the “politics of looking” referred to in the exhibition text written by filmmaker George Clark, contradicting the notion that some things are worth seeing while others are not.
In the same space as this installation are two large photographs of children playing. These are images Seno had taken while living in Japan, and they can be seen as extensions of her films Big Boy (2012) and Nervous Translation (2018), both of which zoom in on the lives of children growing up during tumultuous periods in Philippine history. Blown-up to scale the height of the gallery walls, the images contrast the intimacy of childhood with the overwhelming magnitude of growing up, offering a nuanced counterpoint to the cliche of childhood innocence.
These contrasts of scale, between intimacy and magnitude, are just as present in more recent works: the film To pick a flower (2021) and in the artist book, Trunks (2023). Both pieces show Seno’s sensitivity to the coexistence of – and codependence between – tenderness and violence through her exceptional use of the visual essay.
To pick a flower takes the viewer on a journey through the early years of American occupation of the Philippines through archival images. These are accompanied by Seno’s soft voice narrating stories of large-scale extraction, everyday life under colonial rule, and the small gestures that make survival possible. While To pick a flower demands that the viewer sit in thrall of the slides flashing on the gallery walls, Trunks is meant to be held in one’s hands, allowing for the quiet thumbing through images of children at play or at rest, and the immeasurable sky above.
In The Green Automobile (a poem for a lover), Allen Ginsberg wrote about how “Childhood, youthtime age, & eternity / Would open like sweet trees / In the nights of another spring / and dumbfound us with love.” A similar energy pervades Shireen Seno’s work in this exhibition, uncovering the tensions between the care that comes with observation against the violence of surveillance. Her images of children, of birds, of youth-time age, and references to flowers and trees remind us of the smallness of our experiences and the shortness of our lives, especially in comparison to the breadth of history and the contents of archives. And rather than despair, we are invited instead to quietly witness, in other words, to look. – Rappler.com
Shireen Seno’s ‘A child dies, a child plays, a woman is born, a woman dies, a bird arrives, a bird flies off’ is curated by Mathias Zeiske and runs from April 6 to May 7, 2023 at the daadgalerie, Oranienstr. 161, in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany. Admission is free.
Manila-based artist and filmmaker Shireen Seno is the 2023 Film Fellow for the Artist in Berlin programs of the German Academic Exchange Service, better known as the Deutsche Akademischer Austaschdienst or DAAD, an institution funding and organizing academic and artistic exchange between Germany and the rest of the world. Filipino alumni of the DAAD Berlinkunstlerprogramms were Raymond Red, for film in 1990, and David Medalla, for visual arts in 1997.