Outskirts of a small contradiction
Consider for a moment if you will the paradox VOULU/OBLIGÉ (desire/obligation) as distant points of the same spectrum or idea: starting with these two concepts, thinking about national/transnational belonging can provide fertile ground for approaching the wide topic of one’s political and cultural identity. To renounce an idea only because it contradicts another would mean to deny whole worlds.
The exhibition VOULU / OBLIGÉ, outskirts of a small contradiction is part of a large-scale project called Underconstruction that has been in existence since 2005. Since its inception it has served as a platform for Armenian artists to ponder, discuss and analyze sensitive issues in a globalizing and increasingly technologically sophisticated world, namely: identity, nationality, citizenship and social cohesion. In the first four years of the platform’s existence, artists and intellectuals were invited to find possible answers through virtual and real dialogues in the form of artistic works, exhibitions, texts and live meetings.
Participants have analyzed what it means to construct an identity in the 21st century, focusing particularly but not exclusively on the Armenian case. Who are the Armenians anyway and how do they want to be seen by themselves and by others? Can a virtual community legitimate itself as a sustainable settlement? How meaningful is it to have partners-in-dialogue spread around the world? And is it possible to develop common goals and effective communication in virtual space?
One of the outcomes of this process is currently on display as part of the Krossings platform, a collateral event of the 53rd Venice Biennale. The artists—whose powerful commitment to the project can be seen as a metaphor for the rhizomatic construction of the transnation—propose images which do not claim to speak with one monolithic voice or to possess the solidity of nationalist symbols, but rather aim to act like various thread composing a large tapestry. Being out-of- place, dis-placed, in both geographic and symbolic ways, becomes an affirmative option for eluding the established categories which organize the production and circulation of art and knowledge in terms defined from the center and from centrifugal modes of production. As curator Estela Schindel notes: The search is not for a harbor for one’s identity but for allies in the unsheltered celebration of an emancipated flowing. Not belonging, along with the tranquilizing effect that any identifying mechanism would imply, but a perpetual longing and desiring, a mobilizing, joyful vital force.