Eygló Harðardóttir’s Another Space

Eygló Harðardóttir’s Another Space

Eygló Harðardóttir’s Another Space

Eyglo Hardardottir is one of those artists who for some years now has been associated with the title of being an artist’s artist. It is therefore fitting that Eyglo Hardardottir’s solo exhibition, Another Space (Annað rými), takes place in The Living Art Museum. Having a system of membership by fellow artists that guarantees independence from the pressures of public institutions or private patronage, its board has mandate to host works that embody avant-garde values at each moment in time.

While there is no style nor program of content that qualifies work as being the labour of an artist’s artist — as both would denote a trend rather than an aesthetic, Another Space is defined by a poetic sense of materiality. Even to the extent that the work gives the impression of a tactile sensibility common to a younger generation. This being an aesthetic built on excavating beauty from within mundane materials. And is an approach steeped in structural irony that may have come about in response to expectation for work to have social content or for its formal basis to be over-conceptualized.

The works of Eyglo Hardardottir (1964), however, carry an internal tension that are not easily read in terms of biographical information. What they convey is an elaborate microcosm of nuances within texture and form, the success of which relies on a quiet sense of ambition and what seems like long intervals of meditative concentration. The outcome of which transmits an intelligent sense of sincerity. The kind that is in fact the antithesis of irony.

Four 2015

Six hypnotherapy drawings, screenprint 2018

Six hypnotherapy drawings, screenprint 2018

Exhibition overview

Floor Sculpture 2018. Photo: Eygló Harðardóttir

Floor Sculpture, detail

As a medium of creation, Eyglo Hardardottir has chosen to concentrate on the materiality of paper. While still fulfilling its traditional role in being the two-dimensional support for colour and form, paper is drawn into a conversation that extends into space to take the form of sculpture. In evoking a vocabulary of structural possibilities, the artist applies what seems like an exhaustive list of commercially available paper. Ranging from handmade paper from Japan and China, to cardboard or simply copy paper, each had been chosen for its capacity to produce a dialogue between their grain and structural consistency.

An example of such a structure lies in “Four” (2015), a small-scale structure made of cardboard, wood and paper. That material is forced into an architectural construct with the help of small wooden support beams. Those sheets form two vertical layers that protrudes from a column at the entrance of the exhibition space.

“Floor Sculpture” (2018) is another work that explores the ability of paper to form structure. A floor piece made from sheets of paper and glass, they are held in place by being attached along a central axis in a structure which allows each sheet to stand upright. The visual effect is of a large book standing on its spine so that each page may be “read” by circling around the construct. The content of which lies in variations of materiality from which each “page” is made; ranging from the rough stability of cardboard, the more delicate grain of loose sheets hanging from wooden frames, to handmade glass that enters in dialogue with the textures of paper.

Other pieces within the exhibition are unified by an underlying theme. It is based on a series of hypnotic sessions the artist had undergone first in 2007 and then between January and April 2018, each of which had been centred on a specific body part. Namely the throat, heart, stomach, brain, tailbone and face. That there is a concept that unites key pieces within the exhibition does on first impression contradict the sensation of materiality Another Space conveys. One may even suspect the inclusion of a concept to be a weakness; a capitulation towards underlying expectations of contemporary aesthetics. However, it is the very materiality of its record that remains at the forefront of each presentation.

The result of the hypnotic sessions is presented as text within a booklet on view within the exhibition. It contains transcripts written under the heading of specific organs. Yet descriptions have no concrete markers by which the body may be understood. Free of preconceived knowledge about biology or chemistry, the text follows a dream logic full of psychoanalytic insights about the relationship between memory and the internal workings of the human body. Asserting through visual metaphor how the imagination implants knots and barrels of cement at strategic points within it, and how by consequence, it is the imagination that is capable of releasing the body from that same weight.

Those words reappear within the formal composition of “Six Hypnotherapy Sessions, text” (2018), where they are printed on simple copy paper and cut into oval forms or trimmed along its margins. As if to reinforce the sense of fragmentation the text conveys, some prints are left intact while others appear in duplicate form and are pasted onto the other so as to overlap. Others have sections cut out from their middle and placed on opposite sides of diagonal mounts that resemble the slant of an open book.

The hypnotic sessions were also recorded in drawing. “Six hypnotherapy drawings, originals” (2018) consists of four rows of cardboard that stands upright in a zig-zag formation. Its sides display drawings of geometric shapes and compositions in which blocks of pigment alternate with folds of paper that coincide with incisions to cardboard. Rather than displaying drawings as the factual proof of a concept carried out, they are placed on the floor to be seen at obtuse angles and obscured by the very construct they are displayed upon. As a composition, it reflects the process of archiving internal sensations form within the subconscious. They tend to be perceived indirectly, caught in fleeting glimpses.

Those drawings reappear in the form of silkscreen prints, “Six hypnotherapy drawings, screenprint” (2018). They are printed on large sheets of handmade paper that are attached to each other with bookbinder glue to form six lengths of material that hang from vertical beams that extend from a wall. Some of those prints are large enough to occupy a single sheet of paper while others are scattered along its surface or repeat multiple times within narrower sections. Those forms range from simple cubes, delicate sketches of vertical and horizontal lines, to more intricate nebulas of open squares, each of which is restricted to its own colour scheme of either red, yellow, grey or shades of blues.

One may attempt to connect the content of a hypnotic session with specific prints. There are diamond shapes made by what appear to be densely drawn lines that resemble descriptions of the face and how it takes on the appearance of a mask. While round nebulas made of small open squares seem like the floorplan of a prehistoric city that is similar to how the throat had been described. But the validity of those interpretations remains an open question. While texts have titles to inform the reader which organ had been its inspiration, the drawings do not.

Although a continuity clearly exists between the number of hypnotic sessions and forms that exist within the same number of compositions, there remains an ambivalence as to which form is the referent to what organ. This sense of ambivalence is what aligns the concept of the hypnotic sessions with a larger working model specific to the artist. In which case drawings do not present schematic diagrams that represent mental projections by which the mind seeks to understand the inner workings of the human body. Such a style of presenting information would essentially form a hierarchically relationship in which the body is subordinate to the mind. What they instead present is a network of texture, colour, and form, that describes sensorial information through a logic of physicality.

Six hypnotherapy drawings, originals 2018

Six Hypnotherapy Sessions, text on paper 2018

Glass Sculpture, 2018

Left: Drawings, six Hypnotherapy Sessions 2018. Right: Drawings, six Hypnotherapy Sessions, detail

“Drawings, six Hypnotherapy Sessions” (2018) is another variation by which the results of hypnotic sessions are made into tangible form. It consists of large sheets of handmade paper attached along their edges to form a single surface suspended within the negative space of wall and support beam. Every other sheet has shapes made of bubble wrap attached to paper, all but one of which is crowded with marks that seems like writing but could just as well be traces left by the body in the act of recreating the memory of an experience. Whether that record is in the form of written language is unclear and most likely irrelevant.

What the resulting compositions propose is a symbiotic relationship between form and the human body. Both of which are interpenetrated by thought when communicating an interiority of the self to the world. What transpires is the sensation of being confronted with forms so delicate as to seem fragile. An effect that mirrors the choice of paper as a medium for sculptural installation. It being made to stand upright, seemingly by the force of the artist’s conviction that each material should be allowed to communicate in its native tongue.

This confrontation with form leads the audience to understand how a thing perceived as weak may non-the-less derive strength from an integrity to its own material condition. Which in turn produces a sense of depth that explains the designation of having been made by an artist’s artist. A term which inspires awe in a small group of professionals but does not necessary transpire into attention from a general public. However, too much heroic reverence may be given to the designation. As a guest had remarked at the opening, perhaps the art of an artist’s artist can more accurately be described as having been made by an artist, point. How to describe that which is done by anyone else is up for debate.

Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar

Artist Website: eyglohardardottir.net

Photo credit
Exhibition Photos: Vigfús Birgisson except for photo nr. 5
Featured image: Helga Óskarsdóttir

Last day of Exhibition: 28th October 2018

Amalia Pica  – Set Theory & the representation of communication

Amalia Pica – Set Theory & the representation of communication

Amalia Pica – Set Theory & the representation of communication

Amalia Pica’s solo exhibition — A un brazo de distancia — opened at NC-Arte (Bogota) this April. With works almost exclusively from this year (2017), the exhibition centres around the cognitive processes and social conformities of animals. Specifically in relation to the artist’s observation of baboons when in residence at the Gaskaka Primate Project in Nigeria.

A un brazo de distancia is also the name of the centrepiece of the exhibition. It is a 45-minute long video, co-authored by Rafael Ortega that consists of footage resembling the raw material of a nature documentary taken at Gashaka Gumti National Park (NG). On top of which appears a series of transparent, coloured forms that reach into the middle of the frame. They meet and overlap on those occasions when more than one shape had appeared in the frame. Which in view of Amalia Pica’s earlier work, may be understood to form a visual reference to set theory.

As a short introduction to which, set theory basically describes a group of things as if they were one thing, i.e. a set. Each set is therefore conceived as an abstraction to make it easier to explore the relationship that one group may have with another group. It is a branch of mathematics that holds a natural interest for artist because of its ability to describe what are sometimes complex relationships through visual means. Of which Venn diagrams occupy an iconic example. Like those familiar images of interlocking circles, one may for example represent animals that produce milk (mammals) and another animals that lay eggs (birds). When these two circles intersect, they form an ellipse between them. In this example it would be inhabited by a platypus — it being the only animal to both lays eggs and produce milk.

Amalia Pica’s most emblematic work, Venn Diagrams (under the Spotlight) from 2011, draws the outlines of such a proposition. The installation consists of two spotlights, coloured filters, and a motion detector. One of which is lit when a person approaches the piece, while the second is lit only when more bodies occupy that same space. These lights form pools of colour on the facing wall. So that when both are activated, they draw out the silhouette of two interlocking circles. Within which a white ellipse appears at the location of their intersection because their two colours had intermingled.

The conceptual basis for this installation forming the outlines of a Venn diagram is based on a historical anecdote: Venn diagrams had not been taught to Argentinian school children during the „Dirty War“ (1974-1983). The artist speculates that this prohibition was due to fact that in this era of explicit political repression, such graphs could be understood as metaphors for the interaction of people. Which from the perspective of a dictatorship, would inevitably lead to a conspiracy against it. Using this reference to 20th century history, these circles of light draw a theoretical proposition. One that dictates that the presence of bodies may be equated to mathematic diagrams. An example of the way this works is how operations within sets approximate to subtraction, addition or multiplication. In linguistic terms these operations may function as „and“ or „or“ — meaning that two things can either be added together, or that one must choose between them. When translated onto physical bodies, it means that their mere presence may equate to addition, while subtraction may equate to an accentuation of differences. By connotation, the analogy may be extended to include multiplication, which may apply to groups that had come together out of collective interest so as to amplify their influence in the world.

The next work to make explicit use of S-set theory is A ∩ B ∩ C (Line) from 2013. Like Venn Diagrams (under the Spotlight), it makes a neat nod towards participatory art by having the work be activated by human intervention. The installation consists of coloured shapes that had been cut from plexiglas and placed around the walls of the exhibition space in a quasi-casual arrangement. Performers interact with the piece by first choosing one of these shapes and then arranging themselves, three at a time, in a line. By standing in close proximity to their neighbour, the objects they hold are able to intersect with that of their neighbours’.

The resulting series of intersecting shapes, can be understood to convey the same conceptual associations that exist in Venn Diagrams (under the Spotlight). Yet to the degree that the audience can no longer influence those actions that draws out its form, the performance can be seen as an inversion of the earlier installation. With the spectator now being passive in front of loosely choreographed set of actions, and to the degree it induces the suspended belief in having witnessed an authentic event, it evokes the logic of the spectacle. This connotation of the spectacle may even be considered problematic in view of original context in which set theory originally appears in Amalia Pica’s work as an implicit critique of the repression of free speech. Which is problematic because the spectacle too evokes an uneasy relationship with modern-day technologies of coercion.

Taken to its most blatant extreme, spectacles are implicit to propaganda carried out by long-lived regimes such as North Korea. Whereas propaganda, within modern-day systems of global capitalism, may lie in the banality of commercials. While they are usually aimed at promoting specific products, it is to the extent that mass entertainment relies on commercials to finance its production, that the contemporary spectacle may be considered propaganda for consumer behaviour in general. Which has been theorized to be effective precisely to the degree that it induces passivity in its audience. (Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle) Yet to make this critique of the work is to assume that by referencing political repression in the past, the artist had intended to critique a contemporary order within later pieces.

Not only is this assumption the result of bad logic, it also overlooks how the formal qualities of work deals with the phenomenology of communication. Not by producing overt statements, but through the self-reflexivity of form that aesthetics implies. Specifically it is by creating conceptual compositions that draw parallels between math and physical existence, that they are able to draw the outlines of a more profound truth about communication. Namely how each proposition also describes the formal condition by which communication may happen. 

A un brazo de distancia, meaning „At Arm’s Length“, is the third work to make explicit use of the reference to Venn diagrams. It follows as a natural continuation of the artist’s contemplation about the communication of information. Now wondering how its it may be condensed into its most basic principles, Amalia Pica has gone on to consider communication from its pre-human origins — which following scientific reasoning, we assume to resemble the communication of primates. The film consists of idyllic scenes of baboons in their natural habitat, with transparent forms superimposed onto those images. Ranging from one to three, these coloured forms waver a bit as they reach into the frame and evoke the presence of the hand.

Like editing in reverse, the footage takes on the colour of these shapes, not in post-production, but by holding what are effectively filters, directly in front of the camera. At first, the fact of these colours shapes being superimposed onto a moving image would seem to perform a simple operation of addition. It is only through a rhythmic repetition of the same action, that it becomes clear that the appearance of colour fields coincides with the presence of baboons. Thereby evoking the logical operation of Venn Diagrams (under the Spotlight), where the presence of multiple bodies had been established to be the precondition by which the intersection of shapes may happen.

In emphasising the social structures of animals as a theme of the exhibition, the logic of A un brazo de distancia points to an analogy between shapes that draw out diagrams and that of bodies that gather to form community. In the same way that we don’t really know if one baboon had said something to another baboon, we can assume that like humans, their presence may convey information. A thing as simple as body language may convey the internal landscape of one person to another. Implying once again how mutual coexistence produces meaning, just like symbols coexist in the same mathematical proposition do. And while we tend to think of propositions as a way to convey information, the nice thing about them is that like aesthetics, they are true to the degree that they are correctly formulated. – A un brazo de distancia was open until June 24. 2017.

 Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar

Images: courtesy of NC-Arte (Bogota)

Venns Diagram: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund, 2014

Featured image with article: Still from the film A un brazo de distancia.

About the artist: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalia_Pica


HARD-CORE AND ASAHI 4.0 — The Future of Robotic Curating

HARD-CORE AND ASAHI 4.0 — The Future of Robotic Curating

HARD-CORE AND ASAHI 4.0 — The Future of Robotic Curating

The next generation of robotic curation — ASAHI 4.0 — is projected to come out in 2017. A machine conceived by HARD-CORE, ASAHI is able to automate what used to be the human skill of curating art exhibitions. Past models of ASAHI have used the contemporary technology of randomizing algorithms to successfully organize the position of artworks within space. In so doing it has enabled the machine to free aesthetics from the many pitfalls of contemporary curation, including those of subjective choice, arbitrary protocol, and especially of taste. The exclusion of which has allowed artists to show works within a truly neutral spatial arrangement. Thereby fulfilling what the white cube of the gallery space was to have promised the artist as a condition to best enjoy art.

A word originating from Latin, the concept of curation is derived from „caring for“. It refers to the way that the curator „cares“ for projects that had been commissioned for the public good. In Roman times it would include managerial duties ranging from the construction of aqueducts, to the maintenance of libraries. Today the word has undergone a change in meaning so as to be understood less as a public servant and more as a free agent. One that implies a position of authority due to the curator’s responsibility in negotiating between the elements that form a ruling order, including the influences of popular opinion, financial capital, and the effects of political control. It is a position acquired through the curator’s perceived status as „impartial“ professional whose decisions relies exclusively on taste. Which may be responsible for a shifting power dynamic between the artist and the curator, wherein the artist’s visibility has come to rely on the curator’s capacity in negotiating between such elements.

Taste however, is now as it has been in the past, embedded in class-driven social structures. Once overtly controlled, the banal realities that now contribute to the validation of taste include the now high cost of art education, the lack of monetary return for such an investment, the leisure time necessary to consume cultural products, and perhaps most importantly — the sentimental landscape required to renounce participation in the production of tangible commodities. But all these consideration are perhaps secondary to the abstract levels implied by aesthetic choice. A level in which taste is given the illusion of being preordained rather than being the result of subjective choice. As would be the case in the example of a curator who remains in a subordinate position towards those elements with which the curator had negotiated to achieve aesthetic aims. This would, as a result of a structural logic, lead the curator to produce a visual code that may in reality reflect the values of those to whom the curator is indebted. It is process by which to validate aesthetic choice that stands in diametrical opposition to that of the artist— who may yet have subversive aims when reproducing the social norms of a ruling order. Aims at which the artist may often achieve on account of the artist’s formal ability to camouflage work as — while still acting against — a prevailing order.

In HARD-CORE’s case, their aesthetic reference in creating ASAHI has been that of product development. Indicating a certain indifference towards the working of the machine, this style aligns them with the Futurists of roughly a hundred years ago. Not being so interested in mechanics, the Futurists were preoccupied in the look and feel of the then contemporary innovation of the automobile. A sentiment reflecting the zeitgeist of technological innovation, a joy towards the newness of a product, and the pleasure evoked by corporate branding, these are elements that together hint at their complimentary underbelly of their eventual datedness. Which in capitalist logic works to accelerate their pace of redundancy.

In terms of product development, ASAHI has however evolved through, and alongside, simple analogue systems and computational processes. Circular Projection is an example of an analogue feedback loop wherein an artist gives a neighbouring colleague the power to curate the artist’s work. This colleague is then curated by a neighbour, and so forth to the next neighbour, until a closed circle is formed. Co-Re-Curation runs on the simple logic of a remix, where the same set of works are re-curated by different groups of 2 to 3 „curators“. This group is then asked to rationalize their arrangement in the form of a statement. This necessity of the statement further emphasizes a hierarchy that had been produced by inviting multiple curators to do the same thing several times. It effectively stages the competitive dynamics of demand-and-supply that has traditionally led labourers such as artists to receive ever-lower returns for the same amount of work. Then there is Toolbox nr. 1 — a webpage that provides algorithms by which to randomize the components that constitute the curation of an exhibition. Those elements include the name and opening hours of an exhibition, the wall colour, light condition and shape of the exhibition space, as well as including randomizers to decide the location and height of the artworks therein.

The problem with each of these systems is that it is still up to humans to execute the processes that they dictate, just as it had been up to them to volunteer their participation in the first place. This may explain why HARD-CORE has constructed ASAHI as a robot that is the personification of such systems. This machine continues to deal with processes by which to organize art, this time as an autonomous unit capable of curating an exhibition.

This first generation of curational robotics — ASAHI 1.0 — is a simple machine that consists of a camera mounted in the space of the exhibition. It uses randomizing algorithms to selects the camera’s position and point of depth. The artwork’s position can thereby be deciphered by following the camera’s trajectory, and in using its point of depth to determine a position from within that trajectory. In the next version of ASAHI 2.0, the camera is replaced by a laser that creates a visible trajectory in space, which allows humans to make a more accurate reading of ASAHI’s decisions. ASAHI 2.0 also has the additional feature of a randomizer that lets the robot select one from within several positions along the laser’s trajectory. ASAHI 2.1 represents yet another new step towards robotic independence. Now capable of interacting with Toolbox nr°1, it extracts data from it to decide a position in which to place itself when making its curatorial choices. The next generation of ASAHI 3.0 solves the issue of robotic autonomy differently. This third generation is a mobile unit that navigates an exhibition space on four wheels. Using the same principle of randomization, it is now capable of moving autonomously to select the location of artworks.

Each of these models is represented by sequential numbers to indicate its levels of autonomy from human intervention. They indicate new generations of technology — a concept built on biological evolution according to which, each species attains maximum potential and minimum waste by being in constant competition within its own, as well as other species. Product development therefore forms generations to the extent that it is driven to attain maximum efficiency by being in competition within their own line, as well as with other brands.

This concept of the generation changes slightly when applied to the realm of culture. It is here that art history speaks of the „progression“ of aesthetic values thanks to a series of competitive trans-generational tensions. This is a feedback mechanism where each generation competes to occupy the position of the avant-garde. Wherein the younger generation will always win on account of how each rear-guard had once been the avant-garde to those who came before. Evoking an evolutionary movement, it is informed by the psychological tension of the Oedipal drive in which the rear-guard takes the position of parent-figures who is under psychological pressure to reproduce their own ideology. All the time knowing that by doing so, they are sowing the seed of those that will eventually supplant them. Meanwhile the younger generation is under a complimentary set of tensions to soak in knowledge from their parent-figures while simultaneously aiming to outdo them. Eventually they will be forced to choose between their own mediocrity or the trauma involved in performing a symbolic murder of their father.

However, even if subliminally affected by an Oedipal tension, the common understanding of a „generation“ is far more neutral. Referring instead to a cultural unit of individuals that had been born at approximately the same time, they are defined by the moods, styles, and technology of a given era, particularly in relation to sentimental influences from their formative years. The current generation of millennials tend for example, to be defined by their relationship with technology. Not having known of a reality before the internet became prevalent, it forms the contours of what this generation understands to be reality. An example of the formal repercussions of this influence lies in the aesthetics of the post-digital, while the sentimental effects may indicate a shift towards sincerity. Built on the psychology of transparency, it is a sentiment that may be the result of overstimulation and overexposure to information in the age of the internet. In so doing, it produces a contradiction similar to the turning of a glass. First it is transparent. Then it is grey, verging on black. Eventually it will reflect the light source back towards the one who holds the glass. Likewise, the manipulation of sincerity may form its own inversion.

A case in point lies in HARD-CORE name — a cultural references that brings to mind not just pornography, but specifically hard pornography. A genre particular to competitive capitalism, it is placed higher on the hierarchy of spectator-driven exploitation for its capacity to raise the stakes of its transgression. The logic of the name therefore seems to refer to their willingness to take part in an increasing pace of self-exploitation so as to compete within the attention economy, as well as in the real economy. Yet its members propose to be oblivious to this reference when choosing HARD-CORE as their name. In a tactic that seems to be staging their own innocence, HARD-CORE’s members seem to imply that to even know the reference to pornography is to be complicit with the genre. What reason, after all, do we have for admitting to know about this fringe economy that is supposedly invincible to those not actively seeking it out?

The actual reference in HARD-CORE ‘s name is so innocent that it verges on the comical. Alluding to a graph from an elementary class in geology, HARD-CORE’s name refers the mass inside the planet’s core. This mass has a magnetic charge that works as an allegory to refer to HARD-CORE’s methodology. It describes a strategy by which HARD-CORE seeks to attract other artists by constructing the necessary autonomy that would allow multiple agents to coexist within the same, loosely defined orbit of a HARD-CORE project.

The creation of ASAHI holds this same strategic sense of innocence as had gone in constructing HARD-CORE’s name. Because the creation of an algorithm to obtain objective methods of curation may actually seem self-evident in the current mood of technological advancement. Were it not for the fact that the machine is designed to address and subvert an underlying hierarchy between curator and artist when the second is working to exclude the former. The construction of the machine thereby introduces an element of comedy derived from the apparent sincerity of intention in creating this technological advancement. It is a strategic denial of negativity in which HARD-CORE uses to take advantage of the fact that we are not supposed to openly admit to power relations that are inherent to the exhibition of art. Which is why when the curator robot appears, no one seems to be able to say anything about its subversion. Because on an official level, there had been none.

In continuing its work within the field of robotic curation, HARD-CORE has developed a model that will go further than previous generations in subverting embedded hierarchies in the field of aesthetics. No longer limiting itself to merely choosing the position of objects in the space of an exhibition, ASAHI 4.0 is capable of deciding which artist will show in which exhibition venue. It will do this by using a webpage (www.asahi4.com) to which artist and exhibitions spaces may inscribe themselves. Continuing to use its randomizing algorithms, ASAHI 4.0 uses this input to create objectively random configurations of artists, artworks and exhibition venues.

It is here where ASAHI 4.0 evokes a complex irony: In creating radically new visual ecologies that no longer rely on pre-existing conformities, ASAHI allows the audience to direct its attention more fully towards the ability of each artist’s work to compete with other objects on display. Like any game, it is the organizational structure of neutrality that reproduces these conditions of competition. But the complexity of such structures lies in how they simultaneously evoke its opposing movement by negating pre-existing hierarchies that had been the result of past competition. The charm of the project, however, doesn’t lie in the irony of this paradoxical movement between artificial equality and competitive quality. Rather it lies in the uncanny optimism of a strategy that lies in building an autonomous agent of critique. As robots don’t understand irony, HARD-CORE uses sincerity to convince the machine to go against its nature to dissuade existing hierarchies instead of supporting them.

Go to www.asahi4.com to apply.

Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar

 Images: courtesy of Hardcore

What Do You Hear When You Eat Chocolate

What Do You Hear When You Eat Chocolate

What Do You Hear When You Eat Chocolate

„Hot chocolate will leave the necessary stains for images to turn into visions and conversation. If the Cacao Allows it***“

„This Rabbit Looks to the Left“ is a performance piece by Luisa Ungar and Milena Bonilla that has taken place between 2014 and 2016. The performance is centred around the reading of chocolate, which like tea or coffee, leaves traces inside a cup that can be deciphered for clues about the future. For each reading, the participants of the performances have been invited to take a sip of the chocolate, so that their futures may be implicated in the reading. Each subject drinks from the cup, which is moved counter clockwise in 7 circles. The cup is then turned upside down to dry.

Now to read a cup of chocolate is a gesture that informs at least two conceptual movements: on the one hand it is a way to reinstate the original ritual function associated with the history of chocolate. On the other hand, it is also a nod to the cult-like trends of New Age self-improvement associated with modern-day consumer culture. As its ideological construct is to support any form of magical thinking the consumer may feel compelled to act, fortune telling is therefore another layer of product fetishism that may be associated with commodities such as chocolate.

In Kunstverein Amsterdam, Luisa Ungar and Milena Bonilla give a short introduction about the history of chocolate before the ritual of deduction begins: its origins as ritual paraphernalia within the religious and economic structure of the Aztecs. And then its travels to Europe, where alienated from any context other than bourgeois comforts and daily impulses, chocolate has become one star within a constellation of modern-day consumer habits. Forming a mild addiction, the consumption of chocolate in Europe is accompanied by the sporadic necessity of restocking supplies from sources of a different climate. From a psychological point of view, the origins of these commodities is untraceable, as there seems to be no tangible way to establish a relation between cause and effect when it comes to consumption and the extraction of resources.

However at the beginning of the performance, Luisa Ungar and Milena Bonilla have brought a representative of chocolate. The physical presence of the pod is a gesture that presents us with the material proof of the chocolate’s origins as plant. Moreover, as a performative gesture it evokes a metaphor about the dialectical tension that exists towards the subject of the reading. In the logic of consumer culture, it is the consumer who is the subject buying knowledge about the future. But the gesture to bring the pod may indicate that the real subject of the reading may be the chocolate itself.

What this game of divination now comes to imply, is the paradox of authority when attempting to speak on behalf of things that do not have voices. In the case of chocolate, the object had been silent because it is inanimate, but this is a process that can be understood as a continuation of earlier work that attempts to speak for living things. In their first collaboration of „What Do You Hear When You Eat Chocolate“ (2014) Luisa Ungar and Milena Bonilla have been interviewing the cocao plant. Asking about the life of its life, its origins, history and travels. The plant moves and the artists translate its movements into annunciations of the human voice. It is a game of suspended disbelief wherein we listen to the plant talking. As the plant shakes, it claims to be proletariat. It’s a hard-working plant.

Which in turn seems to be a natural continuation of what each of the artists in the duo had been doing separately: Luisa Ungar in „Guided Zoo Visit“ (2013) had created the context of a guided tour as a context by which to talk about the illegal trade of animals and its relationship with the trafficking of drugs and art. This is a process of investigation that would evolve into „Clapping Backwards“ (2015) where when asking an animal behaviour professor about the details of her profession, the artists seems to slip almost accidentally into the role of animal. Meanwhile, Milena Bonilla had dealt with human / animal relations in „The Destruction of One Someone“ (2011) in a collaboration with Pedro Gomez Egaña to perform literary texts that describe hunting scenes. As well as within „A Report to an Academy“ (2010-2012) – an installation consisting of a pair of rotating plants, music from wildlife documentaries, and dialogue from Hollywood movies that includes scenes of a trained monkey giving a lecture to scientists.

What these works have in common is how they exhibit the formal qualities of an investigation towards the structural violence that exists in the act of interpretation. As each gesture to speak for the other will evoke the same power dynamics that had silenced the subject in the first place, perhaps recycling it. Then these works do not resolve the tension of authority when presuming to know what the other is thinking. Instead they disclose the dynamic embedded in the gesture. Mirroring the slapstick humour of colonizing persona and the condescending nature of his flamboyant self-satisfaction.

In trying to understand what the chocolate is trying to say, divination follows as a logical conclusion in the movement that has taken place between interpretation and translation. This gesture to include the divination technique of reading chocolate, evokes a complex irony within the context of a performative art piece: it implies and then dispels the consumerist logic of New Age culture by pointing towards the commodity’s autonomy as a subject of divination. The act of ritualized group participation also implies an aesthetic nod to the conceptual purity of the 60s and the weight of rational deduction that comes with it. Meanwhile the inclusion a pre-Enlightenment technologies such as divination forms a sculpted transgression. One that may have been designed to evade the weight of authority implied within traditions of Enlightenment thought.

Seen strictly from an art historical perspective, the recuperation of pre-Enlightenment logic may imply the stylistic presuppositions of late 20th century postmodernism in its reaction against the rest of the century. Yet it would be a mistake to see this act of inclusion of pre-modern technology such as divination as merely reactionary. It is rather part of a wider trend within the cultural zeitgeist that has trickled into contemporary art production of recent years. This is the tendency to reflect a world of hyperconnectivity and the multiple contradiction of perception inherent to the 21st century. It is where sources promise merely degrees of credibility, and algorithms have ordered information in hierarchies of relevance, corresponding to money spent to curate its ranking. Which is why the act of divination has becomes a relevant description for the processes by which the modern mind attempts to decipher the information on offer. Its blend of intuition and half-truths corresponds almost poetically with the breakdown of analytical thought within the information structures of the modern age.

But there are other factors at play in the decision to include pre-Enlightenment technologies of thought. As the chocolate plant herself point out, it had been a commodity within a system exploitation designed to enrich Europe through territorial conquest in South America, which combined with forced labour extracted from Africa, created the structural condition by which the cognitive achievements of the Enlightenment could be subsidized. In addition to exploitation embedded in international trade relations, the chocolate plant may also point out that even on a local level, there exists a class relation between manual labour and intellectual labour. The fact that someone, such as the chocolate plant, had carried out manual labour, is what had allowed another class to pursuit cognitive labour. A body unspoiled by the labour of the earth, may be prone to come up with ephemeral and theoretical systems of thought. To evade Enlightenment logic, is therefore also to avoid not only the structural component of exploitation to which it is aligned, but also the dichotomy of body and mind implied by the division of labour on which capitalist exploitation had been founded.

In the basement one of the building within the 44th National Salon of Artists in Pereira (CO), a group gathers in something like a conference room. It is a room with a very big oval table around which the participants sit. There is another row of seats for those who are passive observers. By participants, what is implied is the activity of having taken a sip of the chocolate and thereby to infuse the liquid with the prophetic potential of each person that forms the circle. The other thing that participants can do is to add their own interpretation about the meaning of stains left in the bottom of a cup of chocolate. It is the setting for a situation in which a group draws together towards a single point of attention. To the extent that it is a space for a formal question, it is a return to ritual. Expectation abound.

Specifically, in using chocolate to read the future at this particular moment in Colombia, the upcoming peace treaty would inevitably be up for discussion. The vote to establish popular support for the proposed treaty had been on everybody’s mind. It is a moment of suspense, like that of a coin being flipped into the air. The coin turns around its axis for a while before dropping down. And it turns out that the year of Brexit and of Trump, is also the year that gave a ‘no’ in the vote for the Colombian peace treaty. This moment that had been defined by a clash between post-truth and a deficit in democracy, was also defined by the weakness of modern-day future-telling devices. Like any other form of prophesy, a poll executed before an election will effect the results.

So there is a special kind of formal irony that happens in the reading of the chocolate when participants volunteer their opinion. It invokes a frustration verging on the comical, when competing to have any particular interpretation, about the meaning of random patterns, taken into account. It reflects the fact that in the 21th century opinions are always being extracted; there are endless possibilities for participation. But no one asks what the participant thinks without having an ulterior motive. So the contemporary subject is naive to think that their opinion could hold more sway than the necessity of a spectacle to be successfully concluded. Because actually, the participant’s input had already been had in the form of stains at the bottom of a cup. It is just up to the professionals – the official oracles – to tell us what they mean.

This irony implied in the gesture of staging a collective reading of the future may therefore encompasses other problems at hand, when it comes to life, democracy and art: how the inability of any group to even see the same thing, much less agree on a future vision, has long since been self-evident. But the interesting thing about staging a ritual in which to interpret an abstract image, to see if the rabbit it is turning to the left or the right, lies not so much in the collaborative approach in seeking an answer to any particular question. Rather it is an investigation into the formal conditions by which the question had been posed. It is a way to explore how the question’s formal qualities may effect the answers extracted. Just as it is a way to consider how the outcome of any survey may change, depending on whom the question had been directed. Which in turn is also a way to wonder if it is possible, instead of recruiting more voices to speak for things that have been quiet, to pose the question towards the thing itself. Perhaps it is a way to ask the ones who had been at peace what they are thinking, and how they did it.

Höfundur: Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar


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