Roots of Resistance: A Few Notes on Prop Roots and Thoughts from Below

by Kathryn Michalski Volume 24, Issue 8-9-10 / October 2020 5 minutes (1250 words)

This text is presented as part of the ÉMERGENCE series, organized and presented by la lumière collective, in collaboration with the online journal Hors champ and Offscreen

In Prop Roots (2020), Alexandra Gelis uses the mangrove as a metaphor for existing between two spaces. The mangrove exists between the land and the ocean, and is a plant known for its ability to adapt and survive under harsh coastal conditions. What is most special about the mangrove is its prop roots. While they manage to nourish and protect the mangrove from the elements, a large part of them grow above ground, uniquely adapting to the world around them. In spite of the success of these plants in surviving under difficult conditions, the part that remains uprooted is exposed to the elements of the world – strong and vulnerable at the same time.

The pacing of this film is both hypnotic and unsettling. We feel both connected to the nature shown and to the accompanying sounds; however, we are never quite given enough time to fully absorb the images, we only momentarily experience them. Our senses are further bombarded through the use of dual screens. Prop Roots was originally shown as a super 8mm, dual projection at the8fest in 2018. The film was been re-vamped into its contemporary dual screen, digital version with additional sections and text. While the two screens are intricately related, they leave one feeling split, with the sensation of being caught between two (or more) places. The visceral feeling of scrambling to establish footing within one space, while also wanting to belong to another.

The natural surroundings become her allies on this journey. Birds and butterflies, delicate transitory creatures, accompany her – but they themselves only temporarily inhabit the space. Familiar and foreign, one cannot miss the duality that is rampant throughout the piece, between the landscape and Gelis. The audience is also forced to work, to focus, to try to establish a sense of permanency; to try to understand what is happening as our attention is pulled from one place to another. Gelis, who now lives next to the cold water lakes near Toronto, uses her roots as a form of resistance. She balances all that she has built, with that which she is currently trying to cultivate. Part of it feels like a dream, like she exists in multiple places as once.

This dream is addressed in Thoughts from Below (2019), a film by Jorge Lozano, co-made with Gelis. A fragmented, dream-like self portrait of artists struggling to find balance between their lies in the present, as the past constantly weighs on them. In the film, the two reflect on the difficulties of being when the thoughts and traumas of their previous lives form the lenses in which they view the contemporary moment and through the lens through which they are viewed in their contemporary environment.

While their bodies inhabit one land, their souls seem in-flux between multiple places and times. They walk down the peaceful streets of Toronto plagued by thoughts of war, kidnappings, bombings and the struggle to feel at peace in a world that feels “suspiciously safe.” A quiet stroll, lacking in violence and pain, is a surreal place. They seem to take solace in each other, both knowing what it is like to make their own path, not quite knowing what to expect next. They are like the mangrove, their roots exposed, but providing strength. Like the (dare I say beyond beautiful) image of the seagull landing shown in reverse, theirs is a struggle with temporarily, between the here and now and the there and past.

Lozano speaks of re-representation, of a life in which he feels both fortunate to be safe; yet, scratched, imperfect, and full of holes, similar to those seen while watching 16mm hand-processed film. In a section titled “The Future,” the two work through feminist ideologies relating to concepts including nurture, nature, love, and how to tend to plants, children and to others. They are building a unified front while pondering their identities. While their current lives may be rooted in previously lived trauma they nonetheless are able to imagine a life built on tenderness and compassion.

Their catharsis comes not only from nurture, but from creation as well. As the film progresses, we join Gelis and Lozano at the 2015 York University strike. A moment plagued with conflict as they marvelled at how peacefully one can express one’s beliefs in Canada versus in Columbia where one would be shot for seeking change. Yet, the protest is also disappointing as they witness the futility of their actions, feeling like pawns, like nothing more than a photo op for the Union leaders. Pondering their inclusion, yet forever feeling like outsiders. Lozano whispers:

The University continues to be a factory, a container, to conform, to repeat, to fit in. People like us, have to adapt to systems that exclude us and we’re expected to be thankful that we represent the inclusion of diversity. When in fact, we have been left systematically out of place because we are of the wrong physical, cultural, conceptual shape.

In other words, Lozano and Gelis continue to exist in a system that only pretends to be interested in diversity and inclusion.

Forever capturing the moment, in Thoughts from Below, Lozano records a scene of Gelis holding a super 8 camera pointed at herself while spinning in circles. This footage forms the basis of Walking in Circles (2015), Gelis’ documentation of the York strike; but, more importantly, it shows the ways in which both artists heal and reflect upon difficulties, that is, through the creation of art.

Gelis and Lozano live in a diptych of their own, split between multiple places. Like the diptych in Prop Roots, they are split between two competing worldviews with their roots showing, the very roots that provide their strength and resilience. Finding ways to feel at home in a culture that uses them as a symbol of inclusion while constantly excluding them. They are building a world, a new future, one in which squirrels break into their home in Canada to snack on Supercoco candies from Columbia.

Time sensitive screening link at la lumière collective

By night, la lumière collective is a microcinema that projects films, videos and expanded cinema produced by local and international artists. By day, la lumière collective is an artists’ studio and residency space with multiple resources for working and experimenting with various moving image media. The collective is led by local artists and curators who believe in creating cinematic works and spaces on a human scale. We facilitate events to bring people together. We create links to help promote and revitalize cinema.

La lumière collective is rooted in the local, the physical, the here and now.

In this time of virtual connections and physical distancing, we have transformed our projection space into a virtual space, while maintaining local connections.

EMERGENCE is the adapted online version of the practical activities planned by la lumière collective. Online love in the time of COVID.

Instead of simply downloading the films and videos available online, la lumière collective has selected one work by each artist and asked that a local writer be involved with each work.

EMERGENCE is a new combination, a local connectedness, a commitment to counter separation.

We look forward to seeing you on the other side.

EMERGENCE is presented with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

la lumière collective

Volume 24, Issue 8-9-10 / October 2020 Film Reviews   avant-garde film   experimental film   la lumière collective