“I am a leisure society, I travel, I walk on sandy beaches; bathe my spoiled body in warm blue waters of exotic resorts. I can feel my leisure grow, feel my need for it complete. I have my democratic right to leisure, and if I can vote more of it, buy more of it I will. It is my desire to exercise my right to free expression." Afshin Matlabi [i] Afshin Matlabi does not claim to be apolitical. He tackles the political with a sense of dark and satirical humour that would have us question our position as stakeholders in a society that allows, indeed promotes and celebrates, leisure as a mainstay of economies, both inside and outside our location as political beings and occupiers of a democratic body. Many living within privileged democratic societies have the luxury of leisurely vacations in exotic places; indeed, some even expect this as part of that right. But in the age of hyperrealism, it becomes nearly commonplace to disregard or minimize events that do not seem to have a direct effect on everyday lived experience (unless, of course, we hail from elsewhere, or have friends/family that do).[ii] Matlabi’s works can be understood in this context: he deals with the interlinkages between warfare, nationhood, leisure, and terrorism. Ballistic Missile Outing 2 contains an image of a missile and pear-shaped Caucasian man and a woman flying/or swimming through what could either be read as water or sky - if not for the reference to the ground space with its miniature trees. The couple glides comfortably, if not leisurely, alongside the missile, apparently not out of place in this unlikely situation. Paradoxically we can inhabit through virtual space the experiences of those in vastly different places and cultures than our own, not unlike the couple swimming aside the missile. It appears that the missile and couple occupy the same space – or ideology. The interlocking of these activities – terror and relaxation - reference privileged societies dependency on resources from elsewhere, which at times is accomplished through and under existing global power relations. Within these structures, leisure as expendable time could not exist if not for the other. In Four Cuban Impressions (video), a man is seen running into the idyllic turquoise waters of a gently rolling tide. The word Cuba is lingered on, not spoken quickly, but rather with longing as it is stretched out as the lone male figure runs eagerly into the water. Implying that the word itself has the power to realize the place of longing. The figure never completely makes it across the screen, but is cut abruptly out of the frame. The exotic vacation is an idealization of an experience that is untethered from the everyday. Whether or not it is completely enjoyed does not belie that other events make such a fantasy possible – tourism is a business and it is available to a minority of the global population.[iii] The horizon line in the work does not end in land, but more water, further fantasy – therefore the place the figure heading is ambiguous, and unattainable. In an inequitable world, Virilio writes that all war is economic – race, religion and so on, are only the justification for engaging in conflict.[iv] Further, war is still fought over territory, using the new tools that allow for the process of globalization.[v] Thus virtual space and fast travel only allow the illusion of shrinking territories. Planned vacations (travel) for the privileged are constructed to create the utmost for those seeking the tropical paradise experience.[vi] This activity usually foregoes interactions with the local as one is there to engage with a fantasy, forming a bond with the idealized and the romanticized vision of paradise – and if affordable, a return visit. Globalization as the new world order is a condition that has real effects. It can be either defined as having a homogenizing effect, flattening out differences or shrinking place onto the flat screen of the Internet or video screen. Smart bombs that only cause chaos for the intended targets, making it seemingly manageable for governments who should end up with limited causalities. Conversely, it can have a partitioning effect by creating greater divides as it allows for regional or territorial groups, access to the same information technologies that were thought to break down boundaries.[vii] National Anthems (video) captures moments of the artists face as he strains for words as he sings the theme songs for different countries. His face is caught at moments that appear hilarious, even painful – mouth puckered, or eyes half shut. The works appears to mock the ideology of Nationhood as it serves to create cohesion, it can also create boundaries and protectionism. Matlabi states that abstract art is non political.[viii] I would diverge from Matlabi on this point. Abstract art, it could be argued, is political – it was made by a particular culture that could allow for flights of fancy – separating and elevating art to an elite status – because it has the means through education (western) and economy to do so. As abstract art can be argued as political, so can acts of compliancy within the divergences of global culture.[ix] Matlabi’s work is full of complexities, and he makes us aware that real bodies are the sites that economies are enacted upon, whether through pleasure of the vacation or the horrific reality of warfare. The viewer is not confronted with obvious messages that speak in a sanctimonious manner; rather Matlabi speaks to the viewer through humor that reveal tendencies of the human creatures that we are. Leanne L’Hirondelle
Terrorism, Democracy, Leisure
Friday, March 6, 2009 to Saturday, April 11, 2009Opening
[i] Ashin Matlabi, Artist Statement, 2003 [ii] Ibid. “The experience is to manage the desires of paradise within the knowledge of hell. It feed culture, industry, and I am its always participant, most frequent user. I see disasters, I desire in a paradise resorts”, [iii] Ibid. Matlabi quotes a line from a Sandals Resort catalogue in his artist statement “It is a dream as old as time, every moment is rich with a thousand delights to make you happy as you have ever been. It is to escape to the world o dreams, to create your own magical paradise” [iv] Virilio, Paul, and Sylvere Lotringer, Pure War, New York: Semiotext(e), 1997. [v] Pieterse Nedereveen Jan, “Globalization, Terrorism and Kitsch”, Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 9, No.1 (March 2002), pp. 1-36. [vi] Matabli, Artist Statement– description from the brochure for his planned Cuba vacation. [vii] Pieterse Nedereveen Jan, “Globalization, Terrorism and Kitsch”, Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 9, No.1 (March 2002), pp. 1-36. [viii] Akimbo interview, Matlabi, Afshin. "Hit List." Akimbo 03 Feb 2009 15 Feb 2009 http://www.akimbo.biz/hitlist/?id=29 [ix] Abstract art was based on a particular canon of discourse, part of which questioned the validity of realism – thus it was to mark the end of painting and the work was hence freed from the object/subject.
- Saturday, March 7, 2009