6.04.–11.05.2019 The New Gallery, Calgary, Canada
An opening reception for members and invited guests will take place on Friday, April 5 at 8PM. Admission is free and all are welcome. The New Gallery is barrier-free with a single-stall, all-gender washroom.
Chameleon tackles current political and identity-related issues, welcoming any and all kinds of discourse and interpretations. A complex identity crisis — brought on by a cosmopolitan and hyperconnected era — is the cause of losing one’s sense of belonging, yet in contrast, has also influenced the rise of radical nationalism. The exhibition aims to raise questions about the superpowers of our society, the meanings behind their flags, and the resurgence of nationalism in a cosmopolitan age. Each of these topics is tightly intertwined with the ethnic backgrounds of the artists and the politics of today. Varvara & Mar both struggle to identify themselves with any nation, and thus, the artworks mirror their complex identity issues. A growing amount of people experience a similar loss of belonging in these mobile and connected times. Hence, the exhibition touches upon multiple layers of personal and global interpretations. Chameleon implements the artistic language that Varvara & Mar normally use in their work: light, kinetics, interaction, readymades, and textiles. The central symbol throughout the show is a flag. We see an increasing amount of flags around us, communicating support for certain nations or groups, yet on the other hand, disapproving of others. The duo uses this symbol in their practice to bring these notions to attention and trigger discussion on the burning subjects of today.
Flying false colors
The world is increasingly more connected, and at the same time, more divided. Globalization has lead to the domination of economic interests and the imposition of a homogenous consumer culture around the planet. The Internet facilitates the exchange of information and the distribution of content immediately, making each user a node of the worldwide network. In this context, a large part of the inhabitants of industrialized countries consider themselves citizens of the world, since they read international news, follow global trends or move relatively easily from one country to another.
But global and national economic policies have also generated deep inequalities, leading to the demand for the return of certain borders and facilitating the increase of xenophobia. In each country, there is a tension between patriotism and cosmopolitanism, between local interests and international pressures. Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU) that is due to take place on March 29 of this year, Donald J. Trump’s campaign for a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and the crisis generated in Spain by the opposition of the government to a public referendum on the independence of Catalonia, exemplify these tensions. As expressed by Michel Foucher, there is a “reaffirmation of borders”: sovereign states are hardening their borders by limiting the influx of immigrants and refugees, introducing new regulations on foreign products, or imposing the notion of a unified nation on the regions inside their territory.
In Chameleon, artists Varvara Guljajeva (Tartu, 1984) and Mar Canet (Barcelona, 1981) explore the contradictory identity of countries in a globalized world through their emblems and codes. National flags become a malleable material with which they elaborate endless processes that question the stability of States, their durability and the borders that separate them. According to Richard Falk, governments are dominated by the pressures of regional and global economic structures (EU, NAFTA, World Trade Organization, World Bank), which leads to the situation of “neurotic States,” where the demands of society and the requirements of the international market contradict each other. This is clearly visible in the artworks Camaleón (2016), a white flag with embedded LEDs that swiftly morphs into the flag of any country, and One Flag Every Day (2016), a software that generates new flags by combining the emblems of the countries that are most frequently referred to in mass media every day. Conversely, the tensions generated by competing nationalisms is expressed in Who Is Next? (2016), a device that speculates on a possible domino effect of Brexit, with countries leaving or being expelled from the EU, and Democracy (2017), a installation of twenty maneki-neko equipped with batons, that symbolizes global capitalism and state repression.
These works suggest that states are not as unified as they seem, their identities more uncertain and their sovereignty more questionable than most may admit. Therefore, when idealist CEOs and political leaders, cosmopolitans and patriots, raise their flags or pretend to ignore them, their actions usually hide their real motivations.
Varvara & Mar – Chameleon, 2016, photo by Pablo Ortuno