Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso

Stephanie Comilang

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Stephanie Comilang, Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (still), 2016.

Artist Cinemas presents Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso
Stephanie Comilang

25 Minutes

Artist Cinemas
Week #5

November 23–29, 2020

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Stephanie Comilang​'s Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (2016), on view from Monday, November 23 through Sunday, November 29, 2020.

Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me Paradise) is a science fiction documentary set against the backdrop of Hong Kong, where Filipina migrant workers occupy Central on Sundays. The film is narrated from the perspective of Paraiso, a ghost played by a drone who speaks of the isolation of being uprooted and thrown into a new place. Paraiso’s awaits her reprieve every Sunday, 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. The rest of the week, Paraiso 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—and transform them into spaces where they relax over food, drinks, manicures, prayer, and dance. Only when the women gather en masse is the signal strong enough for them to summon Paraiso for upload.

Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso uses Hong Kong’s dystopian maze as structures that the Filipina migrants re-imagine, to explore the beauty of care-giving but also how technology is used as a pivotal way for the women to connect —to each other as well as 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 component parts to offer a startling commentary on the presen, from the point of view of the future.

Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso is the fifth installment of Here is where we are, a program of films, texts, and interviews convened by Laure Prouvost, and comprising the fourth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film. It is presented here alongside an interview with the filmmaker by Menna Agha.

Here is where we are will run from October 24 through December 14, 2020, screening a new film each week accompanied by a text or an interview with the filmmaker(s) by Prouvost and invited guests.

Menna Agha
“Affable Ghosts and Disembodied Territorialities in Stephanie Comilang’s
Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso

Beyond poverty porn and a subscription to universal reality, Stephanie Comilang generously lends us her eye to see spaces, struggles, and brief moments of breathing of three domestic workers in Hong Kong through her film ​Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (​Come to Me​, ​Paradise​)​. Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso is a science fiction documentary; science fiction—in my humble opinion—is the proper vehicle to visualize the ephemeral spaces of the “other,” for whom the single reality in a traditional documentary is violence.

The Filipina Canadian artist and filmmaker gives voice to the ghost of isolation, exhaustion, and becoming—a ghost domestic to the world of those whose humanity is discounted; a ghost who is more of a friend than the reality of a violent city. The film has affected me a great deal, as a person from a culture assigned close to the bottom of the social pyramid. The struggle, and the ephemeral triumphs of these young women in carving out a space for themselves in the city on their weekends, relates to many of us around the world who recognize the city as an alienating space complicit in our disenfranchisement.

I had the pleasure of asking Stephanie Comilang some questions—haunting to me—about her remarkable work:

Menna Agha (MA):
One cannot start engaging with your film before first making a judgment about the figure of the ghost/spirit, who refuses to perform what traditionally would be an antagonizing role throughout the film, and in fact is much kinder and familiar than the violent city. Why did you opt to challenge the common performance of the ghost in your work?

Stephanie Comilang (SC):
I don’t necessarily see ghosts as bad things. Spirits and ghosts are a normal part of life growing up in a Filipino household, and my parents would always talk about ghosts. My father would tell me stories about spirits called Dwende— mischievous spirits that live in trees or stones in the Philippines—who would tease his sisters when they were children.

The ghost or spirit in my film is called Paradise. She acts as an intermediary between the women and their place of origin. Oftentimes when ghosts are portrayed in films they are trying to find their way to the other side, and humans act mediators to facilitate this passing. But in my film it’s the opposite. Paradise is the mediator who sends the women’s messages back home to their loved ones.

The ghost, in this case, is an all-knowing drone-spirit. This hybrid of machine and sentience reminded me of Donna Haraway’s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1985), where such a hybrid enables “transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities.” I wonder here about the reason and the moment you decided to use the drone?

Since Paradise’s character is a ghost/spirit, I was considering what camera to use that could embody that. I wanted to create a character with its own unique movements and gestures. With the drone, I could think of certain movements and attributes that were unique to the character, that made it more relatable and in a way I could translate directly. I also liked the way that I could control the technology without having to hire a cinematographer. That was my thinking.

I read in ​transmediale that the ghost is voiced by your mother, ​w​ho left the Philippines for Canada in the 1970s. This piece of information has added more affinity to the relationship I formed with the ghost. Could you speak to us a little about this relationship between the ghost and your mother’s voice for you? Why did you make that choice? And was it strange telling your mother that she is voicing an all-knowing drone-spirit?

It wasn’t a conscious decision to create a mother figure with the drone’s character. Actually, I was having a hard time trying to figure out whose voice to use for Paradise. I live in Berlin and my mom in Toronto. We would often Skype as she was helping with some translations in the film, and hearing her voice over the digital crackle of Skype fused everything together for me.

For me, the city of Hong Kong was the villain of this film; perhaps it’s me projecting my feelings about big apathetic cities—their finance towers, and their ability to perpetuate a caste system that discounts certain humanity into a state of serfdom. But instead of just projecting my strong feelings, I should ask you: What is the city’s role in ​Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso?

The spatial geography of Hong Kong is unlike any other place I’ve been to. Hong Kong Island is famously known for its lack of space due to much of it being built on hilly mountainous terrain, therefore making enough space only for vertical living. The neck cranes, and the eyes are constantly moving upwards. This speaks directly to the notion of being upwardly mobile. The higher you are in Hong Kong, the more maneuverability you have. The areas of Central and Mid-Levels are the most sought-after real estate and where most of the wealthy live. But this is also where 300,000 Indonesian and Filipina domestic workers take up space on Sundays. The city undergoes a makeover and it’s beautiful.

The digital space is pronounced in ​Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso. We learn about its importance early on in the film, with the scene of the smartphone in the dustpan, transforming the dustpan into a selfie-stick. The film offers a complex relationship between the digital space, home, and the ephemeral spaces carved out in the city by the migrant workers during the weekend. How did you choose this specific curation, especially that both the digital and the ephemeral are often unseen in material landscapes?

If you walk through Central Hong Kong on Sundays, you will see all the women holding their phones in front of their faces video chatting with their families back home. It’s a lifeline that we can all relate to, and that has become even more pronounced during quarantine. The situation for the women is intensified tenfold because they are only allowed to go home once every two years. Imagine? Your children are toddlers and then they’re teens; meanwhile you’re taking care of someone else’s baby as a surrogate everyday. The connection the phone provides becomes extremely important. That’s why the digital plays such an important role in the film—the technology almost becomes sacred, from the drone-spirit to the phones.

Using cardboard against the—physical and metaphorical—hardscapes of the city, the women in your film create ephemeral spatial organizations that are rooted in their home villages, as you visually relay to us in your film: they are utilizing modes of territorialities disembodied from their territories. What attracted you to these spaces, and what can you tell people like myself in visual/spatial fields about visualizing the ephemeral and the unseen?

I’ve talked to a few people who happened to land in Hong Kong for the first time on a Sunday, and they told me how they walked out of their Airbnb or hotel to look for lunch after a long travel and suddenly found themselves unknowingly in a sea of Filipina and Indonesian migrant workers. I remember friends telling me they thought a festival was happening, or that they had never realized there were so many homeless people in Hong Kong.

On those days, the women set up temporary dwellings with cardboard and string right in the middle of Central, which is the finance district of Hong Kong. By law, Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers must live with their employers, where it is impossible to separate work and free time. What person would ever want to spend their day off at work? To find their “own” space, the women must leave their place of residence/work and re-create their own in public space. These are spaces set up out of necessity, which gives way to communal activities and sharing. They are lifelines that I feel we would all seek in the same circumstances.

Thank you for lending us your eye for 25 minutes and 44 seconds, and for indulging my questions.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Film, Labor & Work, Technology, Feminism, Migration & Immigration
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