TEXTS UPSTREAM: THE DÃRIVE WITHIN THE IMMERSION
The text Upstream: The Dérive within the Immersion by Denise Carvalho accompanies the exhibition Upstream by Øyvind Renberg and Miho Shimizu.
Upstream explores the journey as both dérive and immersion, personal experience and imaginary critique. Øyvind Renberg and Miho Shimizu continue with their collaborative, discursive practices and travels initiated in London in the early 2000s. For the current project, the artists have contextualized the psycho-geography of tourist culture, silently joining travelers, tourists, and environmental aficionados through a program of travels across the fjords of West Norway. The entire project encompasses the travels, the landscapes, the institutions and collections visited, and the works created, observed, or re-contextualized during these travels. The project is developed in two parts, a preliminary show at Hordaland Art Centre in October 2010, including some studies for a picture scroll (but not the actual scroll), including water colors, and prints of drawings, with other previous works, such as a series of tableware and an LP created after travels to Brazil in 2007, as well as other pieces from earlier travels and residencies around the world. The completed picture scroll will be presented at Kunsthuset Kabuso, in Øystese in 2011. The scroll, structured in a traditional, Asian story format, is to be read horizontally, with interlinked narratives that follow a script developed by the artists. It contextualizes the reproductions of animals and objects from the collections they visited, nature seen along their travels, folkloric allegories, architecture and historical representations. The work can be perceived as registers of a retroactive memory, through the traces of previous experiences and through their flickering signifiers.
With the travels in West Norway, Renberg and Shimizu continue on their exploration of traveling as an act of interference with the culture of spectacle. To open up the possibilities for a more organic disturbance with the traveling process, the artists engaged in all kinds of travels, by train, boat and on foot, from Bergen to Utne along the Hardanger fjord, to Voss and back, visiting cultural institutions such as The Messen Culture House in Ålvik, The Hardanger Folk Museum, Voss Folk Museum, The Arboretum and Damsgård Manor in Bergen, and The Bergen Museum, registering artifacts from the collections through photographs, drawings and watercolors. Like a Greek procession to be collectively experienced, the exhibition in Kabuso, in Øystese, is where the audience will finally join the artists on one of the stops of the journey. This process will continue expanding to other institutions in Norway and abroad.
Renberg and Shimizu’s exhibition in Bergen reiterates earlier projects by the artists in which cannibalization of culture redefines the everyday experience of space. One of their main points of departure is the relationship between viewer, traveler and storytelling. For the artists, traveling is a performative act that allows a re-contextualization of culture and its reinsertion into the cultural circuit. Traveling is also the perpetuation of cultural exchange mechanisms through constantly formatting cultural codes. By integrating visuals and experiences that are classified within different systems of taxonomy in their works, the artists create a dissensus in the accumulation of what can be perceived, therefore reshuffling cultural signifiers. “Dissensus brings back into play both the obviousness of what can be perceived, thought and done, and the distribution of those who are capable of perceiving it, thinking and altering the coordinates of the shared world.”(1)
In relation to the Asian scroll, the traveler becomes an important agent of articulation between viewing and participating, creativity and visual stimulation. Their use of the Asian scroll – in particular the Japanese – as an important reference here highlights other strategic aspects of their work: that of organic practices of artistic production as a way to challenge cultural consumerist consensus. It serves as a matrix to rethink ideas of relationships, environmental awareness, visual perception, and performative experience. Here, storytelling can be both historically oriented and organically re-contextualized as narrative, with a beginning and an end. Their watercolors, for example, show a posthumanist narrative in which birds and animals from the region gather to help each other from drowning against a seascape of melting glaziers and majestic flaming skies, a clear critique on a manmade environmental disaster. Here animals take the role of better humans, since the lesser humans are too busy being entertained. Thus the line that divides humans and animals is blurred through semiotic entanglements. In many Asian panoramic scrolls, the journey is transformed in a poetic vision, and its point of destination is often attributed to spiritual transcendence and expansion of consciousness, therefore, even though there is a clear trajectory, there is no logical references to time. Also, spatial references in these scrolls are sometimes purely subjective, lacking any relation with linear perspective, such as in the example of The Tale of Genji, 12th century Japanese painting, produced by a team of artists. The work’s emphasis on an asymmetric, non-linear composition, and on shapes that are integrated through the use of muted colors, refers to an organic continuity that links things together. The viewing focus is from above, like the cinematic camera style of a bird-eye-view, decentering the narrative by providing multiple perspectives. In its connection to nature, it resists a diagrammatic sense of space and time. In addition, its historical pictorial information is also subjected to poetic language, determined by the subtlety of the brushstroke, and by the intermingling between form and content, defining narrative as both a fragment and a whole, both organic and symbolic. In Renberg and Shimizu’s scroll, the journey’s poetic relevance is its transitory traces and the personal redefinition of inscribed cultural codes, where watercolors and prints of drawings encompass the past and the future, the personal and the symbolic, creating in the viewer an abstract perceiver of the world.(2) The personal cultural codes in the scroll are reproductions, matrixes in the making, with their meanings renewed at each re-contextualized experience. They refer to the infinite labyrinth of Ts’ui Pên in Jorge Luis Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths. Visual language—e.g., arranged lines, colored surfaces, and hybrid texts—are also the components in the design of a communal space. It constitutes the surface of design that defines the trajectory. The real, physical experience of the journey, on the other hand, seems to come out directly from the Asian scroll. More focused on the immediacy of time and space, it redefines itself in the performativity and site-specificity of the trajectory, rather than in its reference to origin or destination. In its historical context, the journey has no school, no canon or hero; it does not contain any relation to linear developments, nor is the result of a historical event. It is an event, but an immediate one.
Traveling is itself a process of disambiguation due to its apparent continuous motion in contrast to the real stillness of the landscape. The traveler is caught in an ambiguous state, between its apparent sense of constant motion, distanced by the panoramic views that run outside its moving sight, and the particular specifics of its surrounding space.
Traveling is seen outside the expectations determined by the original space of departure or destination, outside obligatory schedules or imposed agendas, but also outside the romanticized idea of spontaneous chance. Through their travels, Renberg and Shimizu’s personal experiences become the very acts and objects of a material culture in transit. Rancière talks about the blurring of boundaries between the mechanical and the organic experiences of an information-technology culture. Although nature has become a by-product of culture, domesticated and commodified into the culture of spectacle, the ‘emancipated’ traveler is both the performer and the spectator of this culture. The traveler is the agent and the targeted audience of the tourist culture, transforming “representation into presence and passivity into activity,” proposing to integrate communitarian power and storytelling, and merging various levels of knowledge through discursive practices of being and seeing.(3)
An earlier role of the traveler was that of the witness. The romantic traveler longed for the idyllic or overwhelming nature to validate its own witnessing in the human experience. This has been greatly represented in the art of Reformation as well as in Romantic paintings by Caspar David Friedrich and I. C. Dahl. But today, it is impossible to look at nature outside of culture. Aware of this, Renberg and Shimizu subvert the concept of witnessing in their traveling experience. Witnessing becomes an opportunity to interfere with a culture that is created as it is consumed, changing its corporate ideological codes with more organic codes of human experience. Agamben states that what defines the apparatuses in current capitalism is that “they no longer act as much through the production of a subject, as through the processes of what can be called desubjectification.”(4) A culture that desubjectifies the subject is a culture without agents to change it. Perhaps, even the idea of changing culture has become camouflaged through a co-dependence with entertainment and spectacle. Renberg and Shimizu re-contextualize entertainment and spectacle through a more critical form of entertainment and spectacle, the derive within the immersion in tourist culture. The traveler, who produces its own recreational experience, rather than consuming on the readymade entertainment of the experience, destabilizes the oblivious diffractions of tourist viewing. With this duality in mind, Renberg and Shimizu’s work re-appropriates and de-appropriates cultural experiences and meanings in dialogue with the landscape, cannibalizing what they see as a part of a constantly recreated perception of what is experienced. According to Giorgio Agamben, every environment is a closed unity in itself, and the role of an informed observer would be to carry the environmental marks of significance, expanding the codes of meaning through new discursive potentials. This process of cannibalization has become strategic in Renberg and Shimizu’s work, in which every aspect of a culture is redefined by their act of personalizing it. In numerous works, they appropriate ideas, processes, titles, and meanings, emphasizing an organic and dynamic aspect of culture that is always in a state of inscription and erasure, like a cultural hypertext constructed by images, sounds, experiences, encounters, people, spaces, etc., always reproducing the very act of its own production, leaving in the form of new links, points, lines, and even empty spaces the permanent traces of the journey.
(1 ) Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, p. 49, London, New York, Verso, 2009.
(2) Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, p. 91.
(3) Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, p. 22.
(4) Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? p. 20, Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 2009.
Denise Carvalho is a Brazilian-born artist, art critic, independent curator and scholar who lives and works in New York City. She holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies, an M.A. in art history from University of California, and an MA in cultural anthropology from Hunter College (NYC), as well as a BFA from School of Visual Arts (NYC). She has published widely in art magazines and journals such as Sculpture, Flash Art, Art Papers NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art, Journal of Art & Society, Cover, Review, Art in America, Art Nexus, and Afterimage, as well as in several Brazilian and European publications.