MERAPI Malena Szlam Canada/Chile16mm > digital8 min2021
Java is one of the most volcanically active islands on earth and today the significance of volcanoes in Javanese culture is in transition. Animists have long conceived of volcanoes as the home of ancestor spirits and ghosts. Craters and lava domes have been dwelling palaces for spirit kings and queens while caves and banyan trees have been portals to underworlds. Volcanoes, for some animists, are the centre of the earth and the axis of the universe. In this tradition, the dividing line between nature and culture, the earth and humans, the terrestrial surface and its interior, are porous and in constant exchange. – Adam Bobbette
Beyond the alchemy of vision, sociopolitical and economic layers are inherent. The mount is part of the syncretic beliefs of the Javanese people, but the volcanic rocks also form the basis of the local economy, particularly in the cement production and construction. Szlam’s film hints at the latter in presenting the concreteness of MERAPI’s rocks, observing them with a cool, nearly scientific detachment as if to decode their mineral content. Here we’ve finally reached the substrata where spirituality is anchored in earthy experience, and destruction and rebuilding, the rituals of death and renewal, find their concrete manifestation. – Ela Bittencourt
This film is available to stream in North America.
This film is co-presented with the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre and Cornell Cinema.
Image credits: all artworks, stills, and portraits courtesy of the artist © Malena Szlam.
about the artist
Malena Szlam (Canada/Chile) is a visual artist and filmmaker born in Santiago, Chile in 1979. Her work examines relations between cinematic practice, embodiment, temporality, and perception, engaging the affective dimensions of analogue processes, and giving material form to kinetic and lyrical approximations of the natural world. The result is a “sensorial cinema” that exists between figuration and abstraction, artificial and natural phenomena, still and moving images. She received a BFA in Visual Arts from Universidad de Artes y Ciencias Sociales (2004), and an MFA in Cinema Studies from Concordia University (2010). She has completed 20+ films and media installations since 2000, including Anagrams of Light (2011), Lunar Almanac (2013), Morphology of a Dream (2018), and Altiplano (2018), which have been widely exhibited at festivals, museums, and galleries internationally, including The Museum of Modern Art, Palazzo del Governatore, Hong Kong International Film Festival, SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cinéma du Réel, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Moscow International Experimental Film Festival, CPH:DOX, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Cornell Cinema, Los Angeles Filmforum, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Factory of Contemporary Arts Palbok, Anthology Film Archives, Museum of Impossible Forms, National Gallery of Art (Washington), New York Film Festival, San Francisco Cinematheque, Jeonju International Film Festival, Harvard Film Archive, and three previous editions of Media City Film Festival. She is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including Second Prize, Media City Film Festival and TIFF’s Top Ten Canadian films (2018); Grand Prix, 25FPS Festival and Best Experimental Short, Melbourne International Film Festival (2019). Writing about her practice has appeared in Artforum, Film Comment, e-flux, Mubi, Canadian Art, and elsewhere. She was a Media City Film Festival Mobile Frames Filmmaker in Residence (2015), and is a member of Double Negative Collective. She lives and works in Montréal.