Image: Hands Eye, 2017, screen print, 20x20cm. Courtesy of the artist
Mythology, fortune telling and totemic symbols are at the forefront of Newcastle-born artist Mani Kambo’s work, which will be exhibited at Vane Gallery from Thursday 6th-Saturday 29th September.
Mani’s exhibition, entitled RIFT, explores ideas of dreams, memories and remembering. “RIFT comes from the idea of rifts in time and space, the idea of in-between spaces and traversing from one place to another. These places can represent consciousness and I like to explore the idea of dreams and passing in and out, or between dreams. The work draws from ideas of being and consciousness and if we are physically present in these places.”
Much of Mani’s previous work has included a moving image element – Towards A Summoning, her film for Channel 4’s Random Acts series, features a procession of ominous dream-like images backed by a sinister droning soundtrack composed by Jennifer Walton (Me Lost Me) – and RIFT will also feature a central projection piece, “full of abstract visuals and dream-like narrative”, as well as Cyanotypes, screen and digital prints.
Mani has drawn inspiration from an upbringing filled with prayer and rituals: “Since childhood my mum has always done little things to protect me, She performed small rituals such as water around the head three times while praying and then throwing it out the front door to rid me of any negative intentions that may have been put upon me, or placing a black dot behind the left ear to protect me from negative gaze. These little segments and memories have subconsciously appeared in my work whether through gesture, use of material or visuals. Through seeing these smaller family traditions or superstitions as the norm, I began to think about my own little superstitions and the power of actions.”  
These inspirations have led Mani to create work which investigates the self. “I’m inspired by the everyday and our own little mannerisms and interactions with the spaces we inhabit and people we meet.” She explains. A personal symbol for Mani is ‘Moonsnake’, which she describes as an alter-ego to channel when making work. “Memories and symbols are things that I draw power from. Saying a few words to yourself when you are afraid, thinking of empowering memories to give you strength or wearing something that makes you feel good.”

 25 October 18
Blogger Q&A: Mani Kambo, projection alchemist
Newcastle-based Mani Kambo uses religious rituals inspired by her Sikh upbringing in work that straddles film installation and performance, as well as screenings and cyanotype printing. Richard Taylor talks to the artist, who is one of 25 a-n members recently awarded a mentoring bursary.
Mani Kambo is an artist using film, projection and performance.
Based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where she grew up surrounded by Sikh tradition and ritual, her installations and screenings of projected works explore totemic objects, mythology and symbolic action.
More recently the process of cyanotype has taken on an alchemic role, in making prints of symbols that appear in her moving-image works.
Kambo is currently undergoing a period of mentoring with artist and curator Rosalind Davies, funded by a-n’s Mentoring Bursaries 2018. She started an a-n blog about the developmental process, which sees her pivot on recent work in order to think about future projects.
This month, Kambo is the featured a-n member on our Instagram feed.

In your work you explore mythology, the symbolic and totemic. What drives you to work with these subjects and how is the personal and autobiographical weaved into the result?
I’ve had quite a ritual-based upbringing. During my childhood, my mother would do small rituals and prayers as a way to protect me and help me prosper in life. These hold their own symbolic power to me; during my upbringing I would do certain rituals, such as putting a black dot behind the left ear to protect myself from negative energies. I take inspiration from them, using some of the actions involved as symbols in my work such as hands, water, eyes and fire.
The work I make is drawn from my interest to investigate the self (myself). I’ve recently become more interested in my family’s history and found links between some of my recent work and my family’s history of tailoring, dyeing and print clothing. Only recently have I started to see connections between my practice and my upbringing as well as family traditions.

You initially presented your work on TVs before progressing to projection. What prompted this move?
As my work expanded projection seemed to feel right. I started using better filming equipment and began editing in HD, the quality of which was lost on a small fuzzy screen. The constraints of using a box TV meant I had to consider DVD player placement, making the work feel heavier and rooted rather than the ephemeral feel that projection has. I like the idea of being absorbed into a projection, and the reflection of light on surrounding walls fits well with the dreamlike visuals I create.
What do you expect to gain from the mentoring bursary?
I’m hoping to gain insight into my practice and find new ways of sustaining it, while also having an external critical eye of an established artist give their opinion and thoughts, as an outsider. I’m working with Rosalind Davis and since my first session I have begun a dialogue with her that has made an impact and changed the way I think about my practice. I’ve started to look at my work more objectively, stripping it back to the core to better understand what I’m trying to say.

What does working in Newcastle bring to your practice?
Newcastle is a small city but the arts community is growing and has expanded greatly over the last few years. Being part of this community means you see similar faces at different events and previews, so connecting with artists and organisations can be a little easier. I grew up in the city and I’m close to my family and their traditions. Being close to them is important as it feeds into my practice.
How have you engaged with both exhibition making and taking part in film screenings? Many artists using moving image straddle the two – do they bring different aspects or modes to how you want your work to be encountered?
I find both quite different and sometimes difficult to fit together. When exhibiting my film pieces they tend to be as an installation, taking into consideration the viewer and how they move around and engage with the film in that space. In screenings the piece tends to be static and shown on a singular screen –  the focus is more toward on-screen visuals, meaning the viewers’ focus shifts towards the editing of the work and narrative. Viewers look more at the film itself rather than the film within the space.
I have been looking into filmmaking again recently, approaching it in a more traditional style focusing purely on the idea, narrative and visuals rather than creating material for an installation.

Your work has recently developed into cyanotype printing. What is behind this transition?
With the use of symbols within my work, I felt it would be interesting to see how they translate into print. The alchemic quality of a cyanotype being created through exposure to light and the use of chemicals also interests me. The idea of the image being revealed by washing it through water also links back to ideas of water being a cleanser, and pure source. You can use the cyanotype solution on a variety of materials and the outcome can vary depending on timing. There is an experimental element to the process, which is something I enjoy.
What do you have on the horizon in terms of your practice?
I have recently had a couple of solo shows and I’m now looking to take a bit of time to reflect upon the work I have made, and how best to go forwards. In receiving the mentoring bursary this will give me a chance to form a plan for the next couple of years.
I’ll be looking further into performance and refining my filmmaking practice. I’m working on an idea for a short film piece at the moment and will be experimenting further with fabrics and printing methods and just enjoying working without the pressure of a deadline for an exhibition, giving me more freedom for trial and error.

Some Further Thoughts: ‘Rift’ by Mani Kambo
Art and dreams have walked hand in hand throughout history. Prevalent across the arts from literature such as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1823) which famously came to her in a dream, to cinematic classics like the Hollywood adaptation of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) which used Technicolor to contrast the drab black and white reality that Dorothy inhabited when back in Kansas, to becoming the key focus of ‘Surrealism’, the 20th-century avant-garde movement concerned with exploring the subconscious. The meaning and existence of dreams has been the subject much scientific, social and artistic study. Whether dreams reveal aspects of our subconscious which we may otherwise be unaware of or if they are simply helping us process our day to day experiences they have been responsible for much creative contribution and no doubt will continue to do so.
Dreams can exist without time, coherence, narrative or form. There exists an idea that to enter a dream is not to create something new but rather a state of being that we are always somewhat a part of and are free to slip in and out of. This idea suggests that there is a stream of abstract consciousness that is constantly taking place that we can enter into a leave at will. This then gives the impression that we each have the capacity to abandon this reality and enter into a new one. We can do this not only through differing our physical state, such as sleeping, but also through the creation and exploration of the arts. ‘Rift’ could be a perfect example of this as through her chosen mediums and motifs Mani Kambo invites her audience to enter into her dreamscape.
This is most prevalent in Kambo’s audio visual piece. Kambo explained to us that she sees herself as mainly a digital artist whose practice is largely concerned with the moving image. The film exhibited in ‘Rift’ is an abstract sequence of film, photography and animation seeped in bold imagery that is coherent with the other elements of exhibition. The film is played on four sheets of fabric that hang an equal distance from each other in the centre of the room. As he projection hits each sheet of netting the images become enlarged and more distorted as the light passes through the fabric. The true beauty of this piece is that the viewer can not only walk around the film, watching as it changes from every perspective in the room, but they can also walk through it, literally entering into the landscape. As the light hits the viewer as they walk between the silk-like hangings one could argue that they then become part of the dream. As the film surrounds the viewer they can allow themself to become completely immersed. By doing this, they are inhabiting both this physical reality and the dream world that Kambo has constructed. This could therefore be a visual representation of slipping from the conscious to the subconscious, this physical landscape to a dreamscape, as seamlessly as drifting in and out of sleep.

One could even argue that all art is a dream, a dream that is becoming realised and grounded in reality as an artist translates the language of dreams into their own visual language with which they can communicate to a wider audience. There seems to be an overlap between. Examining Kambo’s work, one could explore art as a means of attempting to inhabit more than one reality at once. The ‘Rift’ that the title of the exhibition is referring to could be this pace between what is real and what is a dream, the space where one can exist within both.
Dreams are such an evocative subject matter I have left some resources and further reading so that you can delve a little deeper into the world of dreams within art.
– Rosie Stronach
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