Heavy Weight History
Citizens typically experience the state’s coercive power through airport security, traffic lights and taxes. As the artists in The State make clear, however, the repressive genius of state power lies in its ability to impose itself by symbolic or intellectual means, from legal tangles and ideological monuments to the threat of arrest.
Maryam Jafri, "Independence Day 1934-1975, 2009-present,"
Maryam Jafri, "Independence Day 1934-1975, 2009-present," 60 black-and-white archival ink jet photos, installation view
Interdisciplinary Pakistani-American artist Maryam Jafri’s installation, Independence Day 1934-1975, features 57 photographs documenting the independence proceedings of former European colonies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. These decolonization ceremonies – parades, jubilant crowds and dignitaries at document signings – were captured in a spirit of hope and promise. Even in the service of decolonization, however, the appropriated European rituals undermine this optimism and suggest the shift from old to new may be distinguished less by what changes than by what doesn’t.
Christian Jankowski, "Heavy Weight History," 2013
Christian Jankowski, "Heavy Weight History," 2013, video, 26 min., installation view
Dominating the exhibition is Polish artist Christian Jankowski’s video, Heavy Weight History. Produced as a parody of a live sportscast, the work features an exuberant announcer who gives play-by-play as Polish weightlifters attempt to hoist various Warsaw monuments. Konstanty Hegel’s 1855 Mermaid of Warsaw barely challenges the strongmen, while a massive bust of socialist intellectual Ludwik Waryński is lifted only with great effort. But the city’s massive Ronald Reagan Monument, unveiled in 2011 by Lech Wałęsa, proves too great a challenge, as the weightlifters can barely grip it. With this play on the notion of the weight of history, Jankowski confronts Poland’s troubled past and uncertain current identity.
Vahap Avşar, "Lost Shadows, [AND Museum]," 2015
Vahap Avşar, "Lost Shadows, [AND Museum]," 2015, republished and distributable postcards, installation view
With Lost Shadows, Turkish-born artist Vahap Avşar presents 12 postcards depicting Turkish tourist sites and spectacles, images commissioned in the 1970s by a Turkish printing company for the domestic tourism market. Yet certain elements – policemen controlling crowds, unidentified men in suits staring at the camera, a secret-service car parked along a country road – suggest the interplay of unnamed political forces and the state’s penetration into the spaces of daily life.
Duane Linklater, "border," 2016
Duane Linklater, "border," 2016, plastic sheeting, cotton cloth, nails, thumb tacks and framed digital print, installation view
Duane Linklater, an Omaskêko Cree artist from Northern Ontario, presents four works that explore the unsettling legislation of indigenous identity. Linklater’s focus is the 1794 Jay Treaty, which recognizes indigenous people’s right to cross the border between Canada and the United States. People with at least 50 per cent indigenous blood may thus live and work in the U.S. Canada does not recognize a reciprocal arrangement. Linklater’s works explore how indigenous peoples remain enmeshed in state matrixes of territorial markers, bureaucratic misalignments and biological number games.
The four artists featured here confront but a few facets of the modern state, the manifestations of which are many and diverse. Taken together, however, their investigations leave the viewer with the potent and troubling impression that the limits of the modern state’s coercive power and of the human imagination may be approximately equal.