Pouring Into an Array of Characters
Chiara Fumai, Omsk Social Club, Tabita Rezaire, Saya Woolfalk
17 May–23 June 2019
Galerie im Turm
curated by Lena Johanna Reisner and Sylvia Sadzinski
Pouring into an Array of Characters was an exhibition about forms of connectedness and exchange with both the here and now and the otherworld. With artworks by Chiara Fumai, Omsk Social Club, Tabita Rezaire and Saya Woolfalk, Galerie im Turm was turned into a spiritual lounge where elements of science fiction, occultism, meditation and play came together.
The double meaning of the word “character” refers not only to people, but also to fictional or abstract figures, letters and symbols. While Chiara Fumai acts as a medium in her works and makes contact with historical, often marginalized female figures, Omsk Social Club uses methods of Live Action Role Play and Real Game Play to create social situations in which players can explore fictions or potential realities.
Saya Woolfalk creates a fictional, symbiotic species, which suspends dichotomies in its hybrid universe. Beyond Western thought traditions, Tabita Rezaire investigates connectivity and dynamic networks in technological, spiritual and biological respects. Pouring into an Array of Characters questioned common rationalist notions of reality. How can we create an open space to redefine our existence in relation to the world?
In her video work The Book of Evil Spirits, Chiara Fumai channels the Italian spiritualist Eusapia Palladino (1854–1918), who was known for her skills as a medium. Fumai – as Eusapia Palladino – sits at a table with bound eyes while a voice-over reports of a seance from September 26, 1896.1 The theatrical, almost anachronistic setting is highlighted via the presence of typical instruments such as, for example, an ouija board and a crystal ball. Alternating between active writing, sitting with still hands, or leaning doll-like to the side, Palladino remains seated for the entire time.
Chiara Fumai, however, appears in a series as Annie Jones, Zalumma Agra, Ulrike Meinhof and as a fourth person – all figures that merge through a simple superimposition with the image of Palladino, speaking of simultaneous presences and the activity of the medium. Zalumma Agra (Star of the East) performed from 1865 in P.T. Barnum’s freak shows, where she was romanticised in a racist manner as a woman of the Caucasus. In ‘The Book of Evil Spirits’ she embodies a – literally – evil spirit, a voice capable of entering into the consciousness of another person as a destructive force. Cynical and entirely untouched by any form of political correctness of the 21th century, she lampoons the guiding principles of second-wave feminism of the 1970s. Ulrike Meinhof, too, turns critically and aggressively against a female figure: Farah Pahlavi, who was throned in 1967 as the last Persian empress.
Fury, rage and resistance form a forceful motif in The Book of Evil Spirits. While Zalumma Agra and Ulrike Meinhof vehemently interrupt the framing narrative with their monologues, Annie Jones’ contributions take on the role of a constructive amendment. Annie Jones, the bearded woman, is a familiar figure in Chiara Fumai’s artistic oeuvre. Like Zalumma Agra, she performed as an actress in the circus of P.T. Barnum. In one prolonged moment, Jones reads from a report about Eusapia Palladino that repeatedly emphasises the way she used sexual charms to seduce those scientists who doubted her spiritualist practice. It was known, for example, that Palladino’s supporters, Charles Richet and Cesare Lombroso, were also to sleep with her.
In this report, Palladino is represented as a diabolical temptress who dismantles orderly scientific thought with her feminine sexuality. Questions of power and powerlessness, as well as the attribution of assumed meaning, gain contour in light of the fact that Palladino herself was illiterate – at the same time relating to the statements and biographies of the figures she conjures up. Legibility is thematised in passages that are recited in sign language, as Chiara Fumai spells out: “With my violence against ideology.”
Omsk Social Club
The works of Omsk Social Club are games that can be activated independently by visitors to the gallery. Card decks with questions and concepts can be found on the back of the works ‘TheSocial Novel’, ‘Love Cry’ and ‘A Memetic Zone’, as well as precious stones that serve as tokens for the game. While the latter are attributed with specific properties, or linked to characters listed on an information sheet, the viewer searches in vain for instructions. Instead we are invited to define the rules of the game: to invent its mechanism together. The players decide when tokens are moved, or when a card might be drawn. Without a pre-defined aim, the players are also the ones who collectively determine the game’s beginning and end. While arious concepts and symbols on the gameboards carry direct associations, others must be afforded meaning. These serve as an invitation for personal stories and conversations, while also demanding that narrative decisions be made on an individual level: Who am I? What do I tell? Who do I want to be?
With their super-saturated aesthetic, which references both digital space and corporal emotion, these works contribute towards forming a social situation. From an almost anarchist lawlessness, a community might emerge in which the dichotomy between reality and fiction is increasingly called into question. The substance of the work therefore does not play out on the gameboard. Instead, the focus shifts to the collective negotiation of rules, communication and sharing as well as individual experiences. Each game played is singular. The work plays out within those who experience it. The players themselves become the work. When does the game begin, and when do we begin to embody someone else?
Recommendations on how to play Omsk Social Club’s Games:
Lift down the board, take out all the pieces and spend a moment just watching.
Then begin to understand what you are drawn too, start placing the stones where you feel intutively they should lie, you can move them as many times as you want. Once they are set you can begin to pull cards lay them on the board where you feel they should be. Some card packs have instructions but feel free to negate them.
Let your mind wander in this act, whatever comes to your mind’s eye is what you are supposed to see. Stay as long as you want with the board, then return all the pieces and hang it back up to close your session.
Zen, Speed, Organic
3 Lifestyle diets
The video work ‘Premium Connect’ is a collage, or rather a mashup, of various visual forms. Tabita Rezaire connects formal elements from television programmes and games, digital renderings, visualisations of technical circuits and academic theories, graphics from the Microsoft universe, and text messages, combining them with iconic shell-like forms, minerals and sculptures, as well as divination boards, chains and shells from the Yoruba people in southwest Africa. In this way, the focus lies on connectivity in a technological, physical, ecological, cosmological, and spiritual sense.
The Ifá divination is a key instrument in the religion of the Yoruba for accessing unknown information from the past, the present, and the future. It is based on an extensive textual body, and is activated via a process that involves various elements – including mathematics. ‘Premium Connect’ traces the extent to which the theory of binary code of modern computation systems finds its beginnings in the system of the Ifá divination, which since the 12th century has spread from the African continent to the Latin-speaking world, where it was taken up by mathematicians and philosophers.
In ‘Premium Connect’, Tabita Rezaire also quotes scenes from the first film of the Matrix trilogy, in which Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) explains to the shaken Neo (Keanu Reeves) that the reality in which he lives is a simulation. In the framework of a podium discussion in the American Museum of Natural History, the question of whether the universe is a simulation is teased out from a scientific perspective. Rezaire remixes a memorable and widely shared section in which the physician Sylvester James Gates explains the extent to which equations used to describe the cosmos are similar to binary computer codes.2
As a mashup, ‘Premium Connect’ reveals structural analogies between networks of various types, thematising the evolution of scientific-mathematical theories from religious systems for interpreting the world. Through this, commonplace projections of reality are called into question, not only by drawing attention to our contact with a range of immaterial information technologies, but also by posing the underlying question of whether the material dimension of the world is, in fact, so exclusively and definitively real as is assumed.
In her video works The Empathics and Utopian Conjuring Therapy, Saya Woolfalk creates an imaginary and futuristic utopia of complete cultural hybridity, in which subjects relate perfectly to one another and understand themselves to be a community.
In The Empathics, a being appears in white clothing decorated with white petals and a painted face. Motionless, the being gazes directly into the camera. Its lips do not move; despite this, we receive a narrative of the story of the Empathics, after which the film is named. As in a conventional ethnographic narrative, the story begins with a voiceover, which reports of the origin of the so-called Institute of Empathics, and the evolution of the Empathic species itself. With multiple minds and brains, these are described as a hybrid species between humans and plants. The silence and motionlessness of the being’s mouth indicates that a more developed form of communication with the public is at play here. The Institute of Empathics serves as an archive of the culture of Empathics, and as a research body in which this form of life might be investigated and further developed. Here, the researchers and researched are one and the same. While the English concepts of “empathic” and “empathetic” have similar meanings, in everyday life they are used differently. “Empathetic” refers to the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others and act according to one’s sense of compassion. “Empathic”, however, has a more mystical meaning, referring to the ability to channel the feelings or experiences of another person in order to initiate a transformative process.
In Utopian Conjuring Therapy, an empathic being stands at the end of a table holding a tablet. On the table, ornamented bones can be found, which begin to move and take form. It appears that they are being controlled by the tablet, embedding technology in folkloric elements. This assists the Empathics in reaching a dream-like state, from which they access a
higher stage of consciousness.
After spending a long period in Brazil, Woolfalk began to develop a future world in her works, in which living beings are part plant, part human, and can change gender-based and ethnic affiliations fluidly. Who might we be – and who might we become? Woolfalk’s work is an aesthetic, cultural, and sociological investigation into hybridity and belonging. Applied to migratory processes, hybridity refers to the simultaneous agency of subjects in diverse cultural systems. In this sense, new cultural articulations and socialities emerge and develop into hybrid cultural identities. Through her Empathics, Woolfalk investigates the possibilities and borders of belonging, as well as utopian embodiments and transformations. Her call for empathy can be understood as an answer to current processes of social exclusion, differentiation, and intolerance. At the same time, Woolfalk’s Empathics comment on methods of ethnographic research, which often contribute to the manifestation of cultural differences in anthropology.
- Hereward Carrington: Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena (B.W. Dodge and Company: New York, 1909); available via: https://archive.org/stream/eusapiapalladino1909carr/eusapiapalladino1909carr_djvu.txt.
- Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Is the Universe a Simulation, 2016, hosted by the American Museum of Natural History, complete record of the debate is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgSZA3NPpBs.
16/05 | 7-11 pm
Opening with tarot readings by Morgan Hasenfuß and a collective gaming session
21/05 | 6 pm – midnight
Tulpa Tracing Event with Omsk Social Club
20/06 | 7-9 pm
Galactic Interconnections. How the Stars and Planets Weave us into a Whole
Performative lecture by Zoe Mercury
Translations: Sonja Hornung
Proofing: Richard Pettifer
Technical team: Claudio Aguirre, Nicolás Gómez, Carolina Redondo
The artists and the curators furthermore wish to thank the team of Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien and Galerie im Turm, namely Stéphane Bauer, Ferdinand Gieschke, Johann Hackspiel, Daniel Noack, Nadia Pilchowski, Bayan Sharoof and Malena Vogt, as well as the exhibition guards and mediators; for the loans: The Church of Chiara Fumai, Goodman Gallery, and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
With the kind support of Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa: Ausstellungsfonds Kommunale Galerien, Fonds Ausstellungsvergütungen für bildender Künstlerinnen und Künstler. Galerie im Turm is an institution of the district office Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.