Fault Lines, Changing States

By Lucy Reynolds

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The impressive and profusely illustrated Changing States marks the tenth anniversary of Iniva (the Institute of International Visual Arts) and celebrates the remarkable breadth of its achievement over that decade. The diversity of artists, thinkers and writers whose contributions and commissions for Iniva appear in the book attests to Stuart Hall’s preface statement of intent, “to create around the work an ethos of vigorous dialogue and debate: to provide, for the widest, most diverse publics, a ‘window’ into these alternative spaces and practices.”


The rigour and conviction behind the Iniva project can be clearly felt in Changing States. It doesn’t seek to create an overarching representation of diasporic culture and issues, but is confident enough to assert a notion of identity by posing the questions of identity; in a myriad of voices, stories, conversations, arguments, artworks, collaborations, exchanges, networks. The book crystallises these creative juxtapositions and configurations, in textual and visual fragments that represent the organisation’s activities since it’s inaugural conference, the seminal ‘A New Internationalism’ in 1994.[1]

The different currents of thought and activity that course through the book are clustered under thematic headings, and the reader is encouraged to take a lateral route, settling at different points in the discussion. For Changing States has very much the feeling of an on-going discussion even though it is a book about past projects. Conversely, the linear methodology of the conventional book format is a successful means of capturing the lateral visions of Iniva. The undeniable physicality of its printed and bound form offers the consciously ephemeral nature of Iniva projects a certain containment, functioning as a moment of reflection or intersection for its multiple strands of activity.

In addition, the evocative ability of the printed page to transport the reader imaginatively elsewhere brings a new and specific resonance to Iniva’s exhibitions, thought processes and stories. Dipping amongst the chapters, the book provokes rich layers of association and recollection from the excursions of its contributors. This is so appropriate for an organisation that seeks to challenge the notion of territory and boundaries, or what Stuart Hall refers to in his foreword as “the narrow and culturally exclusive version of the ‘national story’”. But Iniva’s means of transcending and challenging those negative connotations of place is through a discursive and exploratory nexus of activities, driven by an experimental impulse.

The notion of place is revisited in a number of ways throughout the book. In his journey back to Bangalore – Suman Gopinath[2] talks of “the word ‘place’ being ‘suffused with meaning; it is linked to collective and individual history, memory, experience.” Changing States explores these notions as running currents that move in both directions simultaneously. Again, the choice of print, a book, to revisit these activities seems right. The pages contain the textures and temperatures of the experiences and projects which they describe – with Iniva’s London base never more than a starting off or landing point. Artists and architects are sent into once familiar settings to explore, and renew their own relationship to those psychogeographical spaces. For the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy[3] –like Gopinath – this has an autobiographical edge, revisiting his birthplace with the determination to provide better houses for his countrymen, rethinking ancient materials and practices. This rooting in ancient time is counterbalanced by Hans Ulrich Obrist’s fascinating interview with the veteran architect Cedric Price[4] for whom time is ‘the fourth dimension’. Back in London Chris Offili’s smudgy alternative schema for the Maps Elsewhere exhibition[5] gives us a reading of time as movement and cultural crossover. When not bringing the elsewhere closer, Changing States turns to the more intimate landscapes mapped by the artist’s own body, initiating further thought-provoking juxtapositions. The dual technological and emotional register of Simon Tegala’s beating heart in Anabiosis[6], for example, provides a love-story for Deborah Levy’s fictional on-line diary and a flashing digital affirmation of life itself. The arresting images of Zineb Sedira and others in the travelling exhibition.

Veil (2003)[7] challenge and blur religious, racial and gender stereotypes, whilst Janine Antoni’s[8] extraordinary testament of her intimate and visceral performances makes compelling reading. Curatorial frameworks such as these, alongside the incisive writing and argument of contributors like Kobena Mercer[9] and Jean Fisher[10] provides layers of historical and cultural insight which subtly shift and realign the reader’s cultural bearings.

There are times when the frequent use of certain terms in the book, such as ‘globalisation’ and ‘internationalism’, feels heavy handed, so that the argumentative tone of writers like Eddie Chambers[11] is welcome. His insistence that many black artists and curators “still find they never get further than the wrong side of the desks in gallery offices” implicates the policies of Iniva as much as any other carefully, culturally diverse art space. It is a credit to Changing States that it carries these critical moments, resisting the temptation to produce a book which does little more than trumpet the organisation’s past achievements.

For, whilst Iniva’s achievements are considerable, it remains wary of tying itself down to definitions, insistently unpicking and examining the embedded cultural and historical threads which have kept diasporic creativity tied down. I kept returning to the notion of the ‘fault line’, mentioned by Stuart Hall in his preface and the title of an Iniva exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2003). Although the term does not appear in the detailed glossary at the back of the book, its connotations of rupture due to movement are at the heart of the Iniva project. Here, as the book shows, rupture is a positive process, throwing up new juxtapositions and posing new questions.


Endnotes

[1] See the timeline at the back of the book for a detailed history of inIVA. Pages 318-328.  
[2] First published by inIVA in Magnet magazine (2001). Pages 30 – 33  
[3] ‘Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt’ by Hassan Fathy. 2003. Pages 50 – 53  
[4] ‘Interview between Cedric Price and Hans Ulrich Obrist’. Jan 2001. Pages 66 – 69.  
[5] Chris Offili from Maps Elsewhere exhibition, Beaconsfield space, London 1996. Pages 62-65  
[6] ‘Simon Tegala Downloads his Heart’ by Deborah Levy and Anabiosis by Simon Tegala at the Concord Sylvania Building, London. Feb 1998. Pages 142 – 149.  
[7] Veil , touring exhibition and ‘Mapping the Elusive’ by Zineb Sedira. 2003. Pages 178 – 187.  
[8] Janine Antoni: Artist’s Talk. Pages 110 -115  
[9] ‘Busy in the Ruins of Wretched Phantasia’, Kobena Mercer. Pages 162 – 167.  
[10] ‘Introduction to Vampire in the Text by Jean Fisher. Pages 246-251.  
[11] Whitewash: Black Artists White Institutions by Eddie Chambers. Pages 172-177.


Changing States: Contemporary Art and Ideas in an Age of Globalisation, edited by Gilane Tawadros (inIVA, 2004).

Lucy Reynolds is a writer and curator.