The Way Things Run (Der Lauf der Dinge)
Part 1: Loose Ends Don’t Tie
Participating Artists: Alvaro Barrington, Tom Burr, Renee Green, Iman Issa, Mirak Jamal, Joan Jonas, Tarik Kiswanson, Olu Ogunnaike, Zac Langdon-Pole, Rosemarie Trockel
Exhibition Text written by curator Jeppe Ugelvig
“In this context, uprooting can work toward identity, and exile can be seen as beneficial, when these are experienced as a search for the Other (through circular nomadism) rather than as an expansion of territory (an arrow-like nomadism). Totality’s imaginary allows the detours that lead away from anything totalitarian.” (Glissant 1990)
The migration of people, objects, and images is a condition of contemporary global society. Moving transforms people, culture, and ideas to exist in multiple, dyssynchronous states, producing new narratives of belonging and of displacement. As things move, they are re-coded and re-formed, spurring material and psychic palimpsests that unfold in both overt and subtle ways— in objects, images, and bodies. Art is one cultural form where these movements not only can garner representation, but where such representations can be problematized, subverted, and re-imagined.
The artists featured in Loose Ends Don’t Tie, the first part of the trilogy of exhibitions The Way Things Run, evade any identitarian or geo-political categorization in order to instead examine the very material manifestation of spatial and psychic displacement, and the cultural hybridity it produces. Envisaged as an open-ended discussion across generations, territories, and contexts, the show sets out to investigate the shared, often violent histories that formulate our integrated, globalised modes of living and working, and the way that these manifest as material traces, overt as well as opaque. Asking what things are made of, where, by whom, and to what ends, may succinctly reveal systems of power and oppression, but also of radical self-determination. In either case, the artists in the exhibition suggest that a study of identity is also one of the very matter than constitutes it.
Several of the artist included take production and its location as a conceptual framework, drawing out how these are always affected by power relations grounded in geographies. Starting in 1987, Rosemarie Trockel released a number of interior floor carpets with Equator Productions, woven by Tibetan artisans. Incorporating well-known industrial symbols from the Western garment manufacturing industry into her designs, Trockel commented on the ambivalent space that craft upholds not only in art but in Western industrial mass-production, as a form of labor typically outsourced and done by women—but nonetheless one producing highly sought-after and luxurious commodities. More recently, Olu Ogunnaike has engaged wood as an industrial commodity circulating in contemporary global society. His series of sheet sculptures make use of charcoal and the engineered lumber known as Oriented Strand Board (OSB), an increasingly ubiquitous material in the West. Tracing the highly specific global processes of resource extraction and labor—manual and industrial—that realize these materials, Ogunnaike draws out the ways in which identification happens through systems of material production, and asks to which extent these commodities can serve as representations in their own right.
To rather different ends, Swedish-Palestinian artist Tarik Kiswanson marks histories of displaced origin through production as he produces copper sculptures welded with heirloom silver, melted down from his grandparents’ silverware after their exile from Jerusalem. Here, material remnants of locales produce new modes of nomadic relationality while serving as relics of displacement. Similarly, Venezuelan-born Alvaro Barrington’s painterly practice reflects on the way personal and collective identification, often highly romanticized, happens through displaced materials and objects, and investigates how the improvisatory juxtaposition of cultural forms might result in new productive hybridities of affinity. His ongoing postcard series sees generic postcards with pristine motifs violently incised by thick, textural sewing threads. Mirak Jamal produces abstract emotional representations of a notion of ‘home’ in constant flux, particularly in incorporating his own drawings from his nomadic childhood between Iran, the USSR, Germany, the US, and Canada. These contrasting and often contradictory elements question the stability of the image and its signification of “place” as it circulates through different hands and contexts. In his Mammal Board, American artist Tom Burr compiles black-and-white photographs of animals and subliminally hints at the way human identification takes place through found and often highly arbitrary imagery.
Shaped by systems of control and violence, migratory meeting points of history can nonetheless produce lyrical and mythical relationships between things, subjectivities, and cultural motifs, their “original” narratives often partially lost or forgotten. Joan Jonas’ video works complicate representations of identity by undoing standardized distinctions the image and the mediatized self, producing new fantastical associations. These conceptual practices of the 1970s are precursors to the equally lyrical work of Renée Green. Her video Come Closer diaristically moves between Lisbon, San Francisco and Brazil to weave an intimate map of relations in the modern Lusophone world. Narrated in Portuguese with some conversational excerpts in English, Come Closer shows with poetic complexity how our past melds with our present.This too is felt in the work of Zac Langdon-Pole, whose wallpapers reflects on how the loss of information during cultural exchange (transposing, translating) can itself be a process of formation. In her series Heritage Studies, Iman Issa poetically renterprets historical objects on an intimate scale by reimagining museum artifacts as sculptures still placed alongside labels detailing the original relics.
Ultimately, the works in the exhibition problematize “origin” as a cultural mythology while embracing diasporic identification as a way to understand the world around us. It gives space to what Glissant has defined as called A Poetics of Relation; not only between people, but between objects, images, and places, real and imagined. Here, connection and familiarity may take place not in a place, but instead, in the dye of a textile, in the motif of a postcard, or the subtlety of a bodily movement.