nichola feldman-kiss \ SIREN
Karen Alexander, Curator
November 2, 2022 - March 5, 2022
nichola feldman-kiss \ SIREN is a solo exhibition by the Toronto-based inter-disciplinary artist nichola
feldman-kiss. The multi-layered presentation encompasses Siren III, a new large-scale single-
channel video installation and surfacings, a new installation of video prints commissioned for the
entrance of the Koffler Gallery. At the core of SIREN is a reflection on concepts of diaspora,
migration and displacement, the paradox of national boundaries and borders within an ecology of
SIREN makes unorthodox use of imaging technology and sonic harmonies to confront the significant
humanitarian crises at the intersection of conflict and climate. Underwater video captured in
Newfoundland is the root material for all the artworks on display. The dynamics, wonder and
uncertainty of the open ocean and aquatic exploration are reworked and reshaped into seductive
keys to multi-layered and mutating memories. Predominantly filmed under a fracturing iceberg, a
sense of human peril and environmental fragility resonate within the works. Informed by four years
of research and experimentation, this presentation links oceanic memories of comfort and trauma
with the brutal histories of the transportation of people as enslaved bodies and the contemporary
realities of oceanic slavery and enforced political and economic migration across time and place.
feldman-kiss uses the gallery as a set for a series of encounters that reconfigure found narratives of
survival. The harsh majesty of the Atlantic Ocean is harnessed and shaped into abstract portals to
enable deeper connection with personal readings. Multi-layered static and moving images combined
with haunting vocals offer profound moments of meditation within real and constructed memories.
The carefully mixed and modulated soundtrack featuring a female chorus in ululation establishes a
layer of connected human presence tempered with an ominous tension.
SIREN soundscape harmonics are composed of ululations. Ululations are a vocal practice performed
individually and collectively as a kind of improvised vocal applause, celebrating arrival and clearing
paths forward. SIREN harmonics arise from sonic diversity among geo-specific vocalisations in
polyphonic play. Ululation is an ancient tradition that has moved about Africa, the Levant and
diaspora over millennia of nomadic passages. Certain sonic innovations to ululation are uniquely
possible within polycultural contexts such as Toronto.
In Siren III ululations act as a warning and Welcome, offering a primal presence of awakening and
rescue. The polycultural harmonics call for a collective witnessing as the feminine voices accompany
and guide us through the fragmented narrative, inviting audiences to perform as unseen witnesses
to underwater scenes of near drowning, ascension, birth and rebirth.
Two texts served as primary inspiration for Siren III. The first was a 2017 video posted by Sea-Watch
(A German non-governmental organisation operating in the Mediterranean Sea, notably by
commissioning ships to search for and rescue imperilled migrant vessels and their passengers).
Sea-Watch footage depicts coast guards protecting European borders from an inflatable boat full of
vulnerable refugees. The second is Behrouz Boochani’s celebrated book No Friends but the Mountains,
which recalls the author’s traumatic journey of escape and survival from Indonesia to
Australia. SIREN calls on us collectively to look, think and, most importantly, feel beyond static
surface identifications and historic repetitions and engage with materialised abstract visions of
bodily loss, recovery, spiritual healing and the possibility of repair.
Guest Curator, SIREN
About the artist
nichola feldman-kiss creates across disciplines with emphasis on relational, lens and hybrid media
technologies presented as social engagement, institution intervention and public installation.
feldman-kiss’ process-rich research proposes identity as a fugitive concept while focussing on the
body as a contested site of cultural production.
The artist’s 25 year oeuvre is an ongoing critique of the Colonial paradigm (the violent ingestion of
land, resources, peoples and cultures). Their artworks and installations lay bare the entanglements
of globalised order that insist rights into some while withholding the same entitlements from others,
and ask us to reconsider difficult questions about what it means to be conscious social bodies within
the contemporary moment. nichola feldman-kiss’ art and technology innovations and institution
interventions have been hosted by the National Research Council of Canada, the Ottawa Hospital
Eye Institute, the Department of National Defence and the United Nations among others. The artist
holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts
nichola feldman-kiss is a first-generation Canadian of Caribbean diaspora and a repatriated citizen of
Germany and Jamaica living/working between Toronto (Tkaronto) and rural Newfoundland