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"Unmaking the Code"
curated by: Chris Vroom and Illya Szilak from the Exhibtion "Invitation Only 2" mounted at Kinz Feigen Tillou / Summer 2008.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

In the 21st century, the creation, reading and validation of codes is no longer restricted to a divine power or even to the upper classes. Traditional narratives (propagated by religious, educational, or political institutions) have been replaced with ones based on individual consumer taste and preference. With the proliferation of media sites and the development of electronic modes of distribution, otherwise ephemeral narratives can not only be mass-produced, but also globally propagated. 

And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

The artists in this exhibition do not dismantle or destroy codes as much as they reveal our desire for these structures. They do not "break" the code (there is no final "aha" moment when all becomes clear) nor do they completely repudiate the utility of these narratives. Rather, they place the viewer in the uneasy position of having to decide how to read a code that an artwork has unmade. 

So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.

In re-envisioning paintings from the art historical canon in a time-based medium using female artists as models, Mary Ellen Strom not only undermines the male gaze that defines and codifies "femininity," she also subverts a more general scopic desire to capture, objectify and thereby control that which exists only in the flow of time. 

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

Language is perhaps the foremost manifestation of the human desire to organize, stabilize and communicate the ineffable breadth and motion of lived experience. In writing his father's signature repeatedly, Matthew Sontheimer takes language to its logical endpoint. Here, name is reduced to mere decoration even as the elusive meaning of that name drives the compulsive iteration of it. 

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

If we keep with our original narrative, the next form of coding is knowledge. Suzanne Treister unmakes the cold rubric of the NATO supply classification system with the gestural intimacy of her watercolors. Not only does she gently point out the absurdity of a project where everything from "Boogie Woogie" shoes to grenade launchers has its assigned place, in refashioning the code artistically, she asks readers to choose between a static, rule-based narrative and a human one. 


When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

The Googlification of knowledge includes the Googlification of sentiment. The most popular ones will always rise to the top. BRENT HOFF takes on kitsch-those threadbare narratives that act as dumb, mechanical generators of feeling. Using shots familiar to all of us from television drama and documentary, Hoff disorients us. Expecting one thing, we find another-- far more complex and problematic. How do we read a snow-dome of falling bodies? How do we read a rainbow? 

And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." 

Reading code is an inherently political act. In so far as it reinforces or subverts the narrative laid out or explicated by that code, it becomes a de facto act of codification or rebellion. None of the works in this exhibition is overtly political, but in revealing and altering established narratives, they make us aware of our desire for stable, familiar codes and our complicity in maintaining these. Juliana Spahr's poem "Nature Poetry 2" reveals the relationship between patterns found in natural forms and language. She unmakes the code by translating her poetry through Alta Vista's Babel Fish program thereby maintaining the algorithmic quality of language while confusing the meaning. In doing so, she undermines the utopian aspect of language, exposing the fragility of our attempts to contain or supercede the world. 

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

If even the most ancient codes: genetic, linguistic, epistemological are not fixed, what are we to make of life? These works suggest that, when the code is unmade, what we glimpse is not a primordial entropic state, but rather the inescapability of mediated existence. When the code is unmade, what remains of the world is poetry.

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