The large glass windows of Milan’s Spazio Maiocchi reveal a space that elicits the severity of a laboratory experiment along with the seductive appeal of a futuristic travel agency: it’s sparse, clinical, and above all corporate. Timur Si-Qin’s solo exhibition, Campaign for a New Protocol, running April 18 to May 18, is the third installment of a series celebrating a technology-based occultism, a “secular faith.” The New York-based artist, of German and Mongolian-Chinese descent, introduces the concept with a large billboard at the gallery’s courtyard entrance. A slogan that reads, “New Faith, New Path, New Peace” is overlaid onto an image of a desert cast under a dreamy, majestic sunset.
Within the gallery itself, a series of three identical light boxes illuminate the scene of a hazy desert vista. On the floor, three artificial rocks are placed on a large circular mat in a triangle formation. Virtual reality headsets are placed on each one, inviting the viewer to explore a 3D version of the showcased landscape. The images on the walls could easily pass for the countless travel ads in the arrival halls of almost every airport, teasing tourist fantasies of rolling green hills, or shimmery wheat fields. But unlike these scenes, Si-Qin isn’t just selling a sense of place, but an entire ideology. At the bottom of each display a hyperlink, NewPeace.faith, directs visitors to a site containing a downloadable white paper that expounds the artist’s ideology.
“New Peace” is part of Si Qin’s overarching reach for a non-dualistic understanding of spirituality—one that doesn’t adhere to any concept of divinity, but finds its basis of devotion within the real, physical world. He writes, “New Peace rejects transcendent planes, supernatural realms, or eternal essences because our universe of infinite creativity is sacred and mysterious in and of itself.” But theVR tour of the feverishly-advertised desert region is perhaps a subversion of this dualist “rejection,” offering a grounded and forceful tranquility through digital renderings. They are neither earthly nor martian in origin, lacking any referent to a tangible place. The realization invokes a feeling of a cruise-controlled surprise. You feel sold, though you don’t know what you’re buying.
And while it’s clear that the physical works in Campaign for a New Protocol Pt. III are a placeholder for a larger movement, its call for a non-dualistic religion is hard to grasp. The NewPeace.faith manifesto’s description of a “mysticism for the anthropocene” is yet another allusion to dualism, promoting an eastern Zen-like philosophy through the language of Western commercialism. But the works themselves are reticent, acting more as an experiment in advertising than an example of a non-dualistic conception of physical-spiritual unity. Whether visitors will prod deeper and investigate the intellectual underpinnings of “New Peace” seems to be dependent on the appeal of the visual fantasy Si-Qin sells.
Buddhist author D.T. Suzuki once famously claimed that the dualism latent in anglophone culture prevented Americans from fully grasping the meaning of Zen. The assault of links and logos in Si-Qin’s online manifesto may prevent a similar block to “New Peace,” even if they claim to offer some form of access. The mysticism remains in what a new religion that is compatible with, even dependent on, the language of the modern marketplace might entail. Regardless, the language and the visuals are alluring. The suggestion is that the calm artificial landscape pervading the space refers to some “new orientation to the world” and a “new sense of spirituality for today and the future.” It might not exactly evoke a substantive reorientation in our concept of faith, but it does invoke a feeling of wanting to get there.**