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.
On the 3rd floor of the CIIS Main Building, Viva Paredes’ exhibition, "Ceremonias Nocturnas," recontextualizes how Mexican curandera María Sabina has been historicized, and critiques the Western co-optation of Sabina’s narrative. Paredes, whose grandmother used healing herbs and who has returned to a study of ethnobotany in her creative practice for many years, sought to explore the authentic history of this healer, distinct from the ways she has been commercially packaged by Westerners. A quick Google search on María Sabina reveals the degree to which her image has been used for commercial ends; for example, there’s a hotel named for her, whose website plays dance music, an unfortunate conflation of her name, legacy and Western-promoted likeness. In the absence of Sabina’s likeness in the installation itself, Paredes explores her legacy through language, drawn from the curandera’s chants as well as the Spanish and indigenous words for sacred healing plants, seeds from the plants themselves, a multi-sensory altar, and two other sculptural pieces installed around the campus. Poet Naomi Quiñones collaborated with Paredes on poetry that accompanies the visual work.
Omar Pimienta’s "Translation" is on view on the 2nd floor of the CIIS Minna location. The exhibition uses Pimienta’s personal geography, commuting back and forth across the border from Tijuana, Mexico, where he lives, to San Diego, where he works, to explore the transnational, transcultural and trans-lingual experience. Diaristic in both execution and presentation, the collaged photo wall of this experience is particularly moving; Pimienta’s journey is made visible most notably by referencing the culture of cars and movement, as Pimienta is constantly shifting between languages and cultures in his daily trips. Various clues and insights are given by the landscape he navigates, the pervasiveness of US culture evident in the McDonald’s logos and Statue of Liberty figures that populate many of these images. The exertion of these trips, echoed in the quantity of 4 x 6 photographs that cover an entire wall, is striking. Interestingly, the Statue of Liberty figure sprinkled throughout the images is actually Lady Libertad, a sculpture made by Pimienta, that references his Tijuana neighborhood, Colonia Libertad. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Tijuana, and a popular border-crossing site, Colonia Libertad is known for its shops that sell plaster sculptures of popular American figures, fictional and real, from JFK to Cinderella.
Currently, though this industry has dwindled, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most-produced sculptures. In an ironic twist, Lady Libertad is perched upon on a pedestal modeled after pre-Columbian pyramids. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty, apparently had a sketch of a pre-Columbian pedestal that inspired his design for the iconic symbol of American patriotism. Locating these cultural signifiers within this pictorial narrative, their presence at times obscured, while at other times dominant, one is forced to think about their presence in the border landscape, and the ways in which we choose to historicize our monuments, culture, and ourselves—often negating influences (and in this case, certainly, people) that don’t fit into the dominant American cultural paradigm.
Please join us for the following opening receptions with the artists:
Viva Paredes in conversation about entheogenics and sacred healing practices.
Wednesday, Feb. 29, 6-8 pm, Namaste Hall, CIIS Main Building, 3rd Floor. Her exhibit, "Ceremonias Nocturnas," runs from Feb. 3-March 31, 2012.
A poetry reading and reception with Omar Pimienta on Saturday, March 3, 2012 , 6-8 pm, CIIS Minna Street Center , 695 Minna Street, 2nd floor. His exhibit, "Translation," is on view Jan. 27-March 17, 2012.
"Radiant States: Reflections on Solidarity," the work of Ali Dadgar, will run from Feb. 3-March 31, 2012.