Introduced by Natasha Ginwala
HD video, 32' 40''
Can ayahuasca have the same significance for our day as LSD had for the 1960s? Exploring this question Night Soil / Fake Paradise presents an amalgama of personal accounts on the spiritual and bodily experiences with the Amazonian substance, giving particular weight to the feminine voice and point of view, traditionally neglected in psychedelic research.
Natasha Ginwala: As a way of commencing, could you tell us how your experiences in the entwinement of psychedelia and healing practices—in particular discovering ayahuasca as a human-plant relation that is re-defining consciousness across many communities today—brought you to conceive the filmic plot for Night Soil Fake Paradise?
Melanie Bonajo: I was looking for subjects to create an experimental documentary series about trends that are currently pressing against the values of capitalism, but which are still considered illegal within its systemic operation. I am interested in the meaning and function of the supernatural, the spirit, in concepts of God that have influenced thousands of years of human civilization and the interregnum that seems to cause neuroses in many modern humans possessing a secular, mechanistic, world view. This is also why I am particularly interested in pre-monotheistic religious forms, as their societal model wove human life into an organic model of the earth. This search of the modern human to a more “connected life” led me to the medicinal herb called ayahuasca, which also is called the vine of the soul orla madre. In my personal experience, it felt as though someone had pressed the reset button back to factory settings. It was a complete rewiring of my neurological trajectories into my primal body, recognizing the animal body in which we are born, which is our true home.We believe to master everything, but it is the botanical that really has been running the show here, long before the spectacle of multicellular organisms of the kingdom of Animalia entered the stage. So yes, ayahuasca activates the body, which becomes accessible again as a device of correspondence with plant-animal beings rather than a database sealed off from nature's exuberance.
NG: This work not only addresses sexuality and a spectrum of desire but also opens up a conversation with female subjects engaged with psychedelia and ayahuasca in various ritualistic settings, which are joyful, reparative, wildly interspecial, and destabilizing. Could you share more on this approach and your commitment to the feminist perspective involved in the making of this work?
MB: Hunting for a lost female legacy is somewhat an intellectual obsession of mine, especially now as I get older and see women disappearing around me. I seek out those female role models in history, their forgotten existence, their influential voices, which never made it in to the story we tell ourselves. So rewriting history into a scenario where women—and other awkward beings—can be at home on this planet is of crucial importance. The work also highlights certain gender-related fears in our culture, as those of the use of substances that can make women be “out of control” or liberated, sexual or knowledgeable framed in highly negative terms and harshly judged more than their male counterparts. I am interested in giving evidence on how alternated states of consciousness arise through plants, and on how learning from plants are dimensions that have culturally shaped our history as humans. In Europe in particular we’ve assisted to hundreds of years of holocaust against female herbalists, exterminating a relation that united a sacred body of knowledge between women, plants and a non-Christian spirituality. This film is a humble attempt towards the restoration of this connection.
NG: Night Soil Fake Paradise also makes one wonder how to seek a model of life that is pleasurable and abundant beyond the current order of cognitive capitalism. How do you consider this matter of capital invading the human and planetary body?
MB: Life has never been so close to finitude. The dreams of the generation that is born today will no longer remain embedded in the idea of a never-ending state of progress. Instead, they will be confronted with a long list of irreparable ecological tragedies and with an insatiable quest for short-term profits for just a few. Within such a reality, I believe that alternative models, such as “green capitalism,” are not an option, since capitalism is based on a destructive logic of linear progress, which excludes a circular, sustainable, empathic, relational, and ecologically-conscious economy. To live was seen as a gift in many cultures, and now we all have become experts in hiding our anxieties, which are suppressed with drugs like anti-depressants, which make us function like goal-oriented robots and keep us far from the truths that dawn on us while we are half asleep.
NG: We meet with your subjects as technosexual beings, floating in swimming pools, posing in interiors of the forest or masquerading in a photo studio. What made you choose these sites when establishing an ‘other worldly’ aesthetic?
MB: The locations and scenes were chosen to reveal a confused world, in which the protagonist struggles between the confrontation with the humble utopia of the plant spirit, where a whole other set of sensitivities is being activated, based on pure love and empathy, and after which you return to a world of junk, highways, gas station, jobs, taxes, relationship troubles, sexual perversions and childhood traumas. Thus, on the soundtrack the bird song is replaced by a ringing mobile phone, indicating all the troubled eco-social and geopolitical relations amidst us.
NG: By the end of viewing Night Soil Fake Paradise, I’m compelled to ask: how do you perceive the future potential of shamanic ritual and forms of psychedelic spirituality in the course of urban living?
MB: I see herb psychedelics as anti-capitalist medication. It is a direct entrance into a common group experience, connected to a shamanic, nomadic, and primordial hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which was only interrupted 15.000 years ago. This opens up the invisible alchemies behind the world of matter. It is a conversation with the knowledgeable presence of the planet at the frontier of our awareness where the dimension of the self performs as a direct interface of nature, and if we may apply this notion through rituals in urban planning, communal ethics, and future technology in alignment with nature we would be closer to a dynamic equilibrium between human and planetary life.
Cast in order of appearance: Melanie Bonajo, Jasper Griepink, Janneke Raaphorst, Athena Llewellyn Barat, Bryn Mckay, Bunny Michael, Asha Cherian,Pjotr Jezernitski, Joseph Marzolla, Chris Garneau.Camera: Maja Cule, Ryan Morris,Joseph Marzolla, Justin WarshSound recording: Nikola ChapelleEdit: Jose Santos, Peter Kinoy
Assistant Edit: Daniela Alvarado
Set Design: Joseph Marzolla
Textile Design: Janneke Raaphorst
Costume Design: Melanie Bonajo
Make-up: Melanie Bonajo
Set-Assistants: Verena Kittel, Elise Gannett
Sound Editor: Tommie Bonajo
Sound design: Bruno Coviello
Title Design: Philippe Karrer
a MΔtrix BotΔnicΔ Production
Thanks to: Suwanne Jo, Colin Joyner, Erik Kessels, Mark Kremer, Chris Garneau, ZoZo, Andrew Fermont-Smith, Patricia A. Bell, Mathew Lutz Kinoy, Cajsa von Zeipel, Future Eyes & Skylight Pictures