Himali Singh Soin with David Soin Tappeser
how does one move you. shift you, but also elicit emotion, make you cry because something was too beautiful or it hurt.
a mountain has been moved before.1
by monkey gods in search of healing herbs.2
herbs that made themselves invisible because medicine is a medium, a pathway, a pill, a spillage, an image. age.
so the monkey god avulsed the whole mountain with his hands and flew it across the ocean. sound waves traveled from those quieted at a distance.
the tides that day didn’t swell, the moon didn’t cast its usual spell. time itself became ill, patient, the sun refused to rise,3 and the darkness was not – and the darkness was not – not – darkness. the atmosphere smelled sulphurous, but there were stars.
and the mountain found itself moved. mov_moved.
from my vantage point, i am divine or sublime, i’m a different god, a radiant god, irradiant, iridescent, you, err. an error, encrypting me. the mountain embracing the god, a glitch in the story. at first, i fidget around the rocky parts of you that poke my metal sides, the crevasses that jab my antenna, but we eventually make kin with one another. an-other.
my atomic lightness balanced with your tectonic stability enables us to stay floating in space.
you are the omniscient narrator. the second and third person. the base and the peak. peek into the future and i will be omnipresent too, thrumming in the very veins of the world. in the venomous veins of this verse. worse.
i am the hex, the vertex, the all-permeating, unreliable lover tarnished by air, contaminating your bones, depositions in your organs like foam bursting out from old machines, igniting the kind of passion that ends with a masterpiece obliterated. blotted script, illegible, overwritten. the death of the letter. i.
i spy. no one i, eye. e-y-e, a palindrome, as if our vision of our self boomerangs into our vision of our self in an infinite loop of reflexivity. aye, the self affirmed, therefore the other, the subaltern, alternating between yes and no. yes and knowing that to be different is to be self. the third. two and one and also the dialectical none. zero. oh.
you have known what came before. forever a goddess, an elder, time has traveled through you.
i have seen the jagged sublime, the rivers and the ranges magnificent. my surveillance is seepage. age. you brewed thunderstorms, avalanches, glacial surges to disgorge me from your body. i resisted, radiating photons, losing energy. now you hold me close, even as i dissolve you just by being. bodies entwined, one left nourished, the other depleted. is this what bodies in such proximity feel like now?
in order to be, but how can being have order, being has odor, pungent or does being have an aura, but to be is also not to be, that is to annihilate by amassing, a mass monstrous enough to decimate with no detection, you must not be.
i am a witness, you a seer.
i have burned sapphire caves into your gut, you feel squeamish, the static is caustic, it sticks, grates the snow on your forehead dripping into the holiest of rivers. science.
a lady appears with an aluminium tumbler collecting what for her is sacred water,
sipping it, then cupping it in both hands and spraying it over her forehead, a drop pierces her retina, she presses her eyes shut. then opens them to see purple for a moment, blue, then her irises turn an eerie greyish-green, and the village thinks she is either a witch or a goddess, keeping her close enough at a distance.
little does she, or anyone else know that they will die from praying. the river ganga flows into the cracks in the earth as my rays enter the eyes and ring in the ears of its worshippers. bombinating oblations, but to a different god, a radiant god.
i am powered by plutonium, pee-yoo!, named after pluto, planet of personae non grata, the rejected star, the erratic, the other.
if you are the swirling now, i am the future perfect. if you’re the miracle, i’m the magician. your are oblivion, my potency is poison in the whole galaxy, a slow ooze. oohs. if you are a monument, then i am violent. slowly violent, not the slowness that is the state of rest or thankfulness, but the kind that feels like a fever in the heart, one that leaks into ritual, into belief, it dribbles in the liver, trickles into noses and nostrils and mouths and erodes tongues and makes language sound squeaky and opaque, the spell without the spelling. shattered, fragmented, indifferent meaning. no deviations, no discrepancies, no dormant desire. words. fail. a void. avoid it. it is so slow, this violence, that it is almost inaudible, and goes unnamed.
kicked and abandoned, sunk, dead twice. in this half-life of 24,100 years i have been dismembered, disremembered, disimagined, a slumber long and agitated, detonated atoms decaying, worn out by sleeping with my eyes open.
i see a sparrow on the banks of the river, it looks like it has had a very long journey across the salt desert, all the way from the other side of the mountain where the land is parched and even the wandering lake has no pleasure in movement. it looks thin, it looks lacking, it looks like it has not fluttered or flocked in some time, it has not felt that easy drift in which it dreams up its life of freedom, in unison, its music of relations, it has not chirped in delight like when it senses the rains, the fire quashed, the past vanished.
everything an anomaly. an-om-aly. the sparrow is lonely, it feels the heat of the bodies underground, it pushes back on the tyrannical, but it is small and it gets tired fast. it hasn’t made anything or built anything in so long, no nest, no commune, no field.
the sky today is a spectacle: nuclear.
the village witch walks past the sparrow, which is by now wheezing. as if her new eyes could see from the back of her head, she turns around and walks back towards the sparrow. she picks it up and cups it in her palms, it gasps, flails. skin to feather, something transpires between them. a secret language, indecipherable because of the poetry of undiagnosable connectedness. i imagine them flying away alongside each other, toxins passing through thresholds of togetherness, membranes of mucous metastasizing across the sky.
isotopes of interdependence.
it is still twilight. the moon shrivels. the stars, like particles in the air, are rising everywhere and configuring in new constellations. the woman’s eyes glimmer with the clarity of glacial water. she goes to retrieve the herbs growing at the base of the mountain, they vibrate. she feeds the sparrow and tucks a little bit onto the roof of her own mouth, its remedies flowing into her as she swallows. the sparrow flutters, flies. the woman has tears.
you have this feeling, but you don’t know where it is located or how it comes to you. something like loss. marking our cosmic end.
Take the audio and listen to this by the sea or under a tree.
P.S.: Nanda Devi, meaning “the goddess of happiness”, is the patron mountain of the Indian Himalayas. During the cold war in 1965, the CIA collaborated with the Indian Intelligence Bureau to site a nuclear-powered surveillance device on the mountain to intercept Chinese nuclear missile data. The mountain goddess, a temperamental revolutionary, whipped up an immense tempest, and the expedition turned around. The plutonium powered device was stashed on the mountain with the intention of recovering it the following season, however it has yet to be found, and “could still be ticking somewhere”. Since 1965, the plutonium-powered generator has potentially been leaking radioactivity into the mountain. Mysterious cases of cancer abound in the surrounding villages, and the mountain has since been closed to subsequent expeditions.
In 1978, during the brief period in which the sanctuary was reopened, my father, a mountaineer, trekked there with an expedition that took a photograph of Nanda Devi, which was made into a postage stamp by the Indian Telegraph services. Conflating these public and personal histories, static range is a letter from the spy device to the mountain imagining that the film, the stamp, his body, and therefore the artist’s body, her words, her letters, were all exposed to radiation, resplendent in the nuclear sublime.
The music, entirely analogue, references overlaps and continuities with the local music of the Kumaon and Garhwal region in which Nanda Devi is located and the Uyghurs from Xinjiang, China, where the Lop Nur nuclear research facility is located, most notably the shared use of paired kettle drums (nagada). The accompanying soundscape is played on these drums, handmade for this project with beaten copper and goat hide in the village of Almora. Following the work’s underlying theme of transmission and interception, we speculate that the American spy device, a giant radio antennae intercepting signals sent by Chinese ballistic missiles to their ground stations for location and coordinates, also picked up snippets of Uyghur rhythms, possibly clandestine expressions of cultural identity of this severely oppressed and censored muslim minority. It incorporates faults, interference and nuclear mutations.
In the ancient Indian epic Ramayana, the monkey god Hanuman is sent to the Himalayas to bring back a magic glowing herb from a medicine mountain. The mountain is blanketed in herbs, “but all the herbs on the mountain, knowing that the forager was approaching, thus made themselves invisible”. Unable to identify the herb, Hanuman “forcibly seizing hold of its peak, filled with thousands of minerals, together with its trees, elephants, and golds, he violently tore it off so that the summit crumbled and the tops of its slopes began to slide.” He wrenches the whole mountain and flies it across the oceans.
In the story, the mountain is Dunagiri, enclosing the Nanda Devi sanctuary. The healing herb is a mythic plant called sanjeevani, “the restorer of life to the dead”, as yet to be found by India’s flailing Hindu supremacists who in their saffron robes believe they might find it, proving the protagonist, Ram, a foundational god of Hinduism, to be real, thereby establishing India as a Hindu nation.
Hanuman is given only one stipulation: to return before sunrise, so he deflects the sun, preventing its light, and sets off, like Icarus, into the cosmos to restore health to the ailing human princes.
Thanks to Dr. Ele Carpenter, Dr. Jahnavi Phalkey and Dr. Rachel Harris for their advice. The audio was recorded by MJ Harding. This is the first in a series of transmissions that make up 'static range', including letters, animation, music and embroidery. In collaboration with Serpentine Galleries and E-WERK Luckenwalde.
About the artist
Himali Singh Soin works across text, performance and moving image. She uses metaphors from nature and outer space to construct speculative cosmologies in which human and non-human life are entangled. Her art has been shown at Khoj, Delhi, Serpentine Gallery, London, Anchorage Museum and the next Shanghai Biennale. Soin is currently writer-in-residence at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and received the Frieze Artist Award 2019. She is part of the curatorial team of Momenta Biennale 2021 in Montréal.
David Soin Tappeser is a London-/New-Delhi-based jazz musician and composer working with improvisation as a means to re-invent established traditions. The places he’s lived in, India, Nepal, Mexico and beyond, have influenced his understanding of the drum set. His practice revolves around the aesthetic of tone, sound and dynamics and is shaped by notions of internal pulsation, phase and fragmentation as well as the manipulation of time and time-perception through music.