September 9 to November 5, 2022
By Mitsuko Noguchi
When I first walked through the exhibition doors into Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?, Gallery TPW’s front desk attendant followed me in, carrying a bulky headset. They directed me: “Sit anywhere you’d like.” Embroidered bean bags slumped on the floor and two uniform benches faced a wall-sized screen. The attendant handed me the headset, and when I successfully goggled up, a humanoid appeared stark in the center of my view–startlingly close and startlingly real. The humanoid gently swayed in turquoise pool water. They wouldn’t stop staring at me. This, I thought, must be Piña.
From September 9th to November 5th, Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser presented their popular immersive installation in Toronto. On the exhibition walls, black and white geometric fabric prints hung in irregularly shaped frames, reminding me of tribal art but made by an obviously non-human hand. I later learned that the delicate white fabric was made of pineapple, and the black plastic embroidery by a 3D printer. Shackled to a foreign virtual reality, the gallery walls and their abstract frames disappeared.
Throughout the 16-minute VR experience, Piña showed me life as an AI shaman in a futuristic world. Piña often dwelled in water, where they draped wet cloth on rock–informing me that these fabric slips are encoded with data and sent by “messengers.” Sometimes, the shaman stepped into a more familiar world, and I felt as if I were watching another teen beauty-vlogger as they promoted their favourite concealer. Piña also repeatedly held up their iPhone to show me videos of others speaking. The speakers were always muted; Piña and I would share silence.
Behind the VR video, a half-hour documentary-style film played on repeat, waiting to be experienced separate from the VR story. The film followed three Amazonian “messengers” living in our near future, each of whom communicated through a radio broadcast. Real footage from the Philippines and Ecuador backdropped the fictional stories of women-led knowledge transmitters and community builders. The messengers spoke about their connection to the land, and Piña drifted in and out through voiceover, like a cloud.
“Piña” translates to “pineapple” from Spanish. In an interview, the artists explain the colonial commodification of pineapples, tracking from Ecuadorian land, into Filipino plantations, and finally to bourgeois European dining rooms. In Piña, the recurring symbol of the pineapple epitomizes the grounding of culture onto physical earth and what it means for colonization to uproot this connection.
Comilang and Speiser’s distinct cultural backgrounds are the cornerstones of the installation, and their styles merge with a bold elegance. Stephanie Comilang is a Filipina-Canadian artist who uses the lens of film to explore cultural heritage and futures. Co-creator Simon Speiser is an Ecuadorian artist based in Berlin, who works in a diverse range of media–from sculpture to writing to video. Together, these artists explore the enduring survival of Filipino and Ecuadorian ancestral knowledge and matriarchal lineages. For the project, Comilang and Speiser interviewed shamans about how they have held onto their ways of life amidst colonial violence. The artists re-imagined these documented stories through sci-fi narrative, exploring the trajectory of tradition into our rapidly evolving, techno-laced future.
Piña traverses both the interconnected human experience and the deeply personal. Observing Piña’s solitary existence in the VR, I felt alone, too: the enclosed headset felt like a lonely, mysterious passageway. At the end of the passage, Piña both confronted me and comforted me at an eerily spiritual level. When I emerged from the VR, a single stranger and I watched the film together. Here, the air felt a little lighter, and the film’s knowledge flowed freely into this communal space.
Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? tells stories of how nature, technology, and humanity merge. Comilang and Speiser transform reality through layering past, present, and future into a multi-dimensional sphere. When I exited TPW and walked home, Piña faded in my memory the way a dream might, with the feeling that I was walking away from magic. I grasped a memory of Piña’s voice: “Now you’ve found me.” I wondered if I had, and if I might find little slips of Piña’s world again in my own.
 Lillian O’Brien Davis, “PIÑA, WHY IS THE SKY BLUE? Stephanie Comilang & Simon Speiser,” MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2022, https://mackenzie.art/site-content/uploads/2022/03/PinaWhyIsTheSkyBlue_Essay_WebVersion.pdf.
 Lisa Long, “The Materiality of The Future Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser in Conversation with Lisa Long,” JSC Berlin, 2022, https://www.jsc.art/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/JSC_PINA_CATALOGUE_LOW_RES6313811.pdf.