Reconstituted Narratives in the Digital Landscape
curated by Kathleen Ruiz
artists: Kofi Amponsah, Anuar Ayob, Tom Bamberger, Meghan Boody, Sigrid Hackenberg, Rachelle Menshikova, Guto Nobrega, Lazarina Todorova, and Elyn Zimmerman
November 2 – December 22, 2002
It may be that writers….exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt.
But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge – which gives rise to profound uncertainties – that our physical alienation…almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely that thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands…of the mind.
“…It may be argued that the past is a country, from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity.” – Salman Rushdie
Imaginary Homelands is an exhibition exploring the notion of “homeland” within the context of the transience, portability, and flexibility of digital media. The exhibition includes the work of a diverse group of nine artists who investigate this subject using digital media ranging from photographic and video methodologies to interactive virtual environment installations. Each artist presents a strong personal, political or psychological discourse on the preservation, reflection, exploration, and longing for a home that may or may not be actual. The works presented were created by artists from Ghana, Latvia, Israel, Malaysia, Spain, America, Brazil, and Bulgaria. The title is taken from Salman Rushdie’s collection of essays and criticism of the same name – his ten-year personal and intellectual odyssey that records the politics and irony of culture, film, religious fundamentalism, racial prejudice, and the preciousness of the imagination and free expression. The common theme seen throughout the work included in the Imaginary Homelands exhibition is coping with transience, a topic that is especially relevant in our current times of displacement, globalization, and the turmoil of unresolved conflicts worldwide.Continue Reading...
Imaginary Homelands presents combinations of traditional and digital techniques. The show is intended to inspire artists to explore new forms of expression for the future. It is the very slipperiness of our digital storehouses that so wonderfully reflects our own impermanence, while at the same time they promise us the immortality of Lyotard’s notion of thought existing without a body and more appropriately here without a permanent physical home.
Kofi Amponsah, an artist and educator from Ghana, lives in Albany, NY and is currently working on his doctoral thesis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York (RPI). Kofi presents an interactive installation that merges the 5′ x 4′ physical hardwood loom that he brought from Africa, with an interactive spatial narrative containing photographs of his native land. He views the use of digital technologies as integral to stimulating, promoting, and preserving the traditional African art form of weaving “Kente” cloth, whose origins trace back to ancient West African kingdoms which flourished between 300 A.D and 1600 A.D. In Kente Nwen Toma (Kente Woven Cloth) we are the observer and also the observed caught in the process of observation. Jonathan Crary points out in his seminal text, “Techniques of the Observer”, that stereographic viewing of a particular location can create an immediate apparent tangibility and even the sense of déjà vu when later experiencing the physical place itself. In Kente Nwen Toma we have a visual and also a spatial beginning of what may be in store when we do touch base in Ghana.
Born in Malaysia, Anuar Ayob came to the United States two years ago to further his study in Electronic Arts at RPI. His work deals with issues of the social and cultural identity of the Malay people. Being a foreigner in the U.S., and faced with different cultures, issues, perceptions, and complications, Ayob has produced videos, installations, and works created for the internet that relate to his homeland. In PRESERVING MALAY, a 10 minute single channel video created in 2002, Ayob portrays the lifestyles of a family from Malaysia, who has been living in Troy, New York for the past 8 years. The video is about parents who are trying to enlighten and maintain the identity of their children by teaching them the culture, language, and the lifestyles of the Malay people and Islamic practice. This experimental documentary was a collaboration with all the family members, who were not only the subjects portrayed, but the creators who also recorded some of the footage.
Tom Bamberger a photographer, who lives in Milwaukee, is currently exploring landscape photography as a “meditation on truth”. Here he presents recent work that uses digital techniques to form repetitive elements from “real” landscape photographs. He begins by extending the boundaries of the horizon line to exceed beyond 360 degrees. Using the computer to clone and erase sections of his landscape photographs, Bamberger extends the information that comes from the smaller frame of a camera in an almost biologic process akin to reproductive copying of DNA. Bamberger describes his method as “processing and choosing elements that seem more ‘natural’ or just natural enough to not seem synthetic.” His pieces California Homes and Spring Trees, suggest both what one feels intuitively to be the patterns of the synthetic and those of the landscapes of nature. He leaves us finding solace in repetition and opens us to see profound clarity within the quotidian.
Meghan Boody exhibits the “imaginary homelands” residing within the territory of the mind. A New York based artist, trained as a photographer, Boody creates elaborate surrealistic and psychologically charged narratives of young girls’ metamorphosis into adolescence. She photographs models and friends who are costumed and posed as symbolic figures for her final compositions, which are composed within the computer and then digitally printed. Psyche and Smut is an ongoing series of large prints arranged like pages from a book which tell the tale of a “proper, well-bred” young girl’s journey into the darkly erotic side of her own self, the struggle for supremacy between the “good twin” and the “evil twin” (id versus ego), and the eventual transformations that both selves undergo in the process of incorporating into one singular soul.” Boody’s allegory of the acculturation of girls into the often-restrictive roles that societies ascribe for them transforms photography from what is traditionally an instrument of verification to one that rearranges histories and clears the view to reveal simultaneity of events whose origins lie in the use of photomontage within the art movements of Dada and Surrealism.
Born in Barcelona, Spain and raised in Spain, Germany, Canada, Japan, and America, Sigrid Hackenberg has, almost by necessity, created imaginary homelands through her work in video and installation. Her two-channel video projection installation, The Time and the Place was recorded in the Extremadura area of Spain, an arid, harsh landscape dominated by groves of olive trees. The landscape is elongated to over 80 inches, transformed metaphorically by the stretch of memory. Recollection of a place of contemplation, so limited in the rush of the contemporary world, is there and intact, held by the simplicity of nature and the human traces remembered and recorded, yet it is distant and pieced together. Hackenberg’s work is an observation of the moments of everyday life; the time and place now preserved personifying her belief that “a spiritual presence in nature, sound, objects, people, and places exists.”
Rachelle Menshikova, a Russian born Israeli, presents As It Happens, a 20 minute video consisting of a collection of personal narratives by young Israeli women who talk about their lives at particular moments: first during the negotiations at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and again in 2002, as the ongoing current war/struggle in Israel becomes almost consuming. As It Happens gives a voice to women situated in their home environments and gives the private voice exposure in public. Rachelle states, “I believe, we all (artists in particular) function bringing a witness to this world. One tends to expect certain integrity from a witness, at least integrity in a sense of honesty and sincerity. The accent on the witness from this perspective was one of the goals taken in this work. Even though the work has no claim to be an historical document, I still feel the importance of sticking to the truths living in my friends’ (the interviewed women) feelings and emotions.
“This conflict, locked in the condition of ‘no exit’, teaches us among other things to stop asking the popular question ‘how is it going to end?’ This very desire for resolution, being a part of human nature, when taken to the extremes, fuels the fires of aggression and violence. Through exposing the emotional experiences of people’s voices in this work I hope to offer a chance to the Western cultured audience to realize that they are not watching and involving themselves in a Western movie which has a stable continuation on TV screens daily, but rather witnessing a tragedy of two nations. The women talking throughout As It Happens are mothers and their connections between the past and the future as well as between the fantasy and the fear are particularly distinctive due to their maternal instincts, which function as driving forces for each of their child’s survival from the beginning of the pregnancy. I believe that creating a portrait based on witnessing emotional subjective experience allows us to rethink the values for realness, making an addition to the political circumstances.” Rachellle’s powerful narrative presents the complexities of survival in extremely difficult circumstances and gives us hope that life continues even as one faces conflicts which threaten states, regions, or territories.
Guto Nóbrega, born in Brazil in 1965, is a professor at the School of Fine Arts in the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. His interests center around interactivity and interface as a way to think about and construct new realities with the help of digital technologies. Nobrega asks us to consider that the digital body is converging as a hybrid with our physical body and space. Cache Memory is a work about time and memory. His childhood photographs were used as reference and inspiration for the contemporary re-photographing of those exact places, although he is no longer there posed as a child. Memory is recovered by the photos and the memory of the computer that allows interaction with the digital image on the web site. Cache Memory shows that the past, the present, and the future can become one by a mere click of the finger.
Lazarina Todorova was born in 1977 in the town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Todorova’s video and installation work aspire to articulate the complexity and relevance of issues of migration, mobility, assimilation, cultural identification and alienation, the re-discovery of “roots” and origins, the longing for belonging, and the hybridity of the self. Her recent creative endeavors reflect “a deeply personal engagement with the themes of transnational experience and displacement.” Her work, Untitled, 2001 is an 11-minute single-channel video and is an autobiographical work, communicating a desire to re-invent the idea of home, both as a tangible experience situated in the physicality of geography and as a dislocated presence/absence that inhabits the realm of the imaginary. Two parallel worlds (one of fast-paced, media-saturated dynamism and the other of seemingly reassuring permanence and simplicity) are represented through the two interweaving portraits of the artist and her grandmother. Shifting between modes of dissonance and synchronicity, their relationship grows to transcend the reductive binaries of culture, tradition, and individualism and affirms a deep spiritual connection of both cultural transmission and transformation. Shards of memory acquire greater status and greater resonance as trivial things become symbols for not only the subjects in the video, but also for us, the viewer.
Elyn Zimmerman is a New York based artist, born in Philadelphia, PA, who works in a variety of media including stone, photography, and digital media. Her photographs of archaic structures and ruins worldwide serve as a personal library of images that inform and stimulate her work as a sculptor of large scale stone works, often for Public Art commissions. Her work conveys a strong longing for permanence in a fleeting world. The Iris digital ink jet prints in the MAGNA GRÆCIA series are, in the artists words, “very traditional images, but framed with a modern ‘eye’. They refer to the long tradition of 19th Century travel photography and its fine-grained verisimilitude, but have been freely altered in large and small ways with the magic of Photoshop.” Zimmerman makes a compelling study of the mutable imagescape of the ancient remains of the once flourishing Greek seaport colonies of southern Italy and Sicily. 
– Kathleen Ruiz, 2002
Kathleen Ruiz is a digital media artist, curator, and Assistant Professor of Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.
1. Rushdie, Salman, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, New York, Penguin Books, 1991, pgs. 10 & 12.
2. Lyotard, Jean-Francois, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time Fr. 1988, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991, pgs. 11-15.
3. Crary, Jonathan, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Mass.: MIT Press, Cambridge, 1990, pgs.123-124.
4. Korotkin, Joyce, “The New York Art World”, October 2000.
5. Lunenfeld, Peter, Snap to Grid: A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures, Boston, The MIT Press, 2000, pg. 69.
Special thanks to John Kolb, Sharon Roy, Marc Miller and Patrick Valiquette at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for the loan of laptop computers. Also special thanks to Sigrid Hackenberg who is the inspiration for the title of the exhibition and to Frances Gray for her encouragement. Additionally huge thanks to Ariel, Kate, Larry, Colleen, and Kathleen at the Center for Photography at Woodstock for all their help and support in making this exhibition possible.