Jessica Karuhanga

We first came across your series of very short sketch-like videos from 2014 & 2015 on Vimeo, which are really intriguing, videos that poetically connect and build a visual patchwork/collage; a mixture of personal observation of moments and daily activities in domestic spaces or in nature, others - playful video experiments with textiles, body, dance/movement, light & shadow. Videos that play with how video records and its limitations such as with recording fast movement  - the blurred image of bangles in Fingers As Bells and moiré patterns in netting - instagram post let her fly fly fly. Your presence and a sense of being present, through singing and your own image translating through the relationship to the recording device -which seems personal/intimate non-intrusive. There's an honesty to these works which is really engaging - we are also interested in the motivations in putting such works online - and thereby acknowledging their significance. 

In your more recent works: Moon in the 12th House, Rumination on reeds, #Carefree (the latter two we hope to use in two upcoming programmes) performance, dance, rhythm, movement, touch, as well as a relationship to nature feature more and more prominently, how do you see the relationship between video and performance? 

I love hearing you pick up on these elements. Rather than try to literally translate or capture all the details of these strange rituals I want to use these instruments honestly. Then the frame rate and its blurry conditions become a process. I also recognize memory is already fragmentalized so I am never wanting to fully document all the parts of a moment. I’m presenting a view of a room, an impression, or a glance. I think my videos are deeply informed by cinematography in some respects. I want objects, materials and bodies that might otherwise be utilized to create an environment or backdrop to become the primary subject. I don’t want to force a story. The instagram videos are often impulsively and intuitively shot the way you might have a thought or dream and scribble down your recollection. These shorter videos remain part of a world I’m creating with my larger more involved shoots. In Let it fly fly fly the wind was blowing the curtain in such a way that the visual cadence reminded me of dancing. Alicia Keys’ Caged Bird, a reference to Maya Angelou’s autobiography, plays in the background and the video’s title is meant to echo her vocal riff. In Fingers as bells I was really thinking of the percussive possibilities of bangles, which have a legacy of being traded, and also remind me of shackles. To me titling becomes an opportunity to leave poetic hints toward a message. There are layers. I was terribly shy growing up so I began doing performances for the camera and I’d often be self-effacing or revealing only parts of myself and that is certainly a part of my personal timeline I think. I’m consciously thinking of a history of performances for the camera, the complexities of documentation, the tensions between the Black subject and the lens. 

Ritual was definitely something that came to mind on viewing your practice, ritual within the everyday and its relationship to making/practice is also of personal interest. The collation of gestures in your short videos create a sense of rhythm and pattern in daily life, and how repetition such as these – as well as the repeated sequence in Moon in the 12th House – there is possibility of transformation. It feels as though people are again looking to emphasise the connections between ritual and creative practice (Tabita Rezaire, Alia Syed, C.A. Conrad, Moor Mother, Hannah Catherine Joans, Elaine Mitchener). How does this connection influence you and your work, perhaps in terms of honesty, fragmentation and tensions of the camera?

In Moon in the 12th House the rhythm is a means of sculpting the image through simple rituals and repetitive movements. There is a ritual sensibility to most of my work. Rituals are powerful and charged. I think there is tension in the enactment of these private rituals in tandem with the publicness of socials. Transformation happens in these symbolic invocations. This is my way of directing a way of experiencing the work. I repeat movements as a gesture of insistence. I want my audience to witness the moments that I am pushing toward them and their gaze. I have always found fragmentation or breaks compelling as a form of poetry. I want to grab your attention so that you’re right there with the figure and the moment. You are there when someone twirls their hair. You are fixated by the sparkler that recedes into the darkness. You try to make sense of shadows. There is always an emphasis on presence. 

It's interesting to think about this shifting space that publicness inhabits, how the camera might blur boundaries, gazes; offering and enabling a different attention with fragmentation and breaks. And your relationship to the camera, of revealing and concealing. Hands seem to be a recurring gestural feature of your work (twirling hair), as well as being in nature. Do these elements have any deeper meaning for you, of your gestures, presence, ritual; or perhaps in relation to “a history of performances to the camera” you mentioned previously?

Yes. I feel as though I am both subject and witness as I am gazed upon while gazing back. I want to believe my videos are situated with and in reference to these performance and lens-based histories. I think incorporating my hands, as material presence, is a way of controlling movement and drawing visual lines in space. When I move I am always wanting to break apart space and allude to these shifting boundaries you mention.  I guess through my body, as a kind of conduit or channel, I’m also asking what these visual ruptures might signal? I am longing to push the experience of varied fields of vision. 

Keep the burning end away, 2015, Dedicated to Jorge Sánchez

Dreaming/Wishing, 2014

A Wail becomes a whisper, 2015, Dedicated to Deanna Bowen

Moon in the 12th House, 2017
Directed by Jessica Karuhanga
Cinematography by Xin Liu and Serene Husni
Editing by Serene Husni
Featuring: Maandeeq Mohamed, Ahlam Mohammed and Kimberley Wint

A failing movement for a bird in an envelope, 2015, Dedicated to Sasha Opieko

Wind at Land, 2014, Dedicated to Lisa Deanne Smith

Body and Soul, 2020

Lover names we are afraid to say in the dark, 2016, Dedicated to Ethan Lester

Nothing's Going to Change, 2014

Generation Next, 2014

The blue heated light of myself eating, 2014. Dedicated to Alvis Choi / Kernal Parsley

Sometimes, sometimes we wade through the pitch, 2014

Fingers As Bells, 2014

Jessica Karuhanga is a first-generation Canadian artist of British-Ugandan heritage whose work addresses issues of cultural politics of identity and Black diasporic concerns through lens-based technologies, writing, drawing and performances. Through her practice she explores individual and collective concerns of Black subjectivity: illness, rage, grief, desire and longing within the context of Black embodiment.