The Revenant is a single channel video work based on Victorian/Edwardian memorial photography. In this narrative, figures wake from their deathly slumber, linger awhile before returning to their eternal sleep, or sometimes trade places with, or morph into their living companions. They are ʻrevenantsʼ, returned from the dead.
While referencing how technology would be applied in the search of the paranormal, and the world of spiritualism in the late 19th Century in its visual lexicon of double exposures, images of ectoplasm etc., it is also set against the backdrop of the Johannesburg of the Randlords era.
In the making of this work, Vári was hosted by the landmark mansion of Northwards in Parktown, Johannesburg: a Herbert Baker home built in 1904. She transformed its historical parlour room with its period furniture and finishes into an ethereal portal in which volunteers were asked to reenact the curious Victorian vogue for posing their dead for one last photograph – often made to look as though still alive. In a playful but also macabre gesture, the participants were then invited to take turns to be the ʻdeadʼ one.
In a similar way to that of mythologyʼs regenerational sojourns underground, this historical framework references a return laden with precious goods – referencing both the exploits of mining and also the nature of the creative process.
In The Revenant, nothing is as it seems, and even the photographs and ornaments come alive momentarily. Film fragments from the gold rush era and early Johannesburg make ghostly appearances and sometimes roam outside of their picture frames, as though they are in fact dreams or reminiscences of those pictured in the shifting scenes.
The accompanying soundtrack evokes the colonial journeys and conceits of years gone by, and includes the constant creaking of a sea vessel, popular music of the Edwardian era and one of the first recordings of the human voice: haunting iterations of Au Claire de la Lune.
The Revenant transforms the viewer him/herself into a revenant, transporting us back into a bygone time when notions of El Dorado were still very much alive. At a time when mining is again so much in the forefront of contemporary South African history – and problematically so – The Revenant, while being a work of whimsy, is at the same time a satirical moment of pause at the greed and hubris of the human drive to excavate and exploit. In a moment that foreshadows a true a loss of innocence that was the golden promise of the Witwatersrand, there is also pathos and gentle comedy that considers another human impulse: that of remembrance, and maybe even that of renewed hope.
Single channel HD video installation with stereo audio
Duration: 3′ 2″, looped