By Nadia Kurd
“The weather,” writes scholar Christina Sharpe, “necessitates changeability and improvisation; it is the atmospheric condition of time and place; it produces new ecologies.” For Sharpe, ‘the weather’ represents the social and political climate that shapes and produces anti-Blackness. The weather is contextual and ongoing. It is both the condition and the resulting effect on Black life in the aftermath of slavery.[i]
It is within the complexity of ‘the weather’ that Edmonton-based, media artist Christina Battle wants to articulate her interests in disasters and imagine how we cope and respond to change. The concept of disasters —be they social, political, ecological fallouts or otherwise —are the focus of Battle’s art practice. The interconnected nature of past events, history and ideas can manifest in contemporary disasters and as a result, continually create new circumstances and a need to address survival. In her work, Battle also looks at how these ideas and actions are circulated and communicated through social media.
Her process begins broadly by reading and gathering information and images online. As Battle moves through her research, she also quickly makes gifs and other digital images “as a way to reflect on our larger visual sphere.”[ii] Her work brings together digital images and text to animate them in a variety of ways. Sometimes spontaneous, many of these pieces are either reworked or further developed into larger projects. For Battle, “different strategies are taken up depending on the issue at hand. If I’m thinking about satellite mapping and issues related to how we engage with tools that are continually tracking us…the work pulls from aesthetics reminiscent of those technologies.”[iii]
What drives Battle’s practice is her interest in how people use varying modes of communication with one another. “We don’t seem to be doing a very good job,” reflects Battle, “of even recognizing, let alone admitting the problems we face and that drives a certain sense of urgency for me.”[iv]
Her ongoing video-based work Notes to Self (2014-present), addresses this sense of urgency. In the videos, Battle records the burning of paper, which features short phrases and words. Often lasting a few seconds, the notes mimic the visual and sound bites of social media. However, as Battle writes, this work is also unlike social media as “the fate of these updates is controlled and finite, existing only for a few seconds before being completely destroyed.”[v]
In the multi-video installation work, Bad Stars (2018) Battle examines the theme of disaster from an astronomical perspective. Primarily a multi-screen and image installation, the exhibition of this work also brought together a collaborative group of individuals who “to help forward the discussion, beginning with the invitation to contribute to a wall of photographic imagery included in the exhibition.”[vi] The parallel multidisciplinary discussions and presentations that occurred at Trinity Square Video in 2018, allowed for,
… room for those from various disciplines to come together for shared conversation and experience, programming invites those actively researching and working to tackle issues of disaster into the space of the gallery.[vii]
The participatory aspect of this installation allows for the images and videos in the installation to be grounded in tangible realities. Though not similarly interactive, the billboard project the view from here (2019) immerses images into the built environment. Mirroring the impact of advertising, the large-scale collage billboard merges satellite images (from where the works are located) and the texts to evoke self-reflection on situational environmental themes such as “How to Sense What You Cannot See” and “Locate Yourself”. In presenting these large-scale digital images, curator Jayne Wilkinson notes that the work, “asks viewers and passers-by to consider how the digital infrastructure and global networks are obscured by the surfaces of the sea.”[viii]
A large part of her creative work has included curating exhibitions. In 2020, Battle will be organizing a group exhibition titled Grasping at the Roots at the Mitchell Art Gallery (Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton). While still in development, this upcoming exhibition will feature both regional and national Canadian artists who work closely with communities through critical sustained engagement.
With a background in Environmental Biology, film studies and fine arts, Battle is currently completing a Ph.D. in Art & Visual Culture at the University of Western Ontario. As she researches and explores the changing nature of online communications, her work will no doubt shift in order to respond to the complexity of our world. “I am trying to make images as a way of starting conversations with people I don’t know,” writes Battle, “I consider how others might engage with the images and how through images we might come together and form some kind of collective understanding.”[ix]
[i] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 104.
[ii] Christina Battle, interview by author, Edmonton, AB, August 4, 2019.
[viii] Capture Photofest. “Signals in the Sea”, https://capturephotofest.com/public-installations/signals-in-the-sea/ (accessed August 4, 2019).
[ix] Artist interview with Author.