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dear mountain,

how does one move you. shift you, but also elicit emotion, make you cry because something was too beautiful or it hurt.

As part of Back to Earth, writer and artist Himali Singh Soin presents static range.

static range is a multi-disciplinary and multi-limbed project using a real-life spy-story in the Indian Himalayas as a springboard for speculations and reflections about invisibility, leakages, spiritual entanglements, nuclear culture, socio-political marginalisation and icarian delusions. This series of transmissions that make up ‘static range’, include an adapted stamp, letters, an animation, music, embroidery, healing, planting and a performance installation.

About the Project

Nanda Devi, meaning the goddess of happiness, is the patron mountain of the Indian Himalayas. During the cold war in 1965, the CIA collaborated with the Indian Intelligence Bureau to site a nuclear-powered surveillance device on the mountain to intercept Chinese nuclear missile data. The mountain goddess, a temperamental revolutionary, whipped up an immense tempest, and the expedition had to turn back. The plutonium powered device was stashed on the mountain with the intention of recovering it the following season, however it has yet to be found, and “could still be ticking somewhere”.

Since 1965, the plutonium-powered generator, half the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, has been leaking radioactivity into the mountain, creating glimmering blue ice caves. Mysterious cases of cancer abound in the Sherpa communities of the surrounding villages, and the mountain has since been closed to subsequent expeditions.

In 1978, during the two years the sanctuary was reopened, Himali Singh Soin’s father, a mountaineer, went on an expedition to climb Dunagiri. From there, he and the expedition took a photograph of Nanda Devi, which was made into a postage stamp by the Indian Telegraph services.

Conflating these public and personal histories, static range is a 15-minute animation of the image of the postage stamp as it is exposed to radiation, resplendent in the nuclear sublime.

 

The music scoring the video, by jazz drummer and composer David Soin Tappeser, is inspired by the music of the Uighur community in the Chinese Xinjiang region. The region is home to the Lop Nur nuclear research facility, of which the device was meant to have an “unobstructed view”. A muslim minority of ethnic turks, around 150,000 Uighurs have been exposed to radiation. As a reaction to the cultural oppression and censorship, there has been an active resistance movement since the 60’s. Uighur music uses several string instruments (lutes and fiddles) + percussion (frame and kettle drums) as well as chant. Following the work’s underlying theme of transmission and interception, its music thus imagines that the American spy device, which operated like a giant radio antennae trying to intercept signals sent by ballistic missiles to their ground stations for location and coordinates, also picked up frequencies from underground Uighur music. The music plays with faults, interference and (nuclear) mutations that have deformed the music since its interception and references overlaps and continuities with the local music of the Kumaoni and Garhwal region in which Nanda Devi is located.

A second part of static range is its own real life performativity. As a poet, Singh Soin is interested in the question: What did the spy device see? You can read a letter to the mountain here.

Artist Jordan Nasser has worked with the Panchachuli weave motif, originating in the Kumaon, to embroider an image of the mountain.

Jordan Nassar, Nanda Devi I, 2020. Hand-Embroidered Cotton on Cotton, 16 x 18 inches.

Energy healer and media anthropologist, Viveka Chauhan will utilize the aural colors of the mountain, formed both by the image exposed to radiation as well as the mountain’s own century-old wisdom, to send it long-distance healing.

With the help of her team of advisors, Himali will also initiate a bio-remediation planting project in the region comprising a variety of plant species that absorb radiation.

As the piece travels through the world, so do its gardens. It swerves in trajectories, it joins other conflict areas, it finds new battles, it heals, it tells its story. It loves.

About Himali Singh Soin’s WePresent Collaboration

Serpentine has teamed up with WePresent on Groundwork, a series of monthly deep dives into Back to Earth projects which will unfold between January and May 2021, presented in support of artists’ chosen NGOs and organisations. For the third issue of Groundwork, Himali Singh Soin shares insights into static range, a transdisciplinary project that transports viewers to India’s towering Himalayan peaks to examine humanity’s control on the world, through the lens of colonialism. The artist has nominated Live to Love as her chosen charity, a secular non-profit serving the people and resources of the Himalayas and a grassroots movement that empowers communities to serve as guardians of the Himalayas and its people. Kindness has defined life in the Himalayas for thousands of years. As the region develops and faces the greatest challenges of its history, Live to Love celebrates these core values in each project. Click here for more information.

About Himali Singh Soin

Himali Singh Soin is a writer and artist based between London and Delhi. She uses metaphors from outer space and the natural environment to construct imaginary cosmologies of interferences, entanglements, deep voids, debris, delays, alienation, distance and intimacy. In doing this, she thinks through ecological loss, and the loss of home, seeking shelter somewhere in the radicality of love. Her speculations are performed in audio-visual, immersive environments. Her art has been shown at Khoj, Delhi, Serpentine Galleries, London, Anchorage Museum and the next Shanghai Biennale. Soin is currently writer-in-residence at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and received the Frieze Artist Award 2019. She is part of the curatorial team of Momenta Biennale 2021 in Montréal.

 

static range

Cast of collaborators:

David Soin Tappeser (music)

Mandip Singh Soin (imagery and gardening)

Jordan Nasser (textile)

Ele Carpenter (nuclear culture advice)

Jahnavi Phalkey (nuclear anthropology advice)

Rachel Harris (ethnomusicology advice)

Viveka Chauhan (healer)

Anita Singh Soin (skill sharing with women weavers)

Sudama Lal Tamta (drum maker)

Suresh Bisht (on-site coordinator)

Tiziana Mangiaratti (animation assistance)

MJ Harding (recording)

Ravi Aggarwal

 

Translations by:

Hindi – Shveta Sarda

German – Ulrike Almut Sandig

Hebrew – Shahar Kramer

Arabic – Muna Abu Baker

 

With the support of Prince Claus Fund, E-WERK Luckenwalde and HKW.

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