Siren III is a new video and sound installation by Toronto artist nichola feldman-kiss, building upon her series of politically provocative artworks that mine the local context and articulate reflections on worldwide stressors driving global migration, flights from homelands, and oceanic passages. Referencing traumatic histories alongside contemporary conditions of oppression rooted in conquest, border rule, and climate change, the artist’s current explorations remain anchored in autobiography and ancestry.
In the installation, a monumental moving image immerses the viewer into the Atlantic’s unsettling depths, resonant with the present absences of migrant, exiled, and enslaved people transported over centuries of forced displacement. The camera frames a subjective view of the turbulent water, turning each viewer into a lone protagonist lost at sea. Seeking the sunlight that penetrates the ocean’s surface, the gaze wavers, at times piercing through, then sinking into the all-encompassing teal blue, and eventually ascending back toward the sky.
Descending, the camera’s movements are calm, exploratory, perhaps entranced. An iceberg’s massive underbelly comes into view and is approached with curiosity. The gaze caresses sensuous ice slopes and looks for entry through their crevices. The visual landscape seamlessly shifts from underwater cinematography to a digital environment, crafting a virtual, beguiling vision, both real and imagined.
Struggle, descent, drifting, and ascension are witnessed by a chorus of ululations that envelop the visitor within a volumetric soundscape. Common to feminine cultures across Africa, the Middle East, India, and their diasporas, ululations accompany ritual events and rites of passage such as births, weddings, and funerals. Whether celebratory or mournful, these vocal improvisations mark existential transitions, welcome arrivals, or perform a send-off into journey. Regional nuances are often influenced by political ideologies and societal codes that govern women’s freedom to convey their emotions.
The polyphonic harmonies of Siren III derive from Toronto’s unique multicultural context, integrating sonic variances that converged here through countless waves of migration, just like the artist’s own familial lineages. Evoking the mythical sea creatures known to tempt sailors toward rocky shores and certain death with their enchanting song, the powerful chorus suggests an uncanny lure as well as a protective warning. These trilling sirens’ purpose is more ambiguous, signalling both danger and rescue. They are guiding companions rather than threat, their visceral calls pulling the drowning back to life.
Development of Siren III began before the rising spread of COVID-19 and was later profoundly impacted by the pandemic. Relinquishing control and opening up to new possibilities, feldman-kiss embraced an intensely collaborative process and an intuitive response to imposed conditions. Remote cooperation strategies made possible the capture of underwater footage off the coast of Newfoundland; then video production turned to a mixed technique imbedding 3D animation within the initial recordings.
In these still unfolding circumstances, Siren III takes on new meanings as our collective fears and distress deepen amid a relentless menace. Reflecting on such innermost anxieties, inherited traumas, and lived ordeals, feldman-kiss articulates a meditation on the value of human life and an homage to the survival drive. In the face of devastation—a deadly virus, social unrest, economic hardship, war, and ecological collapse—Siren III offers a promise of solace, community, and delivery from troubled waters.
Curated by Mona Filip and Pamela Edmonds
Exhibition generously supported by Partners in Art and artist funding through the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts