Stephanie Comilang (b. 1980, Toronto) is a Filipina-Canadian artist living and working between Toronto and Berlin.
With a focus on the migrant experience, one capable of reducing people to anonymous individuals living and working in unstable elsewheres, Comilang considers the growing disparity between the human and the global. Through a genre she terms “sci-fi documentary,” Comilang creates films whose narratives are driven by multiple voices and points of view to consider how culture and society engage with such salient aspects of the globalized world as mobility, capital and labor. The intimate narrative and filmic devices Comilang employs cause her films to fit not so neatly into either category of that hybrid definition—they feel too possible to be sci-fi, too close to be documentary, and instead carry something of the imagistic epistolary or confessional.
Her work has been shown at transmediale festival, Berlin; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Tai Kwun Hong Kong, Hong Kong; International Film Festival Rotterdam, Rotterdam; Tate Modern, UK; Asia Art Archive in America, New York; and Haus der Kunst, Munich. She was awarded the 2019 Sobey Art Award, Canada’s most prestigious art prize for artists 40 years and younger.
In September 2022, Comilang will present her first solo exhibition at ChertLüdde gallery in Berlin.
Piña, Why is the Sky Blue? (2022) is an affirming techno-feminist vision of a future in which ancestral knowledge and new technologies converge. The centerpiece of the work is a video/virtual-reality installation of the same title and a fictional documentary that narrates the story of a spiritual medium known as Piña. As an advanced form of artificial intelligence, Piña is able to receive and collect inherited knowledge, messages, and dreams from the artists' families and broader communities in order to secure the survival of their futures and traditions.
The work features footage shot in the Philippines and Ecuador, where Comilang and Speiser, respectively, have family histories. In the single channel video, the spirit Piña invisibly narrates the film, speaking in voiceover over drone footage, which conjures their disembodied presence. By contrast, in the virtual reality realm Piña appears in human form. Initially viewers see Piña carrying out everyday activities before they enter the spirit's inner world, a fragmentary rendered dreamscape composed of all the data transmitted to them.
In addition to the film installation, the exhibition features textile collages woven from pineapple-cloth swatches sewn together by hand. One of the first commodities from the so-called New World, pineapple (piña) was introduced to the Philippines by Spanish colonizers, where it was grown for the European luxury market as well as used locally for food and fiber.
Through an emphasis on matriarchal lineages and their modes of knowledge transmission, the work considers how precolonial ways of being have survived into the present in spite of their ongoing violent oppression.
Stephanie Comilang's Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me Paradise) is a science fiction documentary that uses the backdrop of Hong Kong and the various ways in which Filipina migrant workers occupy its downtown Central district on Sundays. The film is narrated from the perspective of Paraiso, a ghost played by a drone who speaks of the isolation from being uprooted and thrown into a new place. Paraiso’s reprieve comes when she is finally able to interact with the women and feel her purpose, which is to transmit their vlogs, photos, and messages back home. During the week she is forced back into isolation and is left in an existential rut.
On Sundays, Central becomes a pivotal place for Paraiso and the three protagonists as thousands congregate to create a space of female care-giving, away from their employers' homes where they live and work full time. From early morning to night, the women occupy these spaces normally used for finance and banking into spaces where they relax over food, drinks, manicures, prayer, and dance. Only when the women gather en masse is the signal strong enough to summon Paraiso.
Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso uses Hong Kong’s dystopian, labyrinthine structures reimagined by the Filipina migrants and focuses on the beauty of care-giving, but also explores how technology is used as a pivotal way for the women to connect to each other and to loved ones. Raising questions around modern isolation, economic migration and the role of public space in both urban and digital forms, the film transcends its various components to offer a striking commentary on the present, from the point of view of the future.