Provenance: the press release for an exhibition in Berlin that I edited the phrasing of; memory of a self-built exhibition
A writer from the republic recently stated at a book fair that the advantage of a small country such as his was that, while its citizens have encountered many translations from other languages, they themselves have never been translated. The writer suggested that the advantage of this was the fact that citizens knew a lot about others, but not vice-versa.
In 2018 I displayed a 25 minute looping projection on the wall of a refurbished Victorian bathhouse in New Cross, London. Next to it — implanted in two, horizontal monitors — a split-screen film played with a pair of attached headphones. While both films were made in the republic, I chose not to specify the setting in either film, even purposefully mistranslating certain words or using the native-language name (which differs substantially from the English language one) to obfuscate the place.
The reason behind this was a feeling that work made in small, ’marginal’ countries — those with only a small slice in global media coverage — is typically read as a comment on the place itself; a reading that tries to establish contours for the wider conditions of the country. The medium becomes the country, filtered through film, and this medium then constitutes the primary message, which is a message unequivocally about the medium.
For uninitiated viewers, this can seem like an almost inevitable reflex. When I experience something that’s derived from something I know little about, the conduit becomes an important sign for whatever the referent might hold; even if the sign wishes to speak of something other than the context of its production, the context/geography of production emerges as the predominant referent.
By making a film that named itself in the republic, I would perhaps become a key supplier of images to whomsoever saw the piece — a responsibility I hoped to avoid, and which limited the comments I was trying to make in the film. If I had instead made films in America, a culture that has been exported worldwide, and in many iterations, the film could be in but only tangentially on.
The specificity of the nation-medium constrains its ability to cross thresholds; at the same time, the relative obscurity of the republic also invites a potential openness to associations.
People who entered the room with the projections often couldn’t locate the place within the imagery, so the republic — a country always made so aware of its own size — entered the realm of possible fantasy, the realm of being anycountrythatyoudon’tknow.
still from Avirbin Chamovirbine