Amshu Chukki’s works trace illusions and explore their terrain, observes K. Sridhar.
“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none”, wrote Jean Baudrillard in his famous text Simulacra and Simulations, attributing this quote to the Eccleciastes of the Old Testament. There is no such statement in the Eccleciastes and this is Baudrillard’s way of underlining the claim that there is no substratal reality of which the simulacrum is a representation – on the contrary, truth becomes truth as simulacrum.
It is Baudrillard’s meditations on the simulacrum that Amshu Chukki’s debut solo show, The Tour, is evocative of. His two-channel video installation, also called The Tour, and the single-channel video work, The Mountain, Les Invisibles, are both video representations of originals which are really simulacra themselves – a film city, in one case, and a biodome, in the other.
In The Tour, Chukki presents us with a documentation of a site but the site itself remains fiction. Chukki resists the temptation of documenting the creation of a film city or of an ethnographic detailing of the people involved with its creation or upkeep. To be precise, his film does not inhabit the film city but its fictional architectural constructions, allowing him to blur the distinctions between site and map that through custom and habit we assume as given. What we are encountering here is a mise-en-scene of a mise-en-scene. This is not Magritte’s “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” because this pipe cannot, in fact, be stuffed in the first place. The frenetic movements of the camera, the angled two-channel display and the deliberate construction of fiction through the visual and the oral narrative are the elements that go into the unfolding of this myth. There is a narrator’s voice, apparently a tour guide, taking you through the film but this narrative too builds up the mythic elements by blurring both the history and the geography of the moments as they unravel on the screen. The oral narrative in conjunction with the background score that is used in the video suggests a cacotopian foreboding. It is in the sense of a foreboding that the future is evoked in Chukki’s work – a feeling that what time will unpack for us will very likely be deeply unsettling. The overhanging sense of ennui also points towards unsettlement rather than horror.
In contrast, in The Mountain, Les Invisibles, the camera moves deliberately slowly across the landscape of the biodome. The Montreal Biodome is a fictional construct of sorts fashioning out of what was originally an Olympic Velodrome, the simulations of Tropical and Laurentian forests, a marine ecosystem and Arctic and Antarctic habitats. Again, Chukki will not engage you with any of these details – as in the earlier video, he concerns himself with the mythos and not the logos of the biodome. The forests, the marine and sub-polar regions are accepted by Chukki as given and it is here that he marks his point of departure. Instead of using the people visiting or working in the biodome to break the illusion that the space creates, Chukki plays with the narrative to make them significant actors in the illusion.
In another work, Remembering the Sea, Chukki projects, in a loop, an extract from Tarkovsky’s Solaris in a coin-sized recess in wood. The work, in itself, is captivating but the somewhat logocentric gesture of invoking Tarkovsky seems out of place with the larger aims of the exhibition.