Feedforward. The Angel of History, a compelling exhibition that opened a few weeks ago at LABoral in Gijón, addresses the current moment in history where the wreckage of political conflict and economic inequality is piling up, while globalized forces–largely enabled by the “progress” of digital information technologies–inexorably feed us forward. The exhibition title references Paul Klee’s watercolor Angelus Novus. Walter Benjamin saw it as depicting “the angel of history” transfixed by the wreckage of the past that is accumulating in front of him while being propelled into the uncertain future by progress.
View of the exhibition space: upstairs
Curated by Steve Dietz and Christiane Paul, the show explores a 21st century made of deep inequalities, complex tensions and a general feeling of instability. Can we count on the media to reflect accurately the political and cultural landscape? Are the media addressing and monitoring the disturbances that surround us? Or are they instead accomplice to the situation?
View of the exhibition space: downstairs
If the media do not do what we expect from them, can art step in? Which kind of role can artists play in this scenario? Is providing feedback to what they observe enough? Shouldn’t we instead hope that they will adopt a more “feed-forward” attitude and inspire greater awareness and collective reaction?
The 29 artworks on show do not pretend to provide all the answers nor to cover the full spectrum of the dilemmas and tensions of our time but they explore them under many different angles. The art pieces are distributed according to five themes. One of them investigates the “wreckage” of the 21th century created by conflicts, corruption, economical inequalities, terrorism and corporatism.
Proyecto Coche: excavando el final del siglo XX. Image Barbara Fluxá
Proyecto Coche explores the wreckage quite literally. A few years ago, Barbara Fluxá discovered a Seat 127 car in the Nalón River, Asturias. Together with an archaeologist she excavated the car and documented its removal, conservation and transformation into a beautifully polished debris.
The car’s specific re-discovery parallels the dawning realization of the automobile’s unsustainable cultural role at the beginning of the 21st century. After the exhibition, the car will be abandoned yet again, this time at a scrap yard where it will be dismantled for re-use. Proyecto Coche is part of a series of projects that focuses on material culture as a reflection of consumer society.
Baghdad In No Particular Order, Paul Chan, photograph 2003
Baghdad in No Particular Order consists of footage that Paul Chan shot when visiting Baghdad in 2002 as a member of Voices in the Wilderness, a group formed to nonviolently challenge the economic warfare being waged by the US against the people of Iraq. The video essay of life in Baghdad shows Iraqis engaged in everyday activities. The images are almost shockingly banal. They shows Iraqis in their homes, at work, among friends, in places of worship. It’s the daily, unthreatening life newspaper don’t show us. Six year after the beginning of the war, Chan’s film amplifies awareness of the damage inflicted on human lives. The people that appear in the movie have survived the first Gulf War. They’ve been dragged into another war, into oppression and occupation. Are they still alive today?
Another theme explored by the exhibition is the countermeasures of surveillance and repression that the state as well as global capital set up in an to attempt to maintain control and clean up or minimize the wreckage.
DMSP 5B/F4 from Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation (military Meteorological Satellite; 1973-054A), 2009. © Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglan‘s Limit Telephotography photo series uses high powered telescopes to picture US government “black” sites and spy satellites. Paradoxically his images deepen the secrecy of their subject rather than uncover it. Limit-telephotography most closely resembles astrophotography, a technique that astronomers use to photograph objects that might be trillions of miles from Earth. Paglen’s subjects are much closer but also even more difficult to photograph. To physical distance, one has indeed to add the obstacle of informational obfuscation.
The future seen from here is gloomy. It is made of ecological disasters, political tensions, economical apartheid, overpopulation and promises never fulfilled. Feedforward, the exhibition opened a couple of weeks ago at the Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, offers space for artist to reflect and comment on the global political and social forces that drive us forward.
Image courtesy Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial
In a previous post, Feedforward. The Angel of History. Part 1, i focused on two chapters of the exhibition dedicated to wreckage and countermeasures. I’m now going to skip the section on the Aesthetic and Symbolic Language and concentrate on the ones that address globalization and agency.
The artworks that engage with the forces of economic globalization highlight how globe-spanning modes of industry –such as outsourcing and migration– uses digital technologies to intertwine even more intimately political, economic and cultural factors.
Goldin+Senneby, Looking for Headless, 2007-, ongoing project
Headless (2007 -) is one of the most exciting projects i’ve seen at Feedforward. Part of my enthusiasm is due to Dr Angus Cameron‘s lecture during the symposium that accompanied the opening of the exhibition. Cameron presented himself as a Human Geographer at University of Leicester, acting as the emissary of artist collaboration GOLDIN + SENNEBY. He almost immediately added that this definition of himself might not even be true, ‘maybe i’m just an actor pretending to be a Human Geographer.’ The tone of the project was set.
Headless looks into offshore finance, and its production of virtual space through legal code.Through actions and theoretical pursuits, the artists interrogate the mythologies created by virtual economies and fictional personae. The project began in 2007 with the investigation of the offshore company Headless Ltd located in the Bahamas.
Goldin+Senneby have commissioned author John Barlow, using the pseudonym K.D., to be both an employee at an offshore consultancy company and the ghostwriter of a murder mystery where both real and fictional characters are allowed to appear in the story and in reality. Barlow went to the Bahamas to visit the offshore company Headless. He never managed to visit it. You can send money to an offshore company but because it should not have any physical presence, you cannot visit it.
April 4th – View from the terrace, my last lunch in the Bahamas. Photo: John Barlow
One of Goldin+Senneby’s hypothesis is that Headless Ltd is a contemporary incarnation of ‘Acéphale,’ the secret society initiated by philosopher Georges Bataille in the 1930s ((Acéphale does indeed come from the Greek a-cephalus, literally “headless”).
Headless is not a simulation. Several people are involved in the project and because each of them knows only a part of it, they play a role in an ongoing performance that is almost a pastiche of offshore practices. The project, however, uses human capital, not financial capital (no one gets paid.)
Mixing human drama and poetic narrative, Cao Fei‘s Whose Utopia? proposes a vision of a reality where even the most mind-numbing mechanized production system cannot crush human dreams and aspirations. The bitter-sweet video was shot at OSRAM China Lighting Ltd. factory in the Pearl River Delta, which has led the massive boom in China’s economy and has drawn workers from throughout China in search of a better life. Cao Fei’s video show the workers endlessly repeating the same gestures: they insert tiny filaments into delicate light bulbs, they test then pack them into boxes.
In the following chapter of Whose Utopia?, heavy machines and monotonous gestures give way to a “Factory Fairytale.” Workers become dancers and musicians gliding and playing while their colleagues haven’t left their seat in the chain. But that was just a dream. Reality kicks in by the end of the video.
Cao Fei, Whose Utopia? 2006
The last section of the exhibition explores possibilities of reconstruction and agency. Do we still have hope and space for collectivity and responsible action? Is it possible to clean up after the 20th century? What is democracy now? What does progress mean when older concepts, such as continuous economic growth, seem to have failed?
Daniel G. Andújar‘s Postcapital Archive is an installation that gives access to over 250,000 text, video, and audio documents that the artist has compiled from the Internet. The archive spans the years that separate the fall of the Berlin Wall from the attacks on September 11.
Daniel García Andújar, from: Postcapital Archive (1989-2001), Gaza-Berlin
Although the collection of documents opens with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Andújar takes the perspective not of post-Communism, but of post-capitalism. How much have capitalist societies really adjusted and evolved in absence of their erstwhile counterparts? Deep changes have indeed affected the social, political, economic and cultural all over the world over the past two decades. However, new walls are being erected all over the world, both physically and metaphorically, by capitalist societies. What matter in Andujar’s installation is not so much the compilation of the videos and texts but what visitors make of them, the way they explore, learn, draw their own conclusions and interact with this mass of information.
Feedforward. The Angel of History is a dense exhibition. I made three tours of it, read the press material, browsed through the catalog, attended the first day of the symposium and still feel the desire to see the show again. Feedforward is one of those rare shows that brings me back into the arms of media art when i least expect it.
Feedforward is also very North American in the selection of the issues highlighted and the way they are covered. This is absolutely not a bad thing when the exhibition is so intelligent but the Euro-centric blogger that i am couldn’t stop wondering how European curators would have handled the same exhibition.
Just a last hurray for the elegant work done by Office for Strategic Spaces. The architects were in charge with the spatial design of the exhibition. Instead of separating the artworks into isolated thematic groups, the dividing walls that OSS designed are light and transparent enough to let the works coexist in a single landscape.
Previous posts about this exhibition: Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad 1798-2006 and Smoke and Hot Air.