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Multiplex: Legal Aliens

Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street, corner of Washington, 718-834-8761
December 2, 2006 - January 14, 2007
Reception: Saturday, December 2, 4 - 7 PM
Web Site

The third incarnation of Multiplex – Smack Mellon’s annual video exhibition revisioning the modern Cineplex—transforms the gallery into a multi-theater cinema space featuring the work of eleven artists from around the world. Legal Aliens is guest curated by Ofri Cnaani and Rotem Ruff.

We pack, we get ready to leave, we look back – a gaze from in between – since we are suspended in between places, in between different time zones, in between identities. This gaze, however, is potent; it starts a never-ending process of questioning, where identities are created as binaries, conflated and blurred, never to be resolved. Legal Aliens explores the techniques used to create and negotiate identity and the inherent paradox of simultaneously being at home and away that underwrites them.

These works define the artist as an eternal insider/outsider. They propose a nuanced and complex account of migration and displacement that renders the process as an existential state of being, a vantage point that is often disconnected from any physical act.

While completing an artist residency in Cleveland, Ohio, Romanian artist Dan Acostioaei observed the city’s Romanian community. The result, Evidence of the Vanishing Points, is a series of videos that captures the anecdotal and the ceremonial within everyday life. Acostioaei’s videos present life that is in a constant “negotiation between previous mental horizons and the status quo.” The works examine questions about imaginary community and possibility of belonging.

Karina Aguilera Skvirsky’s work deals with the effect of the Alien, when conceived of as a possible threat, and how it bears upon the delicate balance between private and public implementation of power. The Conversation is a documentary-like reverie about the roles of the state and the individual played out through an exchange between a U.S. policeman and a photographer. The conversation, conducted in Italian, accentuates the otherness of the photographer and the implicit danger in a routine, almost banal, interaction with the authorities.

Artist Francisca Benitez’s Garde l’Est presents the haunting image of bundles nesting in Parisian trees. The bundles are the personal effects belonging to Afghani immigrants. The tree trunks connect two parallel realities, that of French society and that of illegal immigrants, faceless and displaced. Living in the city, yet apart from it, they are often “on the wait” – for another odd job, for continuing their journey. Far away from their roots, the immigrants’ suspension, physical and mental, is embodied in their belongings hanging from the trees.

In Gautam Kansara’s Grandma, Gautam, and Ghalib, the artist’s Grandmother translates classic Hindi and Urdu love songs. Using the first person to utter a passionate rendition of the lyrics, she often addresses Gautam as though he were her lover, weaving together the realities of memory and lived experience. The viewer bears witness to an emotional outpouring of love and loss where the boundaries of fiction and reality become blurred, confused and ultimately irrelevant.

Over 50 people from 35 different countries, currently living in Tel Aviv, Israel, were invited by Dana Levy and Marc Lafia to sing a song from their homeland. The result, Sing to me and tell me your story, is a multilingual collage, which by grouping the idiosyncratic experiences of the dispersed, unconnected immigrants, points to a potential for their political empowerment and self-assertion through song.

Virgin of Esperanza, Mother of Immigrants is an installation by Esperanza Mayobre. By placing an image of herself holding an American passport and green card on the ubiquitous saint worship candles, she creates a figure named “Santa Esperanza” (Saint of Hope), the patron of the immigrants. This iconoclastic work ironically comments on the American dream and the notion of the `self-made man’ as well as its (paradoxical) transformation into an object for devotion, prayer and desperate hope.

In Wandering Home, Sharon Paz deals with the fragility of the notion of `home.’ The work gazes at the interior of a New York apartment gradually being stripped from its furniture and its identity, while the exterior changes rapidly from one deserted landscape into another. `Home’ is no longer a secure place. The act of displacement renders home a symbol, while the process of estrangement crystallizes one’s sense of belonging. Ironically, at this exact moment `being at home’ embodies its full meaning.

A meditation on religion, identity, and the power of the image in a global age is presented in Adrian Paci’s pilgrIMAGE. The work revolves around the Virgin Mary of Shkodra, an icon that disappeared from Paci’s native village church in the 15th century and resurfaced later in Rome, where it has become known as the Madonna del Buonconsiglio. Paci returns to his Albanian village and projects the image of the lost icon on the walls of his village church. In this pilgrimage, the image travels, creating a simulacrum that in turn is used for empowering art.

In Joy Division, artist Shoba stands beneath the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, passionately performing his interpretation of Passover by the British band Joy Division. The song, hardly recognizable in its new incarnation, serves as a metaphor for the cultural hybridity and the transformation that is inherent to the process of immigration. Borrowing from a multitude of cultures rather than just his own, the song serves as a witty reflection on the artist as an immigrant.

Tijuana based collective Torolab is invested in redefining notions of emergency architecture. By researching the martial culture of those who live at the far end of the economic system, Torolab offers a unique perspective on transitions between countries, polices and economics. In 9 Families, Torolab documented the practice of recycling industrial materials, which have been trashed from the border’s Northern side, and questions the dynamic conditions of socio-political flexibility and exchange that are inherent to the geopolitics of the border zone.

Sri Lanka ‘National Handball Team’ Disappears in Germany, reported a small blurb on CBS News. Most surprised were the people of the small village of Wittislingen in Germany, who hosted the Sri Lankan team for a local tournament. After the match the Sri Lankans disappeared and were nowhere to be found. A brief inquiry yielded that a Sri Lankan national handball team never existed, and that the rather well organized scam enabled 23 illegal immigrants to obtain European Union visas. In We Love Germany: Thanks For Everything… Jenny Vogel deals with the aftermath of the incident, as she presents the story from the point of view of the villagers of Wittislingen.
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