The work of Javier Téllez always involves excluded groups and communities, such as refugees, disabled persons or psychiatric patients, serving as a vehicle for realities that defy our standard rationality. Shadow Play is a silent 35 mm black-and-white film in which the actors’ shadows play a starring role. Created in Switzerland with the collaboration of refugees from different countries, who appear in the film and helped write the script, Shadow Play uses the theatrical, proto-cinematic genre of Chinese shadow puppetry to act out stories of exile and migration told by those who actually lived them. In this silent narrative, the refugees overcome language barriers to recount and relive episodes of their difficult life journey, sometimes literally and at other times poetically and metaphorically. Their brief gestural stories recall the oral traditions and popular myths common in non-Western cultures and communities. Yet as their tales unfold, a disruptive element appears and begins to interact with the figures: Alberto Giacometti's sculpture The Hand (1947). This work pops up in several scenes and, to the spectators’ surprise, slides around and reacts to the actors’ presence. Invading some of their spaces and taking refuge in others, at once menacing and fragile, The Hand acts as a narrative agent while simultaneously upsetting the suspension of disbelief required of spectators in shadow theater.
(Photo: Javier Téllez, Shadow Play, 2014, Film installation, 35 mm film projection, 10' 56'', Film still, Courtesy of the artist and Peter Kilchmann galerie, Zurich © Javier Téllez)