‘Spinal’, Raqs Media Collective’s exhibition at Frith Street Gallery, features the installation ‘Not Yet At Ease’. It reflects on the mental state created by the discomfort and exploitation of First World War soldiers of Asian heritage. An “excess of poetry” as the press review reads, the exhibition results in mental over-stimulation and a bypass of images that are produced by the war. Almost building a world in itself, the composition illuminates the visitor, moving them into dream-like scenarios.
The exhibition introduces transcriptions of diaries, notes and records, as well as sound recordings and film. These highlight the nightmares and emphasise the struggles of those who are now trapped in the emotional aftermath of the conflict.
Entering the space I encountered a two-way tunnel leading into the inside of the exhibition. The space is cold and neutral. It almost feels as if I‘m standing in front of a cave leading towards the abyss. Directed by sounds and flashing lights created by screens positioned within, I took to the left.
With the expectation of entering an open space, the tunnel transforms into a kind of labyrinth. A narrow path interrupted by half walls and seating units leads inwards, until I hit the “other” entrance - initially to the right. It‘s a circular walk which is accompanied by a video and sound installation. An overwhelming audio-visual experience is imposed, both nourishing and exploiting the senses. As if surrounded by the overstimulating-scarring nature of the experience of the war, I walked into the tunnel and am hit by one bullet after the other.
The visuals are clips of recorded videos, interweaved with a layer of digital adaptation. A series of a screens expose psychedelic visuals - like collages assembled from photographs and computer renders. Further, the sounds coming from speakers behind the walls are thrown in different directions. The experience continues until I‘m guided to the last section of the exhibition.
Encountering one digital image in particular, a sudden voice recording hits the air. It comes directly to the viewer from above and begins to read medical records. One mental evaluation after the other, it reports re-occurring symptoms of “mental disquietude”. It is a post traumatic state of consciousness, a state that cannot be eased - a distorted mind-body relation that distinguishes the psychic state of the soldiers as collective illness.
“How are things?
Doctors can not save all disease. Flies to the right. Mosquitos to the left. Dust inside them. Heat outside them.
How are things?
My heart is not at ease.
It’s like a rave. [...] I’m finished. [...] My love called and I couldn’t get to her. I am taking nothing but a picture.[...] Bullets in front of them. [...] Belonging to no one.”
The recording builds the image of soldiers returning to their homelands. Encountering the struggles of daily life, they are unable to deal with their surrounds and loved ones. Trapped, the victims are turning in circles, re-living their memories.