By SUSANNAH MAGERS, curatorial intern, The Arts at CIIS
In early February media theorist Gene Youngblood delivered the first of a two-part lecture series at the San Francisco Art Institute, reflecting on ideas he first articulated in 1970 in his prophetic and political tome, "Expanded Cinema," in which he considered how the coming advances in telecommunications could best be utilized for social good. His contemporary reflections on our hyper-Twittered world are (albeit necessarily) bleak. The relative optimism of "Expanded Cinema" has been replaced with an explicit, unambiguous denunciation of society’s current state of decline, or to use his terminology, a total “global-eco-social-crisis.”
The broadcast (a term he uses to describe the power structures that create and administer the images, language, and culture by which we model ourselves) has more or less created a society of self-oppression and collaborative social control: “Here you are, in the fields of freedom, and yet you huddle in front of the broadcast.” To break free from the broadcast requires, a “daily practice of counter-socialization,” or immersion in alternative media outlets. The exhibitions currently on view at CIIS take on this challenge to create countercultural narratives that point to social, political and economic imbalances in contemporary society. Their individual practices make visible—as well as push against—predetermined or mass-culturally sanctioned narratives about their lives and futures, and of our cultures collectively.
Ali Dadgar’s exhibition, "Radiant States: Reflections on Solidarity" (on the 4th Floor of the CIIS Main Building), is a direct engagement with the visual language of a countercultural communications revolution. Invoking the ubiquitous icon of the raised fist, hands are depicted in various states of protest and solidarity. Tightly clenched, making a peace sign, or opened, palm out, each image was found online: “I started to focus on this powerful, yet vulnerable gesture across different cities including Cairo, Oakland, Tehran, and Damascus, where protesters disseminated their own footage. In isolating, extracting, and processing these upraised arms, I want viewers of my work to feel—in the pixelation of the image—its deterioration, its falling apart, its loss of color and density.”
Regardless of their provenance, then, each image conjures a similar feeling—but what Dadgar seems to be getting at is the simultaneously critical yet hopeful posture of this familiar gesture. With the ongoing unfolding of recent revolutions and protests (from Egypt and Tunisia to the Occupy movements) these images point not only to what has happened, but what must continue to. Dadgar’s accompanying video piece references another essential aspect of revolution, the sounds of protest. Recorded during a performance in 2011, "Five Minutes of Infinite Solidarity," in which Dadgar beat on large sheets of clear Mylar to produce thundering, reverberating sounds, the video captures the light reflected from the mylar and the rhythms from six different chants of resistance. In black, white, and gray tones, the reflected light undulates, at times speeding up to a frenzied, feverish pace, at others trembling, and barely moving. These repetitive, frequently shifting shapes, sounds, and forms mimic the anxious, unpredictable atmosphere of the protest environment.