The exhibition follows abreu’s time spent as New Media Fellow during the fall of 2017, and includes four new video works, sound, sculpture as well as a publication “meditating on opacity, limbo, and recirculation.”
Using the process of what the artist describes as ‘upcycling’ (repurposing previous work), abreu will piece together and pick apart “the tension between commercialism and community inherent to a digital practice today.”**
Cura(Collected) group exhibition at New York’s Knockdown Center opened November 4, 2017 and ran to January 1, 2018.
Organized by Sessa Englund, the show is the third in a series called Cura(Collected) and is a collaboration between Anjuli Rathod, Eduardo Restrepo Castaño, Oscar Moises Diaz and accompanying text by manuel arturo abreu.
Because the exhibition focuses on artists who curate and “whose involvement in the artistic community has had a generative impact on their local art scenes,” the project is a collaborative effort, bringing together a number of contributors including performances and interventions by Crack Rodriguez, Dyeemah Simmons, Carmelle Safdie, Lily Jue Sheng, Lucy Tomasino, Nancy Chavarria, Veronica Vides and many others.**
The object-oriented show is light and minimal, including hundreds of Ramić’s index cards that reference species classification and are lined against the wall. The press release includes a text by Gaelynn Lea, with an excerpt reading:
“We pulled the weeds out til the dawn Nearly too tired to carry on Someday we’ll linger in the sun.” **
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.”
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.’
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 YorkandLosAngeles’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.
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.
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 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.”**
The title of manuel arturo abreu’s collection of poems transtrender, published in December 2016 through Quimérica Books, refers 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.
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.