By Julieta Maria
Our curatorial team has set out to present this exhibition inspired by the play of elements organized around binary relations, and exploring the different interpretations that could be given to the binary form. Binary means composed of two parts or two pieces. It could be a system of two pieces that complement and inform each other, adding up to more than the sum of its parts, or it could be a set of elements in which the presence of one of them implies the negation of the other. However, the concept is often exclusive in that it encloses itself in the number two, precluding a third element, or in-between elements to be part of the equation.
In flatland, tale that inspired Autotelic to create the work Sphere Line Cube, the author imagines a world of two dimensions. The inhabitants of this world are able to perceive three-dimensional objects that cross their world, but only as a variation on their two-dimensional plane in time. This play between blindness and perception informs several of the works presented in this exhibition.
In a set like this, the binary form implies converting everything foreign into the limited parameters of the system. Being a kind of language, however, the possibilities inside the system are unlimited, like in the creation of digital forms, where the multiplicity of elements that arise are composed of a binary code. Thus, a paradox emerges, in which objects of diverse origin are homogenized by the code and can be manipulated as a variable, in a play between homogeneity and multiplicity.
The binary form can also be interpreted as a contrast of oppositions and diverging elements. This perspective manifests itself nowadays in the polarized views that fuel intolerance and antagonism amongst peoples and territories. This view also paves the way for homogeneity, in an environment in which there is little tolerance for difference.
In the binary form that entails mutually exclusive elements that nevertheless constitute the building blocks of homogeneity, I am interested in the impossible intersections between the elements. I am interested in the forms of in-between that are omitted in binary systems of representation. I am interested in binary intersections.
Intersections are about similarities and differences. They are about finding common ground, but also about exclusion and homogenization. They could entail clashes or collaborations- or just be an acknowledgement of the interstices that exist between two seemingly disconnected sections or irreconcilable positions. Intersections are about the negotiations or impositions that take place within societies or within individuals, about our relationship to one another, about movement and transitions, about oppression, about colonialism.
Binary Intersections is about considering other spaces within sets of polarized categories like East-West, North-South, Utopias-Dystopias, Male-Female, but fundamentally between 1 and the 0ther.
Homogeneity and difference:
On the work of Eshrat Erfanian, Paolo Pedercini and SAVAC.
What lies beneath the surface of homogeneity? What is “difference” and how do we recognize it, how do we rationalize it, digest it, incorporate it, repress it or obliterate it?
That, which lies under the placid, undisturbed appearance of an homogeneous landscape might be the random flashes of red, yellow and orange, might be the phantoms of riots of discontent, might be 9/11.
In a talk with Iranian-Canadian artist Eshrat Erfanian, she was explaining how the houses she documented in the city of Vaughan belong to what is called “stamp architecture”: There are two different models that are repeated all throughout the landscape, forming a uniform view similar to that of the wagons of a train; a long line of twin structures, forever static and echoing the same statement about a particular way of life and a particular identity.
In Eshrat’s piece, “Start Dreaming”, the urban landscape transmits an eerie sense of desolation and tranquility. There is a hidden danger pulsating beneath the facades and threatening the calm and static view of this suburban dream. The installation comprises two video projections joined in a 90-degree angle. On the left side projection, the apparent immobility of the suburban landscape is randomly disturbed by almost subliminal flashes of yellow, orange or red. The video on the right pans over several fictional urban models built in the studio out of small replica homes based on a model Eshrat purchased at the Bauhaus archives. The camera movement is circular, and the fragility of the models is exposed when the miniatures are destroyed by sudden explosions and other disasters.
Mark Rakatansky, reading into Freudian theory in relation to architecture, states that the history of architecture is a history of substitutive objects of desire.1 Architecture is the embodiment of man’s ideal. It has been related to the search for an ideal sense of identity, but this act of identification always fails. There are always fragmentations, instabilities, distortions that uncover its contingent nature. Eshrat’s work exposes this fragility, revealing how the seemingly rational urban constructions carry within them the seeds of their own irrationality and destruction. Dreams and utopias are haunted by nightmarish, dystopian scenarios. The world we want to exclude is contained within our own.
Architectural forms are not neutral, as they aim to shape or affect the conduct of individuals; they are the manifestation of the ideology that created them in the first place, an ideology that has economic, political, ecological and social repercussions not only locally but in the global context. Obsessed with security, the western hemisphere is haunted by the phantom of terrorism. Communities that live in neighborhoods where architecture promotes isolation are especially prone to these paranoid visions, being the TV their main point of contact with reality.
What lies between the binary pair of housing models might be visible only with the eyes of the subconscious. It might be the real, hiding within 0 and 1. It might be history pulsating beneath the so-called triumph of capitalism.
Also a critique of western ideology, Paolo Pedercini’s art work strives to reveal in a different way what lies hidden below the surface of familiar beliefs and institutions. Born in Italy and based in Troy, New York, Paolo is the founder of Molleindustria, a team of artists and designers who started a discussion about the social and political implications of video games.
Paolo reflects his critical vision through the themes he chooses to develop with his video games. Molleindustria’s website features titles like “Oiligarchy”, “McDonald’s video game” or “Operation Pedopriest” among others. These games model certain aspects of reality, basing their rules on actual practices and exposing the intricate moves of corporations and other powerful institutions. In the McDonald’s video game, for example, you have to play the role of the manager and oversee the company’s success, having to take care of all areas of operations: from the creation of pastures and the slaughter of cattle, to the branding of the product. For success to happen, you have to play with variables that will help you at all levels or operations. The gamer will be faced with difficult business choices and moral choices. These choices raise ethical questions about the practices of the fast-food industry, and will expose the necessity of corruption to succeed in the long term in this kind of business.
Video games, as an integral part of the global cultural industry, are constrained by corporate ideology. Molleindustria re-appropriates this product of technological society in order to subvert its ideology, converting it in a didactic tool about the processes that are hidden from the public view. The games Molleindustria develop are online in order to avoid the mainstream distribution channels and be able to reach as many people as possible within their means, exposing what lies under the surface of ubiquitous corporations that homogenize the landscape.
Faith Fighter, the work that Paolo is exhibiting at Pixel Gallery, is a satirical comment on policies that promote a climate of fear and intolerance towards the other. Religion has been and continues to be invoked as an ideological weapon to promote antagonisms and hatred between peoples in different parts of the world. In the U.S., religion is right now embedded within the democratic processes and corporate propaganda. Words like “Crusade” and expressions like “God bless America” are only symptoms of a disturbing trend –recently exacerbated under the Bush administration- to mix religion with the secular state in all areas ranging from external politics to education. On the other hand, the capitalist-evangelical machine resonates through the media promoting religious morality as an excuse to curtail the rights of minorities, support preemptive wars, propagate a climate of fear and loathing against the Islamic world, and exert violence and oppression abroad.
Faith Fighter is a game in which you have to vent your anger by “kicking the ass” of the other religious opponents. It is a parody to make evident the irrationality behind the type of superficial judgments that drive our apprehension for the other or for religious or any other kind of difference. It is about making evident the absurdity and danger of this kind of judgments.
The third work I want to mention in regards to the problem of homogeneity and difference is the online project Big Stories, Little India, a multidisciplinary art and audio work initiated by SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) and [murmur]. This project combines oral history with the visual arts in order to make visible hidden stories and sites in Little India, attempting to connect people with their neighborhood. Artists Amin Rehman, Ambereen Siddiqui, Avantika Bawa, Brendan Fernandes, Rashmi Varma and Zaheed Mawani did site specific works, workshops and audio recordings that are informed by the stories that they have collected and that involve the community.2
On the east side of Toronto, Little India, or Gerrard Street India bazaar, is the oldest “Little India” neighborhood in North America. This area seems to contrast with the clean lines and homogeneity that prevail in life in the suburbs. As Cynthia Brouse, a writer and Little India resident explains, this area grew as a market that catered to the Indian communities that did not live there, but would come from the suburbs in the afternoon to engage in family life, forming a vibrant multitude of sometimes loud crowds on the street, fact that would enchant and sometimes irritate the mainly white locals of the neighbourhood.
Cities are imaginary as well as real spaces. They are constituted by dreams and desires, conscious and unconscious longings and fears, along with material developments and practices. Places are influenced by or connected to other localities, forming a complex web of relationships. Big Stories Little India is an exercise in bringing some of these hidden relationships to the front and make them visible to the community, establishing connections between people and finding interstices to reconfigure the existing geographical and cultural boundaries.
The history of the city is told often by civic or economical elites, and the importance of projects that promote oral history and artistic interventions is to be able to construct socially inclusive narratives and expose stories that diverge from the usual tales of national progress, patriotic heroism, or cultural exoticization.
The necessity of visibility is part of the whole dynamic of globalization and resistance, a process in which the three projects that I have described are all engaged. In the case of Big Stories Little India, visibility means discerning the complexities and nuances of issues of identity and subverting naturalized cultural assumptions.
1 Rakatansky, Mark. Identity and the Discourse of Politics in Contemporary Architecture. In: Assemblage, No 27, Tulane Papers: The Politics of Contemporary Architectural Discourse, The MIT Press, Aug, 1995