Manuel Arturo Abreu

On illegibility, friendship, + other havens: A preview of the upcoming Syllogy group show at Seattle’s Veronica

14 July 2017

Born in Martinique from ancestors who had been colonized and transported to the Caribbean, writer and critic Édouard Glissant spent his life involved in anti-colonialism — its political movements and poetic interventions. Articulating how the imperialist ‘West’ wields its conception of other cultures as a tactic of domination, he writes in Poetics of Relation, “if we examine the process of ‘understanding’ people and ideas from the perspective of Western thought, we discover that its basis is this requirement for transparency. In order to understand and thus accept you, I have to measure your solidity with the ideal scale providing me with grounds to make comparisons and, perhaps, judgments. I have to reduce.”

Adriana Ramić, ‘5:48pm, Osnovna Škola Đura Jakšić, Banatski Dvor (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…’ (2017). Detail. Courtesy the artist + Kimberly-Klark, New York.

Glissant proposes the framework of opacity, or irreducibility, arguing that decolonialism depends on the capacity for compassion and acceptance to be unhitched from the compulsion to name and classify. Opacity is the freedom from reduction. Opacity is the refusal of explanation to others. Opacity is the reclamation of definition on one’s own terms. “We clamor,” Glissant famously declares, “for the right to opacity for everyone.”

This month, Syllogy opens at Veronica, an independent project space in Seattle, curated by manuel arturo abreu, and runs from July 22nd to September 16th. Bringing together the works of Winslow Laroche, Adriana Ramić, Aria Dean, as well as their own, abreu observes a through line among the practices of the artists that play with genre disorientation, blurred boundaries, and ambiguity as a response to the politics of language. abreu tells me that, in regards to the exhibition, “I’m interested less in illegibility as a strategy and more in it as a dance, a sidestep.” Ramić’s piece in the show will be similar to her work Machine that the larvae of configuration at Kimberly Klark in New York, of hundreds of index cards lined against the wall that resemble methods of species classification. The cards play with our sense of apophenia, or the tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data, like detecting faces on lunar craters. Ramić’s cards are arbitrary while appearing systematic, what abreu calls a ‘taxonomic parody.’

Winslow Laroche, ‘Make a Wish’ (2017) Courtesy the artist + Veronica, Seattle.

abreu will display their book, also named the non-word Syllogy, of photos of walls that have been ‘buffed,’ the process of covering up graffiti, which results in distinct paint-block mosaics, like sloppy Rothkos, that obscure the graffiti beneath like censor pixels. Dean’s work will include a piece of encrypted tablet and a piece similar to ‘Dead Zone (1),’ now showing at Condo New York and Los Angeles Château Shatto, of a cotton branch embalmed in polyurethane, a bell jar, wood, and a signal jammer. To abreu, the piece’s tensions bring to mind “all the ways that people of color, particularly Black people, travail contradictory histories.” Laroche will present ceramics which is anticipated to be similar to those included in their Taye Diggs joint show at New York’s Motel.

Thought and strategies on opacity have burgeoned alongside the maturity of the information age and its technologies, such as GPS tracking and face-recognition software, as social media and cameras have become ubiquitous tools for consensual and non-consensual mass surveillance. Recent examples include anti-facial-recognition camouflage, or Hito Steyerl’s case for spam images as a withdrawal from data-mineable images. We’ve seen resurgences in asemic writing (an open semantic, ‘meaningless’ form of writing), which writer Rahel Aima suggested as “the last refuge from #content,” and turns to abstract expression, what Quinn Latimer deems “the role of poetry in a world of appearances.” For Glissant, one practice of opacity was altering his French, the site of his own tensions between his heritage and the aftermath of the subjugation of his people. According to his translator Betsy Wing, Glissant experimented with his writing to destabilize the language, injected it with fragments and repetitions, creating new linguistic formations that more mimicked the living language among the colonized.

manuel arturo abreu, ‘Syllogy’ (2017). Still from book. Courtesy the artist + Veronica, Seattle.

What opacity can offer is a reprieve from the social relations that demand answers and comprehensibility. For people of color, and abreu emphasizes that particularly for Black people, opacity can be a haven from the exhaustion of classification, of visibility traps, of exteriorized marginalized life, of patronizing presumptions of the politicization of mundane actions. To consider opacity in this moment is to respond to the cultural zeitgeist that celebrates visibility of individualized difference as a mitigation of structural oppression. This celebration is often empty and even dangerous, as the systems for visibility are co-opted and monetized by the very structures that exacerbate the hierarchies of domination.

For abreu, Syllogy “plays with the slippage between reading and looking and the fantasy of escape for the circulation of information.” The artist and curator is interested in that more pure form of looking, in the words of Glissant, of  “giving up this old obsession with discovering what lies at the bottom of natures.” It’s the refusal of categorization, but not capital-R, “We the Undersigned” refusal. It’s also a refusal of explanation of the refusal. It’s a refusal that doesn’t react to whiteness and other hegemonies, but strives to decenter them and practice their absence.

Aria Dean, ‘untitled (footnote to war of position)’ (2017) Courtesy the artist + Veronica, Seattle.

In an interview about White Ppl Think I’m Radical, a show with Hamishi Farah at London’s Arcadia Missa, Dean stated that “the exhibition is the friendship.” Farah adds that “the first thing is to use whatever resources we can get a hold of to link up, then stuff can come after that. You know, like you don’t want to project your idea of ‘the answer’ but just work on putting each other in the circumstance to come up with it together… art is a tool to enable stuff like this.” This framework, according to abreu, inspired Syllogy.

After all, friendship is its own roving language, of shorthands and signals and references, improvised and protectively turned inwards. Friendship in decolonial practice is a relation without commerce or transaction. Glissant saw the work of relationships as intertwined with the work of liberation: he writes that “it’s an identity that comes into being only through a relationship with somebody else; each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the other. Relation is not made of things that are foreign but of shared knowledge.” Syllogy is an exercise in sidestepping problematic visibility, and shielding other’s compulsions to reduce through a closed system of communication, opaque to those on the outside. **

The Syllogy group exhibition, curated by manuel arturo abreu, is on at Seattle’s Veronica project space, running July 22 to September 16, 2017.  

  share news item

“Why is it so difficult to refuse to refuse?”: sidony o’neal + manuel arturo abreu at PNCA

20 March 2017

The Nat Turner Project presented two-person show sidony o’neal + manuel arturo abreu at Portland’s PNCA Gallery which opened February 13 and ran to March 5, 2017.

sidony o’neal and manuel arturo abreu (2017). Installation view. Courtesy the artists, The Nat Turner Project + PNCA, Portland.

The installation brought together text and other ephemera to explore the “ontological and political investment in claiming continuity between mainland and diaspora, between slavery and its afterlife” to tackle questions related to staying grounded between ‘healing’ and ‘assimilation,’ and  asking “why is it so difficult to refuse to refuse?”

The Nat Turner Project  defines itself as “an uncompromising radical space — filling a void in portland” and is dedicated to presenting work “borne of marginalized perspectives to a dominant culture.”**

  share news item

The violence of naming + necessity: Reading through porous bodies in manuel arturo abreu’s transtrender

30 January 2017
manuel arturo abreu,’transtrender’ (2017). Courtesy manuel arturo abreu.

“Don’t blame yourself / This is a violent season”

The title of manuel arturo abreu’s collection of poems transtrender, published in December 2016 through Quimérica Booksrefers to what its blurb calls “a moment where trans is trending (that is, being commodified and whitewashed).” Through ‘a thousand years in every gesture,’ the work speaks of and to porous bodies that hold the world and hold history. Bodies that refuse categorisation have always been a political threat. How do these bodies evade becoming data, and how can we align ourselves with one another to resist classification, in this era of drastically flattened time, or time untethered to a referent?

“This is the violence of naming and necessity. Some motion is chosen, some is forced.”

There’s a slipperiness in this kind of movement that involves a different kind of power; the power of moving through a landscape that isn’t designed for that movement, the blockage necessitating a constant reorientation and doubling back.

What happens when computation fails, algorithms break, technology falls short; where something cracks open and the transmission must be fragmented, translated, made invisible? These forms can be organised through the broad rubric of ‘finding a way through,’ where language is both the obstacle and an attempt to traverse the obstacle.

Reading at times like a list of tweets or a note tapped urgently into a device, transtrender flares at moments when the future feels as shabby, inexplicable and violent as the past. When the promise of ease and efficiency associated with progress fails to manifest, finding ways around and through the failure of these communicative systems becomes a necessity.

manuel arturo abreu,’transtrender’ (2017). Courtesy manuel arturo abreu.

A translation functions neither as one thing nor another, perpetually traversing, in a space neither here nor there. New techniques make new formations of relationships: to move not only up and down but also sideways, backwards, under, between.

“Articulating the resonant frequencies of the room we’re in” is what poetry does; the room being the now-world and the possible world simultaneously. Whatever holds something back or places an obstruction within a scene – an obstruction that may in fact be the method of communication – generates a triangulation, an active space.

In Testo Junkie (2008) philosopher Paul B. Preciado writes “in the pharmacopornographic regime, the difference between apparatus and human being, as described by Agamben, is put into question. On the contrary, the techno-living emerges like an apparatus from a process of techno-political construction.” abreu’s poems are littered with possible  guises of this techno-being. “if I was born in the Antilles / as reincarnation of information,” they write in ‘Untitled (Rain).’ Bodies as computers store past trauma written to disk, the glitch carried on to version 2.0, unwritable into what abreu calls “insecure algorithm / self-harming algorithm” in ‘Untitled (Rain).’

Poetics aims to mobilize the obduracy of language, not as solely communicative force but as slippage, failure, opacity or refusal. If it were possible to just say, one would just say it. So, the problem is how to enunciate this detour, use it as a mechanism for the catapult, or the somersault, and use disorientation as a political tool existing within porous regions, shadowed boundaries, ambiguity and intermediaries.

The poems in transtrender emphasize the wild swerves of narrative that ensue when living life on a multitude of spatial planes, refusing the binary for a scene lit not by natural light opposed to screenglow, but both at the same time.

transtrender was plublished by Quimérica Books in December, 2016.**

  share news item

[In Confidence] @ As It Stands, Oct 7 – 20

6 October 2016

The [In Confidence] group exhibition is on at Los Angeles’ As It Stands, opening October 7 and running to October 20.

The show comes with little information in regards to the themes, aside from a list of artists — including Manuel Arturo Abreu, Cristine Brache, Devin Kenny, Winslow Laroche, Alec Recinos and Amalia Ulman —and a question that asks “What are you hiding?”.

That’s followed by a list of nine garbled lines of numerical and alphabetical characters that look like a encrypted code or a URL, followed by a “key” that says “confidence”. In this case the appropriate definition of the word is probably less about self assurance and more about secrecy.

See the FB event page for details.**

Cristine Brache, 'Nothing But Violence' (2016). Courtesy the artist + Team Gallery, New York.
Cristine Brache, ‘Nothing But Violence’ (2016). Courtesy the artist + Team Gallery, New York.

 

  share news item

Future Jetsam # 3 @ hq Objective, Aug 29

29 August 2016

An evening of readings called ‘Future Jetsam #3’ is on at Portland’s hq Objective on August 29.

Announced with a text and opening with the tagline “……..caught in a circle of interconnected slimes…….”, the event is presented by Lauren Lollie Nelson and James Curry-Castillo, and features manuel arturo abreu, Hannah Mizar, Demian Dinéyazhi’, Eileen Chavez and Curry-Castillo. A floating event, it is the third in the series Future Jetsam which brings together various writers in different locations. It has previously been held in intimate spaces such as Nelson’s home or a cafe. This event in particular will host performances by poets and comics.

The press release describes the evening as  “a node between lives. Possibly a collapsing, a dissolution to nothingness, or—maybe it’s a transition, a dissolution to something else.” Both Nelson and Curry-Castillo are artists’ and writers’ who live in Portland, Oregon.

Visit the FB event page for more details.**

manuel arturo abreu @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.
manuel arturo abreu @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.

 

  share news item

General Fine Arts + Asta Meldal Lynge publication launch, March 8

8 March 2016

General Fine Arts and artist Asta Meldal Lynge are having a joint publication launch at London’s All Hallows Church’s a.m. London on March 8.

e-publication General Fine Arts introduces the first issue of their second volume, ‘Values’, which is guest-edited by Tom Clark, while Asta Meldal Lynge will introduce ‘Real state’.

There will be a video reading by manuel arturo abreu and a presentation by Anna Zett at 8pm.

‘Values’ contributors include audio, text and image-based work by the above, as well as William Kherbek, Imran Perretta, Marina Vishmidt, Martin Kohout and Eleanor Ivory Weber whose text will also feature in visual essay ‘Real state’.

See the FB event for further information on the two publications.**

manuel arturo abreu, untitled 2015). Courtesy the artist.
manuel arturo abreu, ‘untitled’ (2015). Courtesy the artist.

 

  share news item

‘home school’ reading #1 online, Jan 10

8 January 2016

Pop-up art school home school is hosting a reading series to launch online and from Portland, Oregon, on January 10.

The first reading will feature what the press release calls four ‘makers’ working “in a slippage between art and poetry”. Those include Melbourne-based artist and poet Aurelia Guo, Harlem-based writer and performer Sophia Le Fraga, as well as manuel arturo abreu and Jamondria Marnice Harris based in Portland.

A press release written by Hamishi Farah elaborates on a quote from Sianne Ngai and the apparent powerlessness of poetry in commodity society, going on to draw a link between “the problem of poetry” and global white supremacy, “unless it comes from the mouth of whoever cannot speak. Is that the shadow of poetry?”

See the home school website for details.**

Header image: Quisqueya Henriquez, ‘Helado de Agua de Mar Caribe (Caribbean Seawater Ice Cream)’ (2002).

  share news item

home school @ Composition gallery, Nov 27

27 November 2015

A free pop-up art school called home school is launching at Portland’s Composition Gallery on November 27.

Hosted by manuel arturo abreu and Victoria Anne Reis, the event has been organised to encourage “critical engagement with contemporary art and its issues” within an open and welcoming environment, and to provide a deeper understanding of “the casual rigor of the etymological origin of ‘school’.”

The programme includes an exhibition by Reis, abreu and Taj Bourgeois, and improvised performance by Eleanor Ford, a screening of Hamishi Farah‘s ‘marginal aesthetics’ (2014) video, music by Eric Fury, a poetry duet by Reis and Giovanna Olmos, and more.

See the home school website for details.**

Hamishi Farah, ‘Dog Heaven’ (2015) Install view. Photo by Hugard & Vanoverschelde. Courtesy the artist and monCHERI, Bruxelles.
Hamishi Farah, ‘Dog Heaven’ (2015) Install view. Photo by Hugard & Vanoverschelde. Courtesy the artist and monCHERI, Bruxelles.
  share news item

Reclaiming the rapport de face à face by D. Dragonetti

23 November 2015

“Emmanuel Lévinas’ face-to-face relation (rapport de face à face) describes the duties between beings in the IRL encounter. Faces “order and ordain” us into “giving and serving” the Other. But with the corporatization of the internet revealing the illusory nature of the URL/IRL split, the two merge to reconfigure the face-to-face encounter, conflate the face with the selfie, and re-inscribe systemic inequality through the trap of visibility. As such, these poets interrogate the “defenseless nudity” of the Levinasian face in digitality. Working with found text, digital practice, post-confessional lyric, and other poetic forms, the four readers explore the reconfiguring effects of trauma on memory and temporality, working in a mode that, to paraphrase Bunny Rogers, exists in a perpetual mourning which still retains jouissance.”

…so goes manuel arturo abreu‘s text written for the press release of the Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti poetry reading held at New York’s Hester Gallery on November 7. Featuring manuel, Sophia Le FragaBunny Rogers, and yours truly, the room where we read is also home to Erin Jane Nelson’s Dylaninstallation. Her use of strong sensory elements, such as aromatic teas and spices, thermodynamic textiles, and glass-blown figures is evocative of a body, literally engulfing the space. It’s an immersive experience that effectively becomes part of the event, (re)orienting us from digitality to the physical present, with an intention that’s not dissimilar from our own, in reinterpreting digital or digitized works for a physical space.

manuel arturo abreu @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.
manuel arturo abreu @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.

The URL/IRL split refers to the relationship of the internet to so-called ‘real life.’ Our work contends that the perceived split is a fallacy, considering how the online has altered, to draw on philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, the face-to-face relation. One of the ways in which digitality does this is through uncovering what is ‘hidden’ by the individualized, affective relationship. The Levinasian rapport de face à face encompasses only the one-on-one interaction, the ‘subject’ to the ‘Other’.  The position of the subject -as each and every individual self from the perspective of that self -is mediated by the larger context of society, connecting the two positions to subjectivity as an ideological structure. When we question the relation of the artist or performer to the audience, we must therefore also question how their subjectivity is socially evaluated.

Die Ashley @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.
Die Ashley @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.

All of the works read involved the reconfiguration of narrative and trauma. manuel read from a collection called areítx, which they describe as “a refusal of colonial narratives regarding the ‘original Dominicans’, the Taino people, arguing instead that these post-apocalyptic survivors of European settler genocide passed down their traditions through syncretic coalition with escaped African slaves”. Sophia read from ‘I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET’, suggesting conflict: a rejection of or exhaustion with the corporatism of the URL, coupled with a #neoneoneoromantic reuse of classical elements in post-technical contexts. I read an email sent to a man who aggressively fetishized me, presented as found text, between two other works about gendered violence wherein I practiced self-flagellation. Bunny read from ‘My Apologies Accepted’, a work that, through reliance on simple language and conventions, seeks to reveal the brutality of the norm. Lévinas writes of the gaze of the Other as saying, “do not kill me”; Bunny writes, in the poem ‘Not my mama’s feelings’, “if you want to kill someone / U hav every right to / Best wishes from my kitchen to yours.”

Sophia Le Fraga @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.
Sophia Le Fraga @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung.

Our works are representative of how colonialism, gender, and capitalism mediates the affective expression of the oppressed. And though incorporating sociological context into the face-to-face experience modifies the rapport, we cannot reclaim our selves. Foucault writes, “visibility is a trap”: we have no control over the audience’s subjective experience, or their interpretation of our work, of us. As manuel touches on in their text, we also cannot transcend the mediation of our expression by both digital and physical institutions -hence the capitalism of visibility, the appropriation of ‘invisible’ identities to be curated, co-opted, and synthesized into a new hegemonic discourse. The institutions of society mediate the Levinasian rapport, exporting violence to where it is ‘hidden’; our curation of a rapport ‘unhides’ the violence but does not prevent our experiences from being assimilated.  **

Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti was on at New York’s Hester Gallery on November 7, 2015.

Header image: Bunny Rogers @ Rapport de face à face. Rogers / Le Fraga / Abreu / Dragonetti @ Hester, New York. Image courtesy Ijin Chung. 

 

  share news item