An Essay on Obsolescence
By Mohammad Rezaei
In an interview following the release of her 2014 album Wanderlust—a departure from her signature sound—British pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor spoke of the album as “something which I really felt like I needed to do. I felt more excited than worried and liberated. I'm really not sure where I'll go from here if I'm honest. It's funny, it's the first time in ages where I'm not sure where I'll be in the next six months or with the next album.”
If we were to approach obsolescence as an evolution, how would future generations recount the discourse of art in our current time? Would they look to objects made by artists presented in the white cube, in theory a place with aspirations of opening dialogue that is instead oftentimes exclusive, classist, and routinely resisting change? Or would they look to .gifs, memes, and emoji as evidence to track the evolution of language and culture? In 2017, how important is it to make tangible objects to continue the discourse of visual art?
When I started doing research for this project, I was interested in signs made by migrant/illegal workers underneath bridges, tunnels, close to railroad tracks. Lines crossing each other, squares within squares, horizontal zigzags hold meaning of up to a full sentence, indicating the social structure of the surrounding area and its friendly/unfriendly nature. Humans decipher lines that were thought up by other humans because we find patterns within layers to seek meaning in marks.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obsolescence as “the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete.” With this exhibition, I wanted to explore the residual leftovers, the marks left after obsoletion. I look at this process as an evolution, not an end. A gradual fade to white, rather than a fade to black.
This exhibit is an attempt to define meaning within mark making from a very specific educated in the arts socio-economic point of view. It is an exploration of what is not there, more than what is there. The works presented here are process-driven and explore the depth of perception, both literal and metaphorical. They are methods of communication within a world on the brink of collapse. Each piece in its own way embodies an approach of noticing and not noticing. Justin Somjen’s photographs are layers of printed photographs and arranged objects, printed and then photographed again and again and again and again. They are optical illusions made from mass-produced objects, taken out of context when placed within the white cube. Brynn Higgins Stirrup challenges the viewer by making marks that resemble a lost language. Like an archeological discovery, these works are placed within the gallery space asking to be viewed from different angles and in one case, to even be touched. Colwyn Paddon takes the most sentimental approach here, by unthreading and re-sewing thread onto fabric bouquets found in public mourning sites. Jim Verburg takes an architectural approach to defining shadows and perception through layers. Here you are more focused on what is not there than what is there. This is accompanied by the text piece “I Forget That You’re Trying To Interpret All This As Well,” where the most literal approach to the concept is explored. Joy Nina Walker’s drawings pick up where Verburg left off. They are simplistic in nature, symmetrical, and clean. They are forms of communication formed in numbers and measurements.
When I submitted this application almost two years ago, I was younger and the world seemed like a brighter place. I longed for recognition and legitimization. More recently however, most of my thoughts are directed towards the turmoil I see in the world. I’ve been feeling that I’ve fought for something for so long now, only to come to terms with it becoming obsolete. As a queer brown person, I have come to terms with the resentment I feel when I navigate white institutions that insist on seeking their own legitimization via exhibiting what they’ve known over and over and over and over again. I wonder about the value of visual arts in this time; will visual arts be obsolete, perhaps for its inability to be enough when faced with intense aggression? Have tangible objects lost their ability to communicate the urgency of the political turmoil that has taken over the world? Perhaps to me, obsolescence is the acceptance of the inevitable.