Swallowed by the Void
Joshua Serafin – Void
By Zrinka Grula
Phase 1: Drawn in by the unease
As I walked through white curtains in one of the exhibition rooms at the Media Art Friesland Young Master’s exhibition in Leeuwarden, I found myself faced with a work by Joshua Serafin called Void.
The exhibition space was completely dark, and the only thing I could see was an audio-visual installation. A ten-minute video performance was being projected from a large beamer onto a wall-size white screen. The video shows a nude human form covered in a viscous, metallic-black liquid. It danced fluidly moving in and out of what seemed to be the source of the liquid, which appeared to be dug into a hole in the sand that covered the space. The location of the performance was an outdoor space, reminiscent of a sandy beach. Two giant, rectangular beams of light shone on the figure moving between them. The artificial light gave the body a shiny glow. The dance continued through the entirety of the video accompanied by a piercing, abstract sound, which rang in my ears uncomfortably. As the performance came to a close the figure walked slowly toward the viewer at which point the video starts again.
Personally, the combination of the distorted sound and intense visuals caused me feelings of distress. However, I found myself captivated, watching loop after loop. It felt like being trapped in a ritual. The elements of the performance combined, such as dance, strange sounds, nudity, and material (specifically what seemed to be a black lubricant mixed with water), reminded me of a sort of ritualistic ceremony.
Spiritual transformations usually occur in phases; while watching the performance, I realized that every time I was captured by the video, I reached a new way of understanding the work in my own way.
Phase 2: Something is changing
After the intense experience, I was eager to know what the core of the work was about. Unfortunately, I was not able to interview Joshua themself. This left me quite a few gaps to fill in and interpret the work in my own way.
According to the Media Art Friesland’s website, the work draws inspiration from Filipino mythology, gender fluidity, and the re-writing of colonial history. The video shows the birth of a future god who learns how to transform into a human, as they prepare live in the mortal world to understand what it means to be a god.¹ I personally find these topics difficult to grasp without further context.
It is possible to extract partial context through Filipino artist, Joshua Serafin’s other works and interviews. In their interview for L’OFFICIEL, Joshua spoke about their background as a dancer: “After high school, I decided to continue studying dance at UP Diliman, but after a year, I was given a scholarship from Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts where I stayed for two years. I was accepted to PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels where I graduated in 2019.”² From this, it could be argued that Void is an abstract work with figurative elements. Their background as a contemporary dancer implies the movements and materials possess an abstract dimension, but figurative elements such as the body, environment, and technology can be recognized. Dance is the main characteristic of their performance, but Joshua is also inspired by queer and drag culture which is highlighted in their recent project Miss: “I’ve always been interested in transformation, becoming, and embodying queer forms and narratives. “³ Joshua has already presented their works all over the world, such as in Deltebre Dansa in Spain, Queer Zagreb Croatia, Centre National de la Danse in Paris, Bouge B Festival in deSingel, and many more.⁴ This makes them a rather experienced young master. My perspective on the work had changed and I started to connect these themes to the Void.
Phase 3: Swallowed by the void
“Here is Josh. Josh lets Void inhabit the body of Josh, and Void transforms into different figures. It’s like a three-way persona alter-relation. Two years ago, when I moved to Brussels, I consciously decided that Void is an existing alter-ego that I needed to make apparent as a being and in my practice.”, says Joshua in their interview in The World Magazine. They also emphasize that Josh exists in institutions such as theatres and museums, while the Void appears in the nightlife. As in the nightlife, in the Media Centre (the exhibition space), they transform into the Void. This made me question if this means that their dualities, Joshua, and the Void are both represented in the exhibition space.
In my opinion, the work also references Joshua’s personal duality. In the work itself, the Void constantly returns to its source as it fights its human side. The high-pitched sounds are indicative of the struggle of the god who is trying to transform into a human. Near the end of the video, the piercing pitch suddenly stops and only a light bass remains. This is the pinnacle of the ritual where I think the god reaches acceptance of their both godly (alter-ego) and human side. The void swallows itself.
Phase 4: Exchange and final transformation
The last phase of the ritual is the exchange and transformation of the participant. The reactions towards the work varied wildly. One of my colleagues could not face the installation because of the unsettling feelings and anxiety it caused her. Discussing the work with my TEXT ME program supervisors proved difficult as well. We were all distracted by the hypnotizing visuals and what seemed to be an improvised choreography. In my opinion, the choreography is improvised because Joshua performs the work in real-life time as well. Thus, this rather is documentation. It seems the audience is immersed in the work intellectually, but not physically. The work ignores the audience’s physical presence, as in a conventional theatre performance. The viewer is simply a silent observer, forced into that position by the Void’s superior presence. Everyone sits on the floor obediently or leaves after the first minute because of the uneasy atmosphere. Whatever the work may represent, one thing is certain, when the god exchanges their transformation with the viewer, the phases of the transformation are complete. However, as the video starts again, the ritual defies the temporal dimension. In the end, nothing changes, and the cycle starts again. With this work, the artist digs into history while combing it with contemporary elements of materials, light, sounds, and dance.
1] MAF: Joshua Serafin (1995, Ph): No author. No date. URL https://mediaartfriesland.nl/ym2023/joshua-serafin-1995-ph-cosmological-gangbang/?lang=en
2] L’OFFICIEL: Joshua Serafin: Decoding Identity Though Body Language: Tin Dabbay. 06.09.2021. URL https://www.lofficielph.com/culture/joshua-serafin-decoding-identity-through-body-language
3] L’OFFICIEL: Joshua Serafin: Decoding Identity Though Body Language: Tin Dabbay. 06.09.2021. URL https://www.lofficielph.com/culture/joshua-serafin-decoding-identity-through-body-language
4] QUEEF.: Joshua Serafin: No author. No date. URL https://www.queef.be/joshua
5] Weebly: Voided Nature: No author. No date. URL https://joshserafin.weebly.com/voided-nature.html
Photos by Tom Meixner