Iara Boubnova

Double Bind

Double Bind
title: Double Bind
year: 2003
place: Vienna; Sofia
publisher: Springerin, Vienna; ICA-Sofia, Sofia
language: english
author(s): Iara Boubnova
source: Double Bind, 2003, Vienna, Sofia: Springerin, ICA-Sofia
colaborators: in cooperation with the "Days of Vienna" in Sofia 2002

The Double Bind project is a meeting of conflicting messages that travel back and forth between cities, artists, and audiences. It is a “gesture of good will” aimed at sharing experiences originating from the home cities of the participating artists, Vienna and Sofia: cities as similar and different as any two European capitals can be. The mutual recognition of the participants in the project was simply a result of the background they share – they are artists who live in large capital cities. They speak about different things in similar ways, and about similar things in different ways. The show is a mosaic of fragments that come together according to the “double bind” logic of the phenomenon familiar to us from the field of psychology. It sends out conflicting messages, yet a common language is established while subduing the different contexts from which the artists come. They share an affinity for paradox and paradoxical vision, where one may be looking without actually seeing and vice versa. They reveal examples of “double bind” in their surrounding environments.

The most direct “double bound” work in the show is probably that of Stefan Nikolaev. It conveys the story of a chance meeting in a city park between the meditating protagonist and an intruder who wants to bring the story of her life into his private space. It is a simple story, but inaccessible for the viewer/reader. The work includes several digital clock faces that count time simultaneously and provide the time frame for the story. Depending on when the viewer encounters the work, the time frame may shift from A.M. to P.M.. The meeting in the park may have happened repeatedly starting at any moment during a given day. Over and over again, the clocks indicate the reality of the fragmentary yet actual event. The narration and the work acquire the quality of a mythological story about the cycles of time. It is not clear why, where, or what; it is just clear that the event took place and that the text is written on behalf of culture and life in a state of non-progressive flux. The language of the story is Bulgarian, but the script uses Latin letters in the way they occur in e-mails and SMS. The language and the script are in a type of double bind relationship into which they invite the viewer.

The textual narration in the work of the artist group Klub Zwei is at the opposite end of the double bind spectrum. It is also a work about memory, but the text, the story, seems to be written on behalf of history. The viewer is reminded of events and occurrences that are at the same time factual and concrete, yet too detailed to read in a textbook. The language, the words, the memory are related to layers of real historical fact. The new narration about something one suspects might have happened but is not really sure is meant to function as a reminder and a warning. The fragmentary substance of the facts that are provided in insistent cyclic repetitions extends memory usage. Historical fragments are filtered through the current “face” of harmony and peace in order to disturb and renew consciousness.

In the 35-min-long videotape of Ivan Moudov, people are relieving themselves behind a garbage container in the French city of Nantes. At first glance, this is quite simple – in every city, there is at least one secluded spot where nature takes precedence over culture. Yet the observer is an artist who has just arrived from Eastern Europe in a, let’s say, anonymous Western city. The artist has come with a set of expectations only to find this strange kind of behavior by people of all ages and races, from both sexes. Naturally, his expectations of finding the order, beauty, and cleanliness of the civilized West that he had been conditioned to expect are betrayed. He is trying to make sense of what he is observing, and initially took nearly 5 hours of video before he figured it out. At the end, he feels much better. What he has seen in the new foreign place makes it familiar and homey.

Andreas Fogarasi deals with the type of situation where too much meaning invested into a progressive leftist political idea and organization turns into its opposite – the social hypocrisy of the leftist party’s image and corporate activity. “Antiracism has to become fashionable”; this slogan from Vienna is a typical example of what he has found. Progressive urban ideas have appropriated the language of fashion and large corporations, while at the same time losing in integrity. For instance, Oscar Niemeyer has built the headquarters of the French Communist Party in Paris just as he has built numberless corporate headquarters and museums. The perverse logic of power and fighting for power is a double bind for the person who believes in integrity. The radical idea is becoming a corporate logo, and, in a parallel to Ivan Moudov’s work, Fogarasi’s expectations are betrayed at the front door. One wonders how many more such revealing fragments could be found.

One may have lived for years in a certain city, but still only have a fragmented personal knowledge about it. People establish their own specific ways of moving around and know only those parts of the city that they have made their habitat. What exactly this habitat is depends on who these people are. It is impossible to know and use the whole city. On the level of the individual and the single artist, the factual and physical knowledge of the surrounding environment is always fragmented. One can assume that all people who live together in the same city develop a certain intuition about their surroundings. That is why common life is possible. It is actually this shared intuition about the entirety of an environment that creates its wholeness. This is the logic of city life. It is also the reason why one can perceive the wholeness of the city in its fragments. It is also why “Double Bind” is a show of fragments that come together because of the shared intuition of the artists about the common background of their works.

Dorit Margreiter is desperately trying to find some sort of lively meaning and emotion behind the architectural settings where people she interviews live: in the city of Los Angeles. Her city is clean and beautifully designed, but boring, too orderly, and anonymous. In her city, life at home is just like life in the office, except instead of going to work, you just happen to live there.

The message is that cities are what they are, but that there are few alternatives. So one is choosing the lesser evil... The question is what kind of an effect that has on the people who live in such environment.

In contrast, the videotapes with found footage by Lisl Ponger are extremely romantic and picturesque. Collected from abandoned family archives, full of plain and simple human drama, the tapes tell the private stories of people no one is able to identify anymore. There are characters but no storyteller; the individual in the story is lost. Thus, these stories tend to be universal rather then concrete, even though the places are identifiable. One possible suggestion is that cities are those places where people go to in order to get away from other cities...

Boryana Dragoeva’s photographs are quite dramatic, picturesque, but romantic as well. However, the scenes are staged and the theatricality of the action verges on the plain macabre. Here, violence and glamour clash in a strange way, while making it clear that, if nothing else, the main character is the new type of urban woman. However, there is no visible logic in the actions depicted in the photographs. There is the ultimate double bind of unexplainable desires and fears, deadly rage and heavenly pleasure, which can all be experienced at the same time in the urban context.

The most fragmented work in a show of double bound fragments is the cycle of photographs by Rassim. These are revealing fragments of the thing that he desires the most but has not yet been able to get: the power of the unfulfilled desires... The hand caressing the side of the beloved yellow car, the gas hose going into the tank, the glove, and the shining rag: these are all fetish giveaways that signify a lack. The car is a substitute for something else but the fragments do not make it clear, for what. Maybe Rassim just loves luxurious cars in general. For the time being, however, he is ready to settle for the 1972 (the model is from the
year when the artist was born) yellow Bertone.

According to the logic of fragments, Double Bind used three different venues in the city of Sofia. Irida Gallery, ATA Center for Contemporary Art and XXL Gallery usually represent different aspects and artists of contemporary art in Bulgaria. They are also located in different parts of the city with distinct characteristics. The three galleries were for the first time integrated within one project. Thus, in order to see the show one needed to walk around the city to different locations, taking different routes without any predetermined logic. In a natural way, the city environment became part of the whole project. Although the city is not the focus of attention for all the artists in the show, the urban environment in its various aspects of double bound disturbances and projections is the natural backbone of the project.

Pravdoliub Ivanov’s installation “Confusion” sets out to trigger the double bind into the gallery space. Because of the perfect mounting of the pieces of carpet where they should not be, one is not quite sure if the white cube of the gallery has disturbed the coziness of the home or the coziness has interfered with the white cube. Both are artificial, both are simulating their own selves. The only real thing in the installation – the handmade half-centimetre slot between the floor and the walls – is a trompe l’oeil killer of an artist’s touch that is loaded with references to all the kinds of confusing non-functional rudiments any real environment is full of.

Daniela Kostova’s videotape is about a guided tour around the city of Sofia that a number of travel agencies offer to foreign tourists. However, one cannot actually see the city in the tape because of the wide, black stripe that block 95 % of the image. One can only hear the sound and piece together the little fragments. The tour is subordinated to the logic of the city. However, it is also subordinated to the specific logic of the local inferiority complex with its tendency to always point out sites that are supposed to be the biggest, the most beautiful, or the oldest. Unintentionally, one compares the information provided by the guide’s voice with the live visual impressions from the city. There is the double bind – the tour is not about what one can see but about something else that the guide wants to implant in the tourist. The artist is directing the attention of the viewer to the dumb ideology of self-righteous provinciality.

Florian Pumhösl investigates the modern city’s architectural appeal. He locates and documents the appearance of urban features and structures where there should not be and cannot be any city. The power of the shiny office building is so strong that it affects even places that are greatly distanced from modern cities. The beauty of modern architecture is such that it interacts freely with the wildest African landscape. Nature and culture are equally beautiful, equally confusing in their partnership of appearances. One wonders whether in 500 years time the modern architectural constructions in equatorial Africa will look the same as the Mayan and Inca pyramids in Mexico look now.

Josef Dabernig’s film “WARS” relates with unbelievable detail one particularly senseless action. There is a train and it is moving, but the movement is entirely abstracted and closed in on itself – it is not clear where the train is going and why, there is neither a starting point nor a destination. There are people doing something. The filmed action is taken out of real logic; it is empty of motivation and purpose; it is a fragment from a narrative, which can never be associated with anything else. One waits for the building suspense to bring about at least a fist fight between the characters, but that never happens. One waits for some recognizable details from the environment to flash through the train windows, but that does not happen either, so the viewer is left suspended in a no space/no time situation. The disturbed or missing concrete characteristics of the film make it impossible for the viewer to have a sense of orientation, or draw conclusions. The fragment is elevated here to a leading principle in a strangely self-sufficient and real, yet mystifying work.

Just as Rassim is not able to clarify the ultimate object of his desires, and just as Dabernig leaves the viewer to wonder about the story in his film, the show Double Bind is neither about building up a logical succession, nor about providing conclusive statements. These endless fragments are not motivated by any external factors. The justification comes from the fragments themselves inasmuch as the artists have decided to see and express their concerns in this way. Because the artist is a double bound figure by definition. He/she is at the same time a receiver of conflicting messages, and a source of such messages, somebody whose attitude tends to question rather then conform to the outside world. The messages that an artist sends out into the world often contribute to the escalation rather than to the soothing of the double bind confusion. An artist may subvert the status quo by conforming to it, or vice versa. When two different sources – the environment and artists - send each other conflicting messages, this clash in a quadraphonic “double bind”. This is happening in a world of globalization, which is taken to be both a blessing and a curse. One of the positive aspects of the urban double bind situation is that it is a guarantee that nobody can control the city. Not even the artists.

double bind, noun, 1956: a psychological predicament in which a person receives from a single source conflicting messages that allow no appropriate response to be made; broadly: dilemma (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Electronic Edition, 1994-5)

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