On Fractals, Roots, and Portals

For their web residency project Of Roots and Portals: With-nessing, Indigenous Khasi artist Fileona Dkhar created a work that explores different media of correspondence and communication: The acts of writing letters, exchanging cassette tapes, tapping into oral traditions and myths, incorporating sprinklings of algorithmic imagery or fractal image generation, and prompts become tools for world-building and connecting with pasts and futures.

Fileona Dkhar in conversation with Lucreccia Quintanilla and Suvani Suri — Dez 3, 2023

Lucreccia Quintanilla and Suvani Suri: You have been researching what I would consider to be various forms of technologies for communication and entanglements ideas around time and bridging terrains and familial divides. How have these forms worked together as the residency has developed?

»The intention was for the website to serve as an offering to the future, with the story told through sprinklings of algorithmic imagery.«

Fileona Dkhar: The idea to write letters with my father started with a family keepsake – an old cassette tape. On my first birthday, my parents sent my grandmother a tape with them celebrating a performed party from afar on one side (A), and on the other side (B), my grandmother and I talked about pictures from the real party they couldn’t attend, with my aunts there. This tape got me thinking about connecting with pasts and futures, considering what it means to share wishes and regrets across time.

In the residency’s web format, I’ve turned our written exchanges into a web-friendly scrolly-telling format. I’ve also explored how myths and oral traditions pass on knowledge through spoken words. In a way, I feel like these letters are poetic instructions and offerings to a descendant. The project involves text, video, and audio recordings, representing an experimental journey from letters to audio-visual storytelling and confession. For me and my future descendant, communication through »roots and portals« is a historical tapestry entwined with guilt, family myths, expressions of care, and resilience.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Fractals, Roots, and Portals

Lucreccia Quintanilla and Suvani Suri: In your thinking of roots and portals, personal histories and connections to one’s own language, how does an algorithmic thinking feature? What role has it played in shaping your ideas in the past few months?

Fileona Dkhar: As the residency progressed, my research expanded beyond traditional letter writing to a broader exploration of correspondence, encompassing text, speech, and the interconnection of pasts and futures. The residency has prompted me to view poetry as arising from the concept of an offering (of correspondence), although I am still navigating how to link this with ideas of algorithmic thinking. Perhaps, as you (Suvani and Lulu) suggested, there’s a way to incorporate the instructive quality of letter writing into algorithmic thinking. I am encouraged to see what this could mean going forward.

In an attempt to use a computational element while offering roots and portals, I utilized 3D-generated images. I employed the Mandelbulb algorithm to create the initial video using the open-source software Blender. Designed for exploring three-dimensional fractals, the Mandelbulb algorithm generates intricate 3D fractal structures. Although I do not get the full math of it all, its virtual symbolism inspired me to contemplate world-building and shapes. While there was no direct computational link between the letters and the 3D animation, I used the algorithm as a tool to present a narrative. The 3D-generated loop of roots involved adjusting parameters through the Blender software, simulating natural growth patterns. It resembled an improvisation with algorithms to narrate a story. The intention was for the website to serve as an offering to the future, with the story told through sprinklings of algorithmic imagery.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Fractals, Roots, and Portals

Akademie Schloss Solitude - On Fractals, Roots, and Portals

Lucreccia Quintanilla and Suvani Suri: How do instruction and improvisation work together in your practice?

Fileona Dkhar: I view my artistic practice as rooted in the legacy of oral tradition within the Khasi language. Since letter writing is inherently textual, I find inspiration in borrowing instructions from oral myths. One significant mythology that holds particular importance for me is the Khasi myth of the jingkieng jri, translated as the »Bridge of Rubber Roots.« This origin myth emphasizes a key instruction: that humans entered the earth as stewards, not as its possessors. This instructive quality of oral communication is woven as the first incantation of the »roots and portals,« letters addressed to my descendants.

Improvisation plays a role in adapting the oral myth into the context of a letter. The contextual adaptation is personal; as a Khasi person, my connection to the land is nuanced, influenced by a varied and somewhat westernized upbringing. I acknowledge this complexity and find myself picking, choosing, and remixing elements of Khasiness that resonate with me. Improvisation becomes integral to my practice, allowing me to navigate and express these tensions within my Khasi identity. Also, the visual videos and animations serve as a nonverbal improvisational element that strives to collaboratively shape a narrative alongside the instructional letters.

All images courtesy Fileona Dkhar

Fileona Dkhar is an Indigenous Khasi visual artist based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Shillong, India. Her work entwines the personal with mythology and history as storytelling devices.

Suvani Suri is an artist/researcher, working with sound, text, intermedia assemblages and actively engaged in thinking through listening. Her practice is informed by the techno-politics of sound, aural/oral histories, and critical imaginations activated by the relational and speculative capacities of voice.

Lucreccia Quintailla is a multidisciplinary artist, DJ, educator, co-director of Liquid Architecture, and a sound system operator. She is interested in sound, collectivity, and collaboration.

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