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Exhibition Tour: "So You Want to See" at e-flux


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Rajkamal Kahlon, So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.

Artists: Sanja Iveković, Rajkamal Kahlon, Victoria Lomasko, OKO, Cecilia Vicuña, Carla Zaccagnini

Curated by What, How & for Whom

So You Want to See brings together six women artists from decidedly different places and of different generations, using distinct methods of aesthetic investigation through works situated within various historical and social contexts, as well as within different genealogies of contemporary art and of its role within society. Yet their work testifies to parallel preoccupations across different social and artistic matrices that all share a keen interest in investigating the ways in which social norms become naturalized, and the role images play in this process.

For decades, feminist writers have critically analyzed the way regimes of representation take hold of mainstream media to the extent that they are not recognized as representations at all. But any assumed position of power over the productivity of visuality is subject to constant struggle and renegotiation. Through their distinct approaches, the artists in this exhibition build alternative projects for seeing, attempting to activate images from the opposite side in order to denaturalize and estrange them—to produce new ways of seeing other than mere observing.

While many works deal with issues of women’s struggle for emancipation and equality, both historically and in contemporary conditions, the exhibition revolves around different approaches to ways of looking and seeing. It attempts to sketch out the interplay of relations between what we obstinately refuse to see and what we desire to see. Appropriation, collage, critical juxtaposition, reworking of documentary approach, and the combining of various cultural references are among the chief strategies that artists in the exhibition use in order to confront and subvert perceptions of what is customary, normal, and taken for granted. The works presented strive to make contradictions apparent, to expose the mechanisms through which meaning is formed through visuality, and to dispute the processes through which the interpretation of history is constructed.

Carla Zaccagnini refers back to the protest attacks on paintings carried out by suffragettes in museums in UK in the early twentieth century, looking into their iconoclastic gestures to explore an awareness of the power of images as well as the economic and symbolic value of art in relation to militant political engagement. Sanja Iveković’s collages explore the image a woman is expected to project of herself in order not to be branded as improper or even dangerous, and its relation to the image of femininity produced by mass media. OKO uses street art techniques of wall drawing and paste-up, combining images appropriated from both iconic art works and popular sources to create phantasmagorical displays, resulting in an estranging effect that is often humorous and disconcerting at the same time. Using the method of a simple and straightforward street interview, Cecilia Vicuña creates an action that is at once political and poetic by asking about the role of art in politically turbulent times. Rajkamal Kahlon appropriates and subverts colonial imagery and aesthetics of (Western) ethnography, linking historical and present-day imperialism to bring about a belated visual rehabilitation of the figures depicted. Victoria Lomasko’s graphic reportages probe into contemporary Russian social conflicts, including political show-trials, modern slavery, the situation of sex workers, and internal colonialism.

This is an all-woman exhibition, and feminist it is. And with that it bypasses the discussions focusing solely on the representation of gender, and instead reiterates the need for dealing with the ways in which gender, class, and race oppression interact and influence each other in attempting to imagine a new way of seeing—and a more just society.

Rajkamal Kahlon, Therapy for Optophobia (detail), 2012. Courtesy of the artist

So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.

So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.

So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.

Sanja Iveković, So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.

Rajkamal Kahlon and Sanja Iveković, So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.

So You Want To See, Exhibition view, e-flux, New York. © e-flux.