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  • A New Language of the Future:A Conversation with Himali Singh Soin
  • Clara Wilch (bio)

Himali Singh Soin is a London- and Delhi-based artist whose performance and poetry rove across media. Soin carefully realizes a project's ideal form over time and through a wide range of creative modalities, including performance, poetry, film, digital media, art books, and printmaking. Her already prolific artistic career has generated international renown, including winning the Frieze Artist Award 2019.

As a scholar of performance and ecology, I encountered her work while researching Arctic icescapes and was mesmerized by her multimedia series we are opposite like that (2017–22). In this project, Soin endeavors to take the perspective of ice as a bearer of ancient stories by interweaving film footage of performances in the Arctic and the Antarctic with poetry, collaborative musical compositions, and Victorian-era texts and illustrations. Soin draws audiences into regions of the poles devoid of Indigenous human inhabitants—places whose stories have been predominately rendered through the structures of climate science—and creates new histories for them. Meanwhile, Soin's collaborative and multimodal static range (2020–ongoing) focuses upon the Himalayan mountain Nanda Devi and a nuclear-powered surveillance device abandoned there by the CIA. Her series speak to how certain environmental catastrophes and (neo) colonialism are inextricably tangled and to how performance can contribute to human understandings of changing landscapes.

Soin's skills and vision are singular, but her creative methodology is also exemplary of a way of making art and meaning during this time—a proposed geological epoch [End Page E-9] variously called "the Anthropocene," "the Capitalocene," or "the Plantationocene"1 (among other names)—when hierarchical systemic forces, including Euro-Western notions of "Man," extractive capitalism, settler-colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, and technophilic progressivism have indelibly altered the earth's ecosystems on a planetary scale. The following conversation focuses on Soin's praxes, offering insights into how to create art that "does something" to benefit others at a time of proliferating socioenvironmental urgencies and highlighting the importance of place-based art that consciously exceeds the confines of a single narrative. Soin incorporates the animacy of other artists, audiences, land, nonhuman life, and technologies into her work, telling stories of contemporary ecologies through some of the complex relationships that compose those ecologies (fig. 1). As she puts it in our conversation: "If we're in the practice of listening to different voices as the ultimate aim of the work, then can the means be that, too?" Cultivating extra-human friendships as a medium, Soin shows climate change in its spatial and temporal vastness: from centuries-old roots of capitalist industry, racialization, and militarism to the dynamic developments of the present, where H2O molecules are shifting phases in the icy veins of ancient glaciers and becoming the seas that climb other continental shores.

Soin's methodology also works to place many epistemologies—poetic, performatic, natural scientific, historic, intuitive, navigational—on a "flat ontological plane." She incorporates the instruments and languages of various sciences and arts into an amalgam, playing with multiple tools of observation outside of their usual repertoires, and so notices new stories, neglected resonances, and surprising parallels. I have found that this sort of translational effort and interdisciplinary play is also essential to productively grappling with climate change in scholarship. Soin says that we—artists, academics, concerned inhabitants of a challenging epoch—must create "a new language of the future." Allowing curiosity to transgress disciplinary boundaries, we come to know better the phenomenon called climate change and to inhabit our present more fully, learning to both grieve and act in response to a great planetary reckoning that will not be deferred.

Visit Soin's website at

Himali Singh Soin spoke with me from her home in London via Zoom on August 13, 2021. This transcription has been edited for length and clarity.

Clara Wilch (CW):

How would you describe what you do within the arts, broadly speaking?

Himali Singh Soin (HSS):

I always say that I start with the written word, and then it transforms—into immersive environments, into moving image, into performance, into being...


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