Desirée Holman’s Time Travelers

A group of elderly people wearing white stand in a field against a blue sky, Holman

Desiree Holman, Sophont (still), 2015; photo: Christian Davies

In Desirée Holman’s Sophont (2015), Time Travelers loosely represent the past. Played by participants aged fifty-five to eighty-five, they have graying hair and are slightly androgynous, pointing to the possibility of a future without binary distinctions. They wear white tunic-like clothing that becomes brightly colored, Holi-style, early on in the piece when they fling colored pigments into the air.

Their cumbersome helmets are hybrid constructions, operating at a level somewhere between a tinfoil hat and Google Glass. They are made of broken remote controls, used kitchen utensils, and other recycled materials sourced from thrift stores and junk shops. To describe the headgear Holman uses the term psionics, which refers to psychic abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis.

An elderly bearded man in front of an orange background wears a hat made of a colander and other recycled materials, Holman

Desiree Holman, Sophont (still), 2015; photo: Charles Villyard

The helmet technology, in her conceptualization, interfaces between the brain and the beyond, where “the beyond” can refer to technological or extraterrestrial realms. The characters, as Holman explained to Westword, are “supposed to look like these characters are scrubbing for a signal.”

The artist imagines these hardware-enabled futurists using their inherent psychic and telepathic forces to drive the machines they create. Their choreography, as with the other groups featured in Sophont, is derived in part from science fiction films, spiritual dance forms, and yoga asanas.

The Time Travelers are also inspired by various cultures of techno-science spirituality, for instance transhumanists, Raelians, scientologists, crystal therapists, E.T. cultists, and other UFO/contactee religions. Of the three character groups, they most represent the intersection of New Age and tech culture. As KQED Arts reflects, in the context of this piece, “The Bay Area is ground zero for both movements [New Age and tech culture], and yet they exist at a remove from each other, approximately the distance of a ten foot pole.”

Desirée Holman's Sophont in Context

Desirée Holman’s Sophont (2015) is a multichannel video commissioned by SFMOMA’s Performance department for Performance in Progress, a program that invites artists working in live idioms to create new works for the museum space, with an eye to the interests and histories of the Bay Area. Sophont features three groups of performers: Time Travelers, Ecstatic Dancers, and Indigo Children. The term sophont refers to an intelligent being, human or nonhuman, capable of extraordinary reasoning and introspection. It was first used in the science fiction of Poul Anderson to describe such beings. It is also associated with the term “sentient being,” meaning one with the ability to feel and perceive, which arises frequently in Buddhism.

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