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Gabi Dao

Hold these questions close

18 January - 24 February 2024

Unit 17 is proud to present Hold these questions close, the gallery’s first solo exhibition by Gabi Dao. The exhibition travels from the Southern Alberta Art Gallery Maansiksikaitsitapiitsinikssin where it was curated by Adam Whitford, and was on view from 14 October 2023 - 13 January 2024. This first iteration of the exhibition also featured a commissioned text by Godfre Leung.


The figure of the bat is the focal point of Dao’s solo exhibition, including a two-channel video installation as well as ceramic and textile marionettes. Dao considers the bat at a unique set of intersections between ecology and economy, pestilence and good fortune, sight and sound, as well as alienation and belonging. Utilizing the medium of the marionette as sculpture, Dao’s new works are poised throughout the gallery and feature prominently in their new, adjacent moving image work, drawing upon a long history of puppetry as an educational, satirical and transgressive dramatic medium. 


The beginnings of this new body of work coincided with the advent of COVID-19, particularly in response to the debunked, viral video of Chinese influencer Wang Mengyun that was circulated on far-right media channels. The video was actually shot in 2016, and depicted her enjoying bat soup, a delicacy in Pulau. It falsely proclaimed that the global pandemic began with this ingestion and the circulation of this video depicted the meal as an unpalatable, bodily exchange that consequently incited much racism, xenophobia and bigotry. 


It further ruminates on the often Western cultural scorn of bats as associated with virality, evil and the profanity of crepuscular existence. It does so most prominently in the film Lucifer falls from Heaven at Dawn, which features a bat marionette named Lucifer. Lucifer falls to Earth and lands at the foot of a shattered, limestone mountain, Turtle Mountain (Blairmore, Alberta), and begins their journey to reunite with their fellow bat kin. Lucifer encounters biologists who are also searching for bats as well, using technologies that heighten their audio and visual abilities. As the biologists search and research, the rhythmic treatment of the audio/visual materials in the film takes inspiration from bats as models of experimental film, ‘imaging’ the world around them through echolocation and ultrasound.


As the film continues, it also questions the proliferation of international conservation efforts of bats in recent decades. Because their insect eating diet saves agriculture in the billions 1, they are deemed as ‘good workers.’ At large, Hold these questions close suggests how bats, categorized as ‘uncharismatic fauna,’ 2 might hold a mirror up to how humans treat each other across constructions of Otherness, and the conditions in which Otherness is tolerated under capital. Lucifer asks the viewers, ‘am I worthy of your protection?’

1. In August 2023, while in conversation with Susan Holroyd, Calgary Regional Coordinator at Alberta Community Bat Program, it was pointed out that the economic value of bats is used to leverage funding towards research and conservation policy. Susan’s model essay arguing for the economic value of bats is linked here:

2. While in conversation with Masters of Biology candidate Hannah Wilson, ‘uncharismatic fauna’, a term used in biology, refers to ‘creepy’ species, alongside spiders, snakes, spiders, worms, mollusks, etc., they receive much less funding compared to ‘popular and attractive’ charismatic megafauna, wolves, pandas, orcas, tigers and lions.

Gabi Dao (b.1991) is an artist from the unceded and ancestral territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh Nations who now lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. 

Dao’s practice culminates in collage, sculpture, sound and moving image installations with an insistence on multiple truths, blurry temporalities, sensory affirmations and ways of knowing otherwise. They work through long-gestating, fluid processes of gathering, breaking and repairing from their own world-making vernacular of audio/visual fragments, tactile collections of whatnots and scraps of linguistic detritus. They work through long-gestating, fluid processes of gathering, breaking and repairing from their own world-making vernacular of audio/visual fragments, tactile collections of whatnots and scraps of linguistic detritus. Thinking with these materials, their work often begins within the slippages of ‘history’, archives and storytelling— towards channeling the ineffable tensions between grief and joy, alienation and belonging, dissidence and complicity, disassociation and sentimentality. From this juncture, Dao attempts to reclaim and re-enchant meaning-making from the ruins of capitalism and colonialism, especially in the ways they have extracted from racialized, gendered and more-than-human communities. 


They have screened and exhibited their work and projects across Turtle Island, Asia and Europe, and in 2021 they were shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award. They also host intimate, olfactory ‘readings’ through Scent Bar, which operates adjacently to their slow, small-batch perfume business, PPL’S PERFUME


Gabi Dao was the Southern Alberta Art Gallery Maansiksikaitsitapiitsinikssin’s Gushul Studio Artist in Residence for 2022, which resulted in a solo presentation that was the site of origin for this exhibition. The Gushul Residency is a long-standing program that invites artists from around the world to visit the mountain town of Blairmore, Alberta in preparation for their exhibition at the SAAGM.


On 11 January, in collaboration with the Polygon Gallery, Dao presented An echo always calls at least twice, at least twice, a triple bill screening event with works by Bambitchell, Fileona Endoxa Dkhar, and Chuquimamani-Condori & Joshua Chuquimia Crampton set in relation to their solo exhibition at Unit 17. 


Many thanks & much gratitude to:


Adam Whitford, Su-Ying Strang, Godfre Leung, The Alberta Community Bat Program, especially Susan Holroyd and Cory Olson. Calgary Wildlife and Melanie Whalen. The researchers at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park Field Research Station: Luisa Weigand, Alex O'Callaghan, Hannah Wilson, Emma Blanken, Josh Christiansen. The biologists at Ecoresult and South Holland bat count volunteers: Anton Van Meurs, Marlon de Haan, Mark Bouwmeester, Rudy Vanderkuil, and Karin Gossin. As well as: Lan Tieu, Kim Dao, Bernadette Dao, Terrance Houle, Alysha Seriani, Ellis Sam, Feven Kidane, Lou Lou Sainsbury, Steffanie Ling, Natasha Chaykowski, Ioana Lupascu & Unit 17.

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