Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Everything has a name, or the potential to be named

Maria Thereza Alves, Vasco Araujo, Alberto Baraya, Matthew Buckingham, Luis Camnitzer, Antonio Caro, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Jimmie Durham, Andrea Geyer, Miler Lagos, Gabriel Sierra.

1st May 2009 - 21st June 2009
Opening: Thursday 30 April, 7-9pm
Exhibition curated by Anna Colin and Catalina Lozano

Everything has a name, or the potential to be named* is a group exhibition that focuses on how European colonial powers during the 17th and 18th Centuries appropriated the natural environment in the Americas. The exhibition features works which address how organisms, land and people have been respectively classified, renamed and dislocated by generations of explorers and colonisers, as a consequence of economically and scientifically motivated expeditions by European empires to the Americas. These forms of cultural domination – from the re-naming of a region, to the classification of a medicinal plant – have left lasting legacies, which remain in common use today.
In reconsidering this history many of the artists in the exhibition critically re-appropriate such colonial interpretative systems. By examining the relationship between land, language, botany and colonialism, they reveal the imperialist quest to produce a universal index with which to perceive and tame the other and the ‘unknown’. They do so through research, documentary, film and mapping practices; via text and outdoor interventions; and by using tactics, which are often humorous, to evade or overcome determinism.

To name a few of the works shown in the exhibition: In his film Muhheakantuck – Everything has a Name, 2003, Matthew Buckingham recounts the vain expedition led by Henry Hudson in 1609 to find a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, and the encounter with Native Americans along the way. The film is a journey above the Hudson River: narrated by the artist, the script drifts from factual information to personal meditations on colonial claims to what isn’t under their control. “Everything has a name, or the potential to be named, but who does the naming when the unknown is falsely assumed not to exist?”

The Panama Canal, the delayed colonial engineering plan which, three hundred years after Hudson's crusade enabled a direct link between the two oceans, is the object of investigation of Luis Camnitzer's installation. Using archival material from newspaper articles, to letters and photographs of mostly European origin, Amanaplanacanalpanama, 1995, relates a familiar colonialist narrative of conquest on a new trade route.

Andrea Geyer's Spiral Lands / Chapter 2, 2008 investigates what constitutes one of the longest struggles for social justice in North America, namely the ongoing dispossession of lands from Indigenous people. Photographs of previously populated landscapes in the American Southwest accompany an audio lecture which combines the voices of the ethnographer, philosopher, historian and artist, both native and non-native, across time and geographies.

Alberto Baraya's Herbarium of Artificial Plants, 2001-present references 18th and 19th Century botanical expeditions and systems of classification. Borrowing from Carolus Linnaeus' taxonomic procedures, Baraya has constituted a herbarium of a few hundred specimens of artificial plants of largely Chinese production. Looking for artificial plants in some of the most fecund places on earth, Baraya points to current forms of desire in the consumption, use and ownership of nature. By using the format of the herbarium, Baraya allows for comparisons to be made with colonial approaches to the natural environment.

Anecdotes and non-academic findings further feed the imagination of artists whose works are presented in the exhibition, with humour often remaining one of the most effective strategies to approach centuries old histories whose legacy never cease to mark the present.

In the lead to the exhibition, Miler Lagos and Gabriel Sierra will complete a residency at Gasworks and produce new work for Everything has a name, or the potential to be named. Additionally, Gabriel Sierra will develop the exhibition's design and remodel Gasworks' reading area into a permanent feature of the space.* “Everything has a name, or the potential to be named, but who does the naming when the unknown is falsely assumed not to exist?” is extracted from the text of the voice-over of Matthew Buckingham's film Muhheakantuck—Everything Has a Name, 2003.
Wednesday 29 April, 5 – 7pm
Jimmie Durham and Andrea Geyer: A Conversation
Venue: Ian Gulland Lecture Hall, Goldsmiths, New Cross, London SE14 6NW
The two artists will be in conversation about their respective artistic engagement with issues of appropriation – of land, language and culture – and of the fabrication of history, resulting from colonialism and capitalist economy.
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