What strikes me when I hear the phrase, it could have been…, is a sort of automatic antipathy at its bitterness, resentfulness, regret, almost a taboo-like status: self-help guidebooks’ biggest no-no, never waste time on what could have been. In fact, it rubs against the motto of contemporary world driven by productivity and profit-making. To ask “what could have been,” is only a wistful thought, a mental idleness. It won’t propel you towards success any sooner. But at the basis of this question lays rejection. Rejection of the now. Today could be better. It dreams a better version of present and future. Artists assume the position of defunct historians who fail in the task to neatly organize the past; who painstakingly tunes into the past, yet not too keen on delivering the correct version. Who instead tells could-have-been’s. It should not have been, it could have been, it would have been.
However, the other axis of this regret is also a hope for a new world. And this very thing starts from looking to the past. In fact, Walter Benjamin proposes: The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again […] To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it "the way it really was.” It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.
Here I can identify two things at stake. One is that the images of the past are powerful as a recognizable tool; this recognition, in the form of nostalgia, is “the tool of the ruling classes” to retain and continue traditional forms of dominance. Nostalgia causes inertia, swinging the forwarding force back to the comfort of familiarity. Two is question of how “moment of danger,” a moment that equates to the image-flashing instant, can be initiated. Walking through this exhibition, I can locate both moments of seizing this image, and of initiating the moment of danger.
In Mitchel Kenworthy’s Picasso in Bombay series, viewers can immediately spot the allusion to Picasso and the early modernist movement as a whole, and the only visible “ingenuity” of the artist is the proposed geographic marker, Bombay, a place that did not pertain to European modernist movement. We fall back on familiarity as the first enemy at the same time a tool. We question its expiry date, validity, and how to use it at our disposal. Thus, using faces: walking by the large paintings by Christelle Agahozo one perceives shrouds of faces; multiple generic faces, countless portraits elapsed in one surface. Or effacement of the face, Atefeh Baradaran severing the front part of the casted heads. Erasure of the face, as a both violent and homogenizing force that recall the feared dystopian literature of the 80s and 90s, and its somewhat gruelling realization in today’s world. And a familiar face appears again, in Jessica Molcan’s Portrait Paintings on Canvas and Nylon, a literal figuration of memory; how a face gets lost in one’s memory, and only the effect of the lost image gets transposed into pigment and its application. This ambiguous face is familiar to all who buries a face in deep memory. The future ruin still retains recognizable images, Shannon Cowe’s collages project the surreal, somewhat doomed future—and perhaps it is because they are solely built on the past signs and objects, images. This is Cowe’s attempt to link inner utopias to outer spaces, and viewers are unsure if they are internal or external landscapes. nowhen collective’s (Sauha Lee and Jenn Pearson) dream machine is also trying to reach an internal plateau, the dream machine starts by the memorial imprint it leaves on our eyelids, which quickly propels into summoning monsters of the unconscious.
If past must appear as image, we need the instantiation of that flash. Bifurcation of today —as it simultaneously transposes into immediate past—a disruption, projecting an alternative now, forking into infinite possibilities. Arielle White comes upon a branch that has broken off a tree, interrupts its course, and decides to sustain its existence in a newly imagined environment. It is not an effort to elongate the severed branch’s life, but to insert a parenthesis, pausing its cycle before its new life (as it is put back to its natural context and continues the cycle of ecology and immortality). The cycle of matter is paused, and it decays a little differently, under different gazes. This opening up parenthesis in a continuation of whatever that has been flowing.A mirror breaks a flow in space, by hailing/jumping/disrupting the continuous flow of space, by reflecting in it, an unusual space. A mirror is a first step in heterotopia; perceiving one’s own image by locating oneself not here but there, in the virtual space of the mirror. Mirror 2 enables the photographic image, the structure of which Graeme Wahn exposes, rather than the product of the structure, usually regarded as the image. Wahn could be proposing the image is the blue, unexposed photo paper, or the mirror that reflects the space, or the structure itself as it is seen by the eye (another image making machine). Thus he contests the visual notion of the image. Opening up multiple worlds, by choices, by sheer expectation. Leo Lin’s series of objects in a black plinth sets up situations for mental and visual reflection and affirmation. A viewer is invited to send text messages to the phone inside the vitrine, and sees the exact message show up on the screen a few seconds later, creating an interval between expectation and affirmation. Cass Elliott’s #unrealizedProjects heeds respect to possible worlds that could be opened up once we go back to unrealized, forgotten projects. On the desk, a thermal printer scans all Twitter status updates containing the hashtag #unrealizedProject. The tweets are printed on the receipt paper which itself is schedule to disappear.
All these varying attempts amounts to the search for truth. It is an earnest task. Not a perfecting truth that sums up perception or literature of history into one agreement. But it is more like Will Dege’s drawn manifestations of conspiracy theories, which, though they sound manic, delusional, over-proven, are a rejection of what is told; an active rearrangement of what was told through religious institutions, media, documentaries, educational apparatuses. Conspiracy theory search for “honest version” of historical narratives. Dege's drawings unbiasedly digest hysterical stereotype of conspiracy theories, and becoming a place where we could also unlearn de facto institutional knowledge. And, ending with a song, an honesty to oneself: …to erode all my disasters it’s a good day…Taking pieces of songs written at a young age Kai Choufour’s It’s a good day re-issues his music as new representations delineated by text and blocks of colour. His song has imagined sound, this sound fills the entire wall with the MS Word-produced images. This song is a single from an unrealized album and is the first single in a part of a bigger compilation. We enter a sphere of confession of one’s dreams, desires, selfhood.