On the Queer Time of Elephants is an evolving project that melds physical, long-distance exchanges over the pandemic that eventually weaves into an experimental film. It draws parallels between the impacts affecting important queer venues in the UK and the wild Asian elephants inhabiting the rainforests in Malaysia.
The project has involved a series of physical correspondences between British film artist Alistair Debling and Malaysian researcher, Kat Rahmat, through a series of hand-written letters, plant-samples and audio-visual footage as they explore the strange ways that the pandemic has mediated time in their communications and respective interests. Kat’s explorations of her environment are mailed to Alistair in the UK, who ultimately weaves the film together and brings their perspective into a new art form.
The final film forms a narrative that juxtaposes the beauty, threats and uncertain future faced by UK’s queer scene and the indigenous and wildlife community in Malaysia’s rainforests.
Alistair and Kat’s project brings into focus the issue of memory, habitat and heritage loss, which similarly afflicts both the queer and wildlife ecosystems. Despite their ostensibly vast differences, the juxtaposition of the two environments brings two unlikely worlds together to hold equal weight in urgency and relevance in a post-pandemic world.
On the Queer Time of Elephants was deliberately created to be circulated among audiences with distinct concerns in hopes of creating unexpected connections. Ultimately, it is a film that hopes to expand the possibility of dialogue between diverse perspectives that nevertheless share a solidarity in the margins.
In syncing Alistair’s experimental time-based media to explore queer ecologies and Kat’s studies on animals’ temporalities, the project was also an opportunity for both artists to develop via cross-pollination; their different ideas, knowledge, skills and cultural perspectives are exchanged by noticing the different rhythms of time that mediate and travel between them. They are in mutual pursuit of new languages, practices, and resonances between two worlds that resolutely wish to find the generative in difference.
Alistair Debling is an interdisciplinary artist working across installation and performance. Unexpected equivalences—between Tudor fortresses and nuclear power stations, disco balls and hellfire missiles, gay bars and wild elephants—often lie at the heart of Alistair Debling’s research-based practice. Though his work investigates diverse fields, from queer nightlife and ecology to the military-industrial-complex and its architectures, he is continually drawn to the question of what it means to survive. In the context of a global pandemic, amid ecological breakdown and perpetual remote-controlled warfare, he asks: what might survival look like? With an experimental approach to form, Debling’s practice encompasses a broad range of time-based media, from video installation and performance to alternative eco-film processes, live fermentation and AI-generated imagery. His work has been presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), Hauser and Wirth (Somerset) and the National Theatre of Great Britain (London).
Kat Rahmat is a researcher, curator and artist. She is currently a PhD candidate at the School of Geography and Environment, Oxford University. Since early 2020. Kat’s research focuses on the multiple temporal registers of temporality (colonial, indigenous, animal and vegetal) and its engagements with the nonhuman.
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