Auto Italia’s evasive Unorganised Response group exhibition remains unruly by gazing at our institutions from the peripheries

13 August 2019

In Christelle Oyiri’s ‘Collective Amnesia (Call and Response)’ video a storyline develops without speech. It’s projected on the wall in the darkened back room of London’s Auto Italia for the Unorganised Response group exhibition, running July 6 to September 8. A young woman, played by French R&B performer Helma Mayissa, has lost her memory and engages in a journey to ‘reset’, rather than retrieve her past. Artist Saray Escoto plays her new friend. Together, they stand in front of Paris’ National Museum of History of Immigration and walk alongside its awkward murals of colonial dominance. By way of clashing collages, Oyiri introduces another storyline that scrapes against the previous one, generating friction.

Christelle Oyiri, ‘Collective Amnesia (Call and Response)’ (2015). Install view. Courtesy Auto Italia, London.

Found footage shows young men performing Logobi, a music genre and dance from Oyiri’s ancestral Ivory Coast, engaging in battles and street performances. They create their own infrastructures bringing these styles from West Africa to Paris’ banlieues —the city’s suburbswhere the genre found its public before being forced into disappearance by a lack of support by mainstream culture and direct stigmatisation. There’s an on-screen text that reads, “Amnesia, my dearest. Maybe things are better left unsung.” It appears at the beginning, or maybe it’s the end, of the looping video framing the work. Familiar questions, visually unresolved, arise: What is allowed to be forgotten and remembered, and who decides? What institutions do the margins have, and who represents whom? Oyiri, who also performs under the name Crystallmess, answers disarmingly by demonstrating resistance from within. Taking on the role of the dissident archive, ‘Collective Amnesia’ recovers the submerged Logobi movement and forces culture born beyond Paris’ periph—the city’s ring road—back into collective memory.

Left to right: Kareem Lotfy, ‘image processing(williamblakejerusalemplate33)’, ‘untitled’, ‘al wraith’ (2019). Install view. Courtesy Auto Italia, London.

In ‘Collective Amnesia’, and throughout the Unorganised Response exhibition, the periphery is used as a lens. It loosely stitches together a selection of works and texts by artists operating from the margins of cultural infrastructures, escaping existing ones or creating alternatives. Kareem Lotfy’s ‘Perturbation’ is a series of black and white prints of manic, pixelated composition. Their glitched language holds the emotional depth of a barcode and resists interpretation. Illegibility appears, not only in Lotfy’s work but also in how he operates. Disobedient to the institution of the art market, he refuses to create works for sale and instead crashes and vacates the spaces of music, project spaces and the academia, moving against the current.

The third and final work in the exhibition is artist Julian Abraham ‘Togar’ and curator Grace Samboh’s Jatiwangi Cup Calendar’. The calendars feature photographs from a bodybuilding competition they initiated in a Javanese tile factory, following a ceased tradition. Now in its fifth edition, the annual event brings pride and attention back to the industry, while Togar and Grace pass on the project and institution to the workers. 

Julian Abraham ‘Togar’ & Grace Samboh, ‘Jatiwangi Cup Calendar’ (2015). Install view. Courtesy Auto Italia, London.

Unorganised Response is small and incomplete, imperfect and therefore able to speak for its evasive subject. Readings and positions are left open, plural, polyphonic, ongoing; a precious discordance revealing complex and evolving entanglements. The reader published for the exhibition offers a selection of discussions between artists, opening up the analysis, taking it to deeper waters. It touches on the problematics of state-funded art institutions’ public programming, their biased approaches to decolonising contemporary culture and dependence on funding bodies’ missions.

With surprising and loose juxtapositions, this webbed account encourages us to decentralise our gaze—to better recognise the complicated demands of cultural institutions on production. It’s mission is to notice, and also occupy structures: refuse, abandon and return; steal from, imitate, stand in front of, speak nearby, glide along, build up and hand-down. It’s about remaining unruly, and staying unorganised.**

The Unorganised Response group exhibition is at London’s Auto Italia, running July 6 to September 8, 2019.

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