Kastom Kopiraet tells the fable of Lengnangulong, a sacred stone from an island state in the South Pacific called Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides). Lengnangulong is locked up among other ‘tribal art’ objects in the Pavillon des Sessions of the Musée du Louvre in Paris. He embarks on a road trip across the archipelago where communities undergo rapid social change. Labor migration, foreign investments and digital communication collide with the traditional decentralized, self-sustaining and subsidiarity community structures. Kastom, the local term for custom that includes art and culture, is at the heart of people’s counter-strategies to preserve diversity and identity against foreign influences and to build resilience against social erosion. At the same time culture is a resource to generate income from object trade and tourism. Despite the seeming contradiction, commoditization and revitalization of culture and the arts do not necessarily work against each other; both revolve around value formation and the authentication of things.
Lengnangulong’s journey is a collective reverie, an imagined space where dreams and nightmares, past and future, consolidate into a surreal vanishing point of modernity. For this, Kastom Kopiraet employs cinema, the technique par excellence of the imaginary. The film starts its fantastic expedition in naturalistic form, applying traditional film grammar geared towards coherence and harmony in order to make believe. As the journey progresses, the film’s unity disintegrates. Its well-crafted and logical whole, expressing a world in its totality, slowly succumbs to fragmentation until the parts take over from the sum. By rendering visible the building blocks and mortar of filmic construction, images pass through the realm of documentary, where viewers perceive to witness the real, and into the messiness of image-making that also characterizes the relationships that have grown over the centuries between the West, and his “other”, between representation and reality.