Forest Tales: Proposal for an Ecological Cinema


2014, Booklet, Cover Collage + Text
For A Wicked Problem, EFA Project Space (NYC) called on artists and curators to dispose with all practical limitations and envision the most audacious, outrageous, and impossible exhibitions. They asked: “Please send us proposals for shows regardless of practical limitations—submissions may include any number of artists alive or dead (or none at all), use any locations on this planet (or off), and assume a budget that is limitless.” Fourteen of those proposals were partially realized in this show.

Forest Tales: A Speculative Film
This proposal is for an exhibition that documents the production of the film, FOREST TALES – an eco-feminist reading of the Indian epic, The Ramayana, which is a ‘living’ text in South and South East Asia that examines notions of duty and dharma. Recast through the eyes of the primary female character, Sita, the story has the potential to take on ecological dimensions. Sita (whose name means ‘furrow’) is the daughter of the Earth and is literally ploughed out of the soil. Through her eyes, duty/dharma become relevant in relation to the earth.

Extending the ethos of ecology into artistic practice, the film will be made without the use of any fuel or electricity – except that which is generated through human power. In this way, the production aims to make visible the ‘labor’ of machines. All equipment and materials used in the production will either be recycled or upcycled. Video cameras will either be fitted with hand-crank mechanisms to power them, or will be powered off batteries that have been charged using bicycle-power. All local travel will be conducted on foot, on bicycles, or in battery-powered vehicles that are previously charged through bicycles. Similarly, all international travel will be on sail-boats that have a bank of bicycle-oars. Post-production will be minimal, as a majority of the film will be in-camera edited. Any remaining editing will take place on computers that are fitted on modified sewing machines that use pedal- generated power.

Being a science-fiction film, the production design will employ an Indian steampunk aesthetic, but with a bio-tech twist. For instance, some characters will have costumes that are hand-woven using recycled fibre-optic elements that will then be powered using body heat and motion, while other characters will be clothed in ‘living’ costumes created from plants. Sets will be created using a mixture of upcycled resources and organic materials such as mushroom bricks. The film will also employ animation as a visual strategy, through simple lenticular or rotoscope animations – using animation plates either exposed on grass through sunlight, or created through batik. In this way, the work intends to be artisanal – in the sense that it is hand-made.The script will examine a single moment in the story where Sita enters the forest in exile. Ram and Lakshman will be conspicuous through their absence in the film. Having arrived in the forest by night, Sita will encounter the destruction of the forest at first daylight and discover that it is now a dumping ground for pharmaceutical waste. She will wander into the forest looking for her mother, who will come to her in the guise of a frog (evoking the plethora of animal voices in the original text).

This project achieves its ideal form within the context of the theoretical show, as the most ecologically sustainable film is one that is not even made. By providing audience members the modes of production, the visual design and the narrative, it challenges them to collectively imagine what this film could be.

Installed as an edition of 6 booklets for the exhibition. Download the Booklet here.