ZiNlicht#1 <Beheaded/Between>

Installation by Carlos Andrade and Todd Ayoung/NY

The following interview was conducted via email, meant to accompany the exhibition and to communicate 'beheaded/between' via a poster to the local audience in Zwaanshals.

Todd Ayoung=TA
Daniela Swarowsky=DS

DS: First I want to pose the more simple questions: How did the idea of 'beheaded' came to mind?

TA: Conceptualized out of the growing media interest around beheading's. We felt that the real issues were being side tracked by this fear-creating spectacle. For us the real issue was US imperialism (and that of US allies) and the growing political machines' detachment from the body politic of those being governed. Maybe this is a sign of the implosion of the nation-state by globalism's explosion. But this globalism is one sided. Nationalism appears to be strong, but it is only peaking before burning out. The return of the repressed of religion and ethnic passions seems to be taking its place, because Western liberal politics is reaching its limits and has to change. So we looked at beheadings as a symptomatic metaphor (conflated, image making is always a form of conflation) of the detachment of political heads, from the body politic of the people.

DS: In which historical moment did u conceive the piece?

TA: As stated above, the moment is around the growing media obsessions around beheadings, and ultimately, since the US invasion of Iraq we wanted to question US foreign policy through our artwork.

DS: Can you show a piece like 'beheaded' in the US?

TA: A variation was shown recently at the art school gallery of Cooper Union in NYC. This was a political art show and Cooper is known as a progressive art school. This included Bin Laden as one of the three light box images. Even the NY Times put the images up on there art review web site.

DS: Did u encounter strong reaction of any kind through showing in 'beheaded' images of president Bush, as well as other political figures?

TA: Unfortunately, political art in the US is mostly viewed in alternative settings, to the already converted, and so does not receive much attention at institutions that really can create a wider discussion. People and artists in general in the US are pretty cynical politically and disengaged.

We have received good reactions regarding the pieces. In fact, a French TV film company doing a piece on radical politics in the US filmed the pieces during the lecture at Cooper that accompanied the show.
Our strongest reaction came during the review of the pieces for the Ghent show by one of the Experimental Intermedia directors. She asked us to pull the Islamic heads (Bin Laden, Saddam and Arafat) for fear of vandalism in this Turkish community. She said that the show would be canceled if we did not change some of the heads. We ultimately changed some of the heads for Colombian rebels. We felt the pieces still maintained the key issues around opposition and imperialism.

DS: In my reading, the title 'beheaded' also refers to the Iraq war and the execution of American and other Western 'intruders'. Can u explain?

TA: Yes, this piece is ultimately directed at US global politics, which in the end governs how the world is being directed to act, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

DS: In Zwaanshals, the location of the exhibition, among others many Muslims will pass by the exhibit of 'beheaded'. What's your message to them?

TA: We hope "they" (I imagine this is not a homogenous group) perceive that the leaders/rebels are there layered behind Bush, as opposing forces to this regime.

These are people Bush sees, to use his childish politics, as "evil doers". Of course it is more complicated than that for us as artist. These opposition leaders like Bush can also stumble into separating their heads if they stray, from the body politic of those they represent. Imagine Rene Girard's (French anthropologist) image of two people fighting on a hilltop in hand-to-hand combat. The light is fading as the sun goes down, at which point the spectators cannot tell who is who.

DS: What was the most satisfying response you got on this piece?

TA: The fact people in general are disturbed/moved by these familiar, in many ways, over-determined images, which become uncanny in the doubling process. Someone remarked to us once, that nobody would want these heads hanging on their living room walls. To us the piece is about discomfort with current global politics as usual, not about aesthetics.

DS: Did u experiencing people misunderstanding your piece? Please explain why

TA: Images are inherently about conflation of real issues, therefore always prone to being misread. But we hope the pieces throw some "light" on the subjects, getting the spectator to question their point of view, even if it is only a temporary shift in perspective. Also, these pieces have a life beyond us, which also opens a space for us to question our point of view, as the discussions grow. We do not think that art can change the world, but it is an important aspect of the equation to generate discussion, which can be very messy sometimes, but necessary.

DS: Both of you have a background as migrants, coming at different points of you life to the US. How is this background influencing your work?

TA: It helps us see US history and context with one foot in and the other out. We do not buy into the blind patriotism and growing fear of difference.

DS: In your text you refer to the term 'empire', which refers in my reading to Western/US hegemony, the rise of neo-liberalism/capitalism and thus globalization. The images of broken glass and the global power-games seen through this image also evoke 9/11.

TA: Yes, your reading of the piece is correct. We do think imperialism is still a residual aspect of the equation, but the situation became much more complicated under post-Fordism/global capitalism/ neo-liberalism/9-11, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Empire is William Appleman Williams and Hardt and Negri readings of Late Capitalism, US style.

DS: You talk in your text about media representation and which of the portraits dominate. Well, sure, Bush, Bin-Laden and Saddam stick out the most. Chavez can be depicted and he's not Bush's friend either. The two Africans I don't know, which is probably what you want to show: where the focus of world politics/media representation lies and which parts of the world stay in the shadow.

TA: I like this interpretation of the pieces.

DS: In your text you state:"...These citizens, migrants, illegals as well as refugees stand outside in "public" space looking into a "private" space - a space that seems even harder to access…." Well, that's right! In our 'case' here in Zwaanshals this even more applies. The space where the new ZinLicht series opens with your piece 'beheaded' is one of the newly gentrified houses, where I, the white artist, gets free access to the space, whereas the poor migrant stands outside and doesn't. This even has this one more layer to it. But well, how to communicate this 'directly' to the migrants/illegals/refugees, who will stand in front of the window, without falling into the dichotomy of 'them' and 'us' and talking too much on a meta-level?

TA: Yes you are right again, but we see this dualism as a necessary confrontation, hopefully leading to another threshold. At some point, this dualism implodes once (in the best of cases) and the "outsiders" realize that even the "insiders" who are also looking in, are also imprisoned (obviously, in different ways) by their dependence and limits on the global power game.

DS: I'm citing from your text: ".... the difficulty of access to the private space of political power is multiplied by the additional visual obstacles of light boxes on the windows containing images of walls crowned with broken glass." So you're talking of exclusion and inclusion - the broken glass symbolizing the Fortress Europe/ the Western world.

TA: Ultimately, it started as something closer to home, personal. Both Carlos and I noticed that the use of glass crowned walls were common in the Third World (Colombia and Trinidad, countries of origin), where it is cheaper than using bard wire. These walls are common to rich families wanting to keep the poor out, off their property. We thought it was an appropriate image to how the marginal of any society sees itself in relation to dominant the culture/group.
The broken glass is less sanitized than the bard wire. The broken glass also reminds us of a city landscape. Cities are turning into forts once again:
Read Mike Davis' take on the urban landscape of the US, especially Los Angeles ("Beyond Blade Runner: Urban Control, The Ecology of Fear", 1992)

Also the broken glass, which is infront of the spectator, as they stare into the space pass the glass to identify heads, can also create the feeling of being cut or portenially beheaded.

Ingekort interview NL: KLIK HIER / download pdf

General exhibition text and bios: CLICK HERE