Himali Singh Soin Explores the Third Pole

Source Credit:  Content and images from Ocula Magazine.  Read the original article - https://ocula.com/magazine/insights/himali-singh-soin-explores-the-third-pole/

Far from penguins and polar bears, the Himalayas are part of another icy region critical to the planet’s future. With a new solo exhibition in Madrid, Himali Singh Soin uses the idea of a ‘third pole’ to banish binary thinking and embrace the infinite.

Himali Singh Soin Explores the Third Pole

Himali Singh Soin, Caribbean Futurism (2021). Photo. Courtesy the Artist. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022.

Entering The Third Pole, Himali Singh Soin‘s exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, you first encounter a score. Sketched over a vast wall, Boatness (2022) is a combination of musical notes, stage directions, oblique observations, and scrambled punctuation that cannot be absorbed in one pass, or articulated by one person: as stated in the first line, the piece requires between three and six performers. Overt in its multiplicity, the work is at once an introduction to the exhibition, and an instruction on how to approach it.

As Singh Soin explains wryly, ‘if you’re going to explore the third pole, you’re going to have to choose your own adventure.’ Having sailed with the artist through the high Arctic, giddily sandwiched between aurora borealis and endless ice, I trust her assurance that we can let go of the GPS.

Himali Singh Soin and David Soin Tappeser, Boatness (2022) (detail). Indigo dye on Digimura wallpaper. 280 x 1,400 cm. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2022. Photo:

Himali Singh Soin and David Soin Tappeser, Boatness (2022) (detail). Indigo dye on Digimura wallpaper. 280 x 1,400 cm. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2022. Photo: Courtesy the Artist.

Curated by Soledad Gutiérrez Rodríguez, The Third Pole opened on 25 October 2022 and continues until 29 January 2023. Its title is shorthand for the high mountain regions of Asia, dominated by the Himalayas. The moniker ‘third’ reflects the belated recognition within the Earth science community that this vast glaciated region is as influential to the global climate system as the polar regions at the north and south of the planet. This scientific neglect—bound up with histories of colonialism and western myopia—has left the third pole particularly vulnerable to the heat of the climate crisis, and researchers are now scrambling to gather its ice—so rich in data—before it’s gone.

Singh Soin, however, rejects the sense of belated relevance implicit in ‘third,’ instead seeing the term as both a celebration and an opportunity. As her show makes clear, the Himalayas do not sit quietly in landscape or lives, they loom physically and metaphysically large, bursting with cosmology. Nor does ‘third’ necessarily imply some sort of hierarchy: thinking in threes can, in fact, offer a way out of the dualities like nature/culture, self/other, polar/tropics, periphery/centre.

‘The breakdown of the binary,’ Singh Soin explains, ‘is the beginning of infinity.’

Exhibition view: The Third Pole. Himali Singh Soin with music by David Soin Tappeser. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2022 Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21.

Exhibition view: The Third Pole. Himali Singh Soin with music by David Soin Tappeser. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2022 Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21.

These two threads—the material or cosmological making of polar places, and the potential of multiplicity—are what weave together an exhibition that spans five years of Singh Soin’s work. It encompasses media ranging from still images to weaving, and draws on a collaborative collective practice as well as field visits to mountains, volcanoes, and icescapes.

The gallery space, which exhibits two shows each year by artists backed by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza’s TBA21 foundation, has been made cocoon-like for The Third Pole. Lush jute carpet and walls of dark, toxin-absorbing paint let the viewer be absorbed by the visual, poetic, and musical triad of the two video works that dominate the space. we are opposite like that (2017–ongoing) plays from the centre of a reflection pool, doubling in the darkness, while gongs and mats surround the three-channel video As Grand As What (2021) inviting viewers to lie down, meditate, or even fall asleep.

Exhibition view: The Third Pole. Himali Singh Soin with music by David Soin Tappeser. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2022. Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21.

Exhibition view: The Third Pole. Himali Singh Soin with music by David Soin Tappeser. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2022. Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21.

The juxtaposition of the two video works—made on either side of the pandemic—is striking, like walking down a familiar path in two different seasons. we are opposite like that, part of an ongoing series that features a silver-clad character exploring ice-filled landscapes, blends footage from the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard with archival material from the Victorian era, when glacial ice seemed a looming planetary threat. It is dominated by cool blues tones and a sense of anxiety, made audible in the staccato string composition of Singh Soin’s collaborator, David Soin Tappeser.

Himali Singh Soin, we are opposite like that (video still) (2018–19). © Himali Singh Soin, 2022.

Himali Singh Soin, we are opposite like that (video still) (2018–19). © Himali Singh Soin, 2022. Courtesy the Artist.

As Grand As What, filmed between the Himalayas and Mount Vesuvius, is diffused with gold and amber light, the characters clad in earthy tones and woven green flax masks. Here, Soin Tappeser’s composition blends references to the South Italian Tarantella with a note scale taken from Himalayan folk melodies. The rhythmic music, combined with elemental chapter divisions (water, earth, air, fire, space) and the inscriptions of sacred geometry, leaves no doubt that As Grand As What is an ecological ritual.

Himali Singh Soin, As Grand As What (2020). Video still. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022.

Himali Singh Soin, As Grand As What (2020). Video still. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022. Courtesy the Artist.

But a binary pair of blue/gold anxiety/hope the videos are not. we are opposite like that could end in failure (as so many polar expeditions did), but the silver being finds comfort in the Arctic landscape, melting not in the ice but in the brown coal that matches their skin tone. Having performed a series of embodied rituals, As Grand As What turns the title into an irreverent question, its masked duo interested in process far more than completion.

This is, of course, the gambit of the third pole: the material and epistemological extraction of nature is not the point, nor is some assertion of absolute pureness and sanctity. The endless, iterative layering of media and meaning draw new connections and dissolve old borders creating what the artist describes as a ‘collective, a sharing, a new life project’. Walt Whitman may have contained multitudes, but for Singh Soin, containing multitudes ignores the buzzing thrill of multitudinous connection.

Himali Singh Soin, As Grand As What (2020). Video still. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022.

Himali Singh Soin, As Grand As What (2020). Video still. © Himali Singh Soin, 2022. Courtesy the Artist.

Scale is always the challenge when articulating ecological themes, and it is a distinct sense of intimacy that sets Singh Soin’s work apart from other geo-oriented projects that go big (think, for example, of Olafur Eliasson‘s waterfalls or Fiona Banner‘s rocks). Already operating at the spatial vastness of three poles, Singh Soin pulls the story inward, positioning her body as narrator and guide. The viewer is therefore given more than an ominous narrative of environmental degradation or a neatly packaged story of salvation: in the overlaps and glitches of different ontologies—scientific, mystic, alien, embodied—she pries open the potential for a different set of always shifting, always reorienting relations. —[O]

Source Credit:  Content and images from Ocula Magazine.  Read the original article - https://ocula.com/magazine/insights/himali-singh-soin-explores-the-third-pole/