Queen of Shade | review

Words by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes.

Recently I’ve thought about the peace of forgetting…in pieces, a canvased memory. It’s coincidental that I encounter this film now, as I’ve been considering silhouette in dance practice as a way of attuning to the not-there, the shadowy elephants in the room of every conversation, no matter how loud or silent in its verbalised remnants. 

Conor Lui-Fakaotimanava’s invention of a simple space — a far off light source streaming from a high window or perhaps an air shaft — entrusts us with the patience in looking. I’m reminded of the lackadaisical strides of museum-goers, and the expectation to have their pedestrian afternoon coincide with the melodrama of a statue. In the darkness, there is a particular attention placed upon contrasting sight, and the satisfying improvisation with form and figure like a shop-window mannequin left to its own devices in the nighttime. 

Dancer Emma Martin, framed by a white room containing no division of floor from wall, marble-swirls the line between the dimensionalities of perception: what is shadow without surface, surface without shadow? Is silhouette possible when lived, embodied by the shade itself? At twilight these questions often come up for me, in the overwhelming descension of one light as another ascends. 

In Queen of Shade, Lui has excavated a form of attention that enables the body (and the viewer) to surf across planes, from the physical form to the contours it emits: ponytail to fingertip to earring to dress ruffle. A dancing waveform prisoner inside in the minute ciné-theatre of a stereoscope. The binocular-like device was and is still used for looking at photographs, providing someone with a more three-dimensional view through both the left and the right eye. Lui’s creation achieves a stereoscopic complexity as Martin’s quadruple-jointed phrasework traipses from a flat surface to one of lush, sculptural resonances.

The film screened alongside three others (all presented by Lui and Martin) at the Betty Studio at Poplar Union earlier this month. The Etc Etc Exhibition paired Queen of Shade with films that formed a kind of choreographic dialogue with both artists’ local neighbourhood in East London. An urban construct of sound and light…I think cities are places where sometimes we forget our shadows, the hustle pace like a score where we omit the most obvious presences of them all. Lui’s film draws awareness toward the figures who follow us everywhere, those serendipitous thoughts roaming the cityscape as we walk, illustrating the elegant darkness that lines our hearts.