Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Isolation, Worship, Autonomy, Darkness, Conspiracy
Description: A group of Iranian women train in Ninjutsu at the foothills of the Alborz mountains.
The operational logic of paganism is such that when a certain local god fails to deliver its graces, one can always switch to an alternative deity (of the river, the tree, the grove). This exchange is harder in monotheistic orders, requiring more subtlety, yet it can be done just the same. Here in the ancient Persian city of Karaj, we find this very kind of transition happening: a ruling sacred system has failed these women fighters; for decades, its religious leaders have situated them at the useless outskirts of its inner circles, denying them access to the powers of apotheosis and worship, and so now they turn their eyes elsewhere in search of other spirit-forms. They take to an isolated location and begin training in a martial art-form not of their immediate world, with no reason other than to attempt an experimental substitution of idols. Most importantly, however, one must note the two strands of devious irony at work in this conversion: (1) that they have chosen for their new tradition something that exists far outside the folds of their own cultural history and monotheistic paradigms (i.e. there is virtually no meeting ground between the concepts of Ninjutsu and an Islamic theocracy); (2) that they have chosen for their new tradition something which demands that they veil themselves even more extensively than their last theology. In essence, they have selected the braver counterintuitive path of intensifying the law brought down upon their bodies; to do so, they will drape and cloak themselves at even more severe levels than imagined before, entering into a state of hyper-concealment that spites their former overlords. The headscarf is taken further along the axis of its own intention, becoming a ninja’s mask (autonomous in their darkness). This is how one surpasses oppression (through the storm). Consequently, are we not to perceive a complex subversive trace among this camp of anomalous women, something amounting to more than just reverence, discipline, or a new trend or diversion? Should we not take seriously the fact that they have fastened themselves to a martial art-form which privileges (above all else) stealth, secrecy, anti-social codes, conspiracy, and assassination?
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Identity, War, Exteriority, Trespass, Immensity, The Foreigner
Description: All-women Kurdish squad—the 2nd Peshmerga Batallion, whose name means “those who face death”—sets out to fight radical jihadist group ISIS.
The structures of identity tend to disappear whenever individuals are flung to the radical outside of the world (beyond the social, the political, the cultural). Moreover, this evisceration of self (where the old “I” burns away) is only magnified when one adds the variable of fatal struggle to the realm of experience. Thus an all-women unit leaves behind its insular community in order to challenge a rising enemy far beyond their midst. Their lives have been threatened; a mercenary formation to the East has already condemned their people to certain death, and marches nearer with each day; thus stationed at the crossroads of emergency, they find that they must kill or perish now. This part is simple enough—i.e. the nature of their immediate task—but the more complex question that remains is: Will they still be themselves once having traversed the Uneven and the Open on the way to battle? Or is their departure from home the first step to a dramatic trespass and reinvention? These women fighters cannot help but be transformed at such a distance from their memories and city walls; rather, this new terrain of exteriority—that of the desert, hills, or jungle—is an experience of immensity and borderlessness for which no prior subjectivity can remain. The old self will not survive the extreme temperatures of this remoteness, and so they will begin to formulate new definitions, profiles, appearances, and even names as they sit together in the dark and bleed together by the light. They will compose new anthems and initiate a poetic language that only they understand; this is the basic right of their lethal intimacy. Hence even those who return will never fully return, and the better for it (an existential revolution to match their practical revolution). They will come back irreversibly transfigured and evolved, wounded and altered, powerful in unforeseen ways, more expansive in their vision, more dangerous and capable for what they have endured in the places no one goes. They will come back as a band of strangers/foreigners to the very ones who they were sent out to protect. War is pure metamorphosis, nothing less.
Link 1: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2680820/The-women-trained-fight-ISIS-Elite-Kurdish-unit-prepare-imminent-threat-Islamic-militants-Iraq.html
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: Middle East, Myth
Sub-Concept: Revolution, Forgetting, Virtual Sacrifice
Description: Photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi recreates famous death scenes and murder scenes leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Revolutionary traces; re-conjured hysteria; virtual martyrology. Are these photographic spectacles acts of morbid nostalgia, fascination, mourning, or a double murder? In that same line, are re-enactments of historical atrocity intended as a form of repetition or distortion (or even erasure), aligned with memory or forgetting? To re-envision the most celebrated corpses of the past, staged with meticulous detail, such that each coffin opens a portal into a time of militancy, struggle, and brutal enchantments. These miniature replicas of a culture’s highest death-checkpoints seemingly restore the beautiful insanity of a utopian/dystopian hour. And still, beneath the surface-appearance of tribute is always the charade and the mockery; after all, can we not perceive at work here a more insidious strategy of desecration, defacement, and banishment of such events to the hollowness of representational universes. No longer tragic, no longer haunting; without even the imitative loyalty of the museum or the mannequin. These vistas are just absurd in their artificial bleeding. No, it is not clear that the accursed visitations of the photographer are meant to honor or redeem the fallen, to iconize the sacrificial leaders of elapsed generations; if anything, we may be faced with an artist who employs the aesthetic zone in order to carry out a second killing. Now held hostage within the purgatory of simulation, where one can only look (but never believe), once-profound scenes of resistance keep their façade of significance all the while having lost their power to ever return. Meaning-evacuation; substance-evacuation (no longer even symbolic, just shown). They are within the display case of the hyper-real now, mirages whose original affects have long since vanished, gutted by an artist who uses flagrancy (melodramatic anguish) to conceal subtlety (imperceptible disappearance), and who thus works behind the curtain of tradition and false courtesy to make sure of just one thing: that the past holds nothing over the future.
Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh
Region/Concept: Western Europe, Movement (Vision)
Sub-concepts: Optics, Devices
Description: Swiss artist Alfons Schilling creates machines that dislocate human perception and thereby create unforeseen visions.
Are these strange contraptions put on one’s head someone else’s eyes? One of them, turning the human head into an engine, touches the core of perception’s physiology: “Light-Pump or Phantom Brain”. These vision machines prove one thing: that human eyes, the organs of perception, are not competent enough. We never fully trust them even though they are the primary tools of so-called objectivity. The machine-maker builds his devices clunky and awkward on purpose. They are not just extensions, they are burdens, proper crutches of the eye (sometimes on wheels). They do not “enhance” the performance of sight; on the contrary, they “refute” it. And after refutation, a dreamlike state comes into view, unpredictably. The world as we once saw it changes. Is there a more significant revolution? “What is left is right, what is behind is brought forward, what is in the vicinity recedes into distance; the drops of water fall upward, the pit becomes a hill, the blades of grass grow downward, the birds dive into the grass…” All in order to transform reality, to make the delusion apparent, and to create another one. Out of failure, a revelation. Only then come veritable visions: appearances not seen by the naked eye.
Posted by: Dejan Lukic
Region/Concept: North America, Myth
Sub-Concepts: Apparition, Nightmare, Cliché
Description: Graphic artist Jim Kazanjian generates apocalyptic “hyper-collages” from images found online.
It doesn’t require a whole lot of imagination to grasp the potential for apocalyptic visions latent in the infinity of images circulating online. That a certain improvisatory combination of photos found on the internet would lend itself to the generation of “hyper-collages” brimming with apocalyptic themes cannot come as a surprise. Perhaps even to say, as the artist seems to suggest, that this method of transforming commonplace source images into entry points to deeper realms of experience by allowing them to consume each other and fuse together rhizomatically, finally smoothing out into a landscape of apparitions, resonates with the creative frenzy which transfigures the fragments of daily existence into dreams, is by now too obvious to allow on the page. And yet, if we can take him at his word that these apparitions have the power to manifest the dark dreams of a collective unconscious embodied by the internet, then we are struck by their melodrama, their storybook grandiosity, as if the internet were a sleeping child filled with the clichés and domestic fictions of the evils of a bygone era. Victorian architecture, endless wastelands, water trickling between the cracks of a cement wall, all the atmospherics of desolation and decay, the raw elements of destruction, ideal specimens for a Freudian nightmare analysis. And in this sense Kazanjian succeeds, triumphantly, in the art of crafting enormous composite clichés from the bits and pieces of repetitive and oblivious imagery that forms the molecular substance of the internet (a craft he likely perfected through his previous work in video game and television CGI production). It is precisely in this endless charade of hackneyed images that the true signs of the apocalypse can be found. And so this vision into the void of infinite proliferation of the same grants us an encounter with the last true form of nightmarish sublimity still possible in Western culture: the sublimity of the cliché.
Posted by: Will Scarlett
Region/Concept: Outer Space, Movement (Soundings)
Sub-concepts: Darkness, Music, Physics
Description: The solar system is populated by sounds that result from various movements of high-energy electrons.
We always knew that darkness is palpable, first and foremost from cats and from fairytales. Perhaps we also always knew that it cannot be fully mute. But what does its sound say, besides that darkness is darkness? Let us proclaim: darkness speaks. Is this not what the very first impulse (of a child) announces before she can articulate anything (fear of darkness)? And further, are not symphonies of great composers the accurate and infinite articulation of this impulse (that darkness is alive)? Does not the sound itself occur in the first place to dispel darkness (lullabies)? Or better yet, to tell us that there is no such thing as darkness, only very low degrees of light… True. Infinite space “sings”, that is to say, the spheres sound back at us, wailing, squeaking, vibrating. The cosmos is a dance of high-energy electrons; accelerations in the electromagnetic field which suddenly sound like birds. (This also means that birds can sound like something completely different than themselves.) Indeed, insects and birds: two of the most important groups of animals for the understanding of music. At the heart of their sounds lies darkness that moves. And solarity is therefore heard (with one’s eyes).
Posted by: Dejan Lukic
Region/Concept: North Africa, Movement
Sub-Concepts: Flight, Acceleration, Synthesis, Ascension, The Nightmarish Return
Description: Waves of hundreds of African migrants rush the partition separating the Spanish exclave from Morocco to jump the border.
Theory: The fleeing mass staggers into focus, arriving to the trigger point. The trek has been slow and heavy. Having each been expelled by the rancor of decay, the discharge, which has submerged the places of origin in tarns of hunger, dejection and desolation, they arrive here—to the trigger point—in a synthesis of the worn. As though in one swift, unrestricted instant, the crowd is transformed. The legs, accelerating madly, rhythmically, propel the swarm toward ‘freedom,’ as though there were such a thing. As if the legs and the neurons were operationally schismatic. One believing in the victory of the sprint, the other born only of desperation, sustained only by adrenaline (without panic: this crown remains strong). The hamstrings feed a battering pulse into the ground; the quadriceps thrust the body forward—into ascension. The barrier has been scaled. The mind believes it has won. The corpse knows it must fall back. They are just corpses, in the end. Activated only by a spontaneous generation of life from within the wasted, robbed bowels. Picked off at the climax of this flight, the crowd is broken, returned to individuals, thrown back into the vacuum to pace in wait of the next purge.
Posted by: RLS