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Psychology of a Pawn

Participant Inc.
253 East Houston Street, 212-254-4334
East Village / Lower East Side
November 16 - December 21, 2008
Reception: Sunday, November 16, 7 - 9 PM
Web Site

Shai Azoulay Gianluca + Massimiliano De Serio Alex Israel Linda Post Kevin Schmidt Corin Sworn

PARTICIPANT INC presents Psychology of a Pawn, a group exhibition curated by Mari Spirito, concerning the continuum of learning and behavior modification. Including works by Shai Azoulay, Giuanluca + Massimiliano De Serio, Alex Israel, Linda Post, Kevin Schmidt, and Corin Sworn, this exhibition considers a range of effects—from the authentic preservation and survival of culture, to arrant manipulation.

‘Psychology of a Pawn’ is a term coined by psychiatrist and author, Robert J. Lifton, after extensive research conducted in 1954-55 involving people subjected to ‘re-education’ by Chinese Communists. ‘Psychology of a Pawn’ refers to the shift in an individual who relinquishes his/her own freedom of mind and takes on the ideology of the oppressor. Further, the individual then goes on to implement the oppressors’ vision onto his/her peers, acting as an agent of the oppressor. Together, works in this exhibition trace the at times fine line between modifying behavior and manipulation, and consider related ethical and political concerns.

Sad Wolf by Kevin Schmidt consists of a homemade digital projector playing a video of an arctic wolf in a zoo. The projector is a large plywood box on a stand made from 2×4 studs, built by the artist according to plans from a website for DIY home theater enthusiasts. It is a rough object, even pathetic—a quality mirroring that of the wolf in the video. Depicted is an omega wolf, one ostracized by the rest of the pack as the lowest in its hierarchy. The sad wolf functions as a part of the whole that makes up his community, based on his behavior as an outsider. This ‘punishment’ by the others is intended to alter his future actions.

Small collage/paintings by Alex Israel are imagined high school gymnasium murals, inspired by actual American high school logos and mascots. The emblems that have attracted Israel are particularly ideology-laden—instead of names that express school spirit, Israel’s motifs include: “Praying Hands,” and “Sheiks.” Of interest is the conscious or non-conscious effect these symbolic role models may have on the identities of the teenagers they seek to represent, and how their interactions, in and out of school, are effected.

In a related but very different educational environment, Arabic Lesson, a film by Gianluca + Massimiliano De Serio, follows a young second-generation Moroccan boy, about 7 years old, to Arabic school. He is learning the language and customs of his family, a culture that he would learn by submersion if he was living in Morocco, which has been displaced now that he is growing up in Turin, Italy. A major section of the film follows the protagonist with a native Arab boy, in a mosque, washing their feet and praying. The Italian/Moroccan boy learns by mimicking the actions of the second boy, attentively replicating every action. The act of imitation is his learning process; comprehension of his actions follows, but the initial understanding comes through the movements of his body. These lessons ensure that this boy’s actions are in harmony with those of his community.

Corin Sworn works with popular theory paperback books, which emerged in England in the 1930s. Their titles give a sense of the zeitgeist of the day: Inventing the Future, Freedom and Community, or Interpreting the Universe. While maintaining the interior texts, titles, and back cover synopses, Sworn redesigns the exterior of these found books and exhibits them on a simple bookshelf, putting these past ideologies back into circulation. For example, Man and Environment: Crisis and the Strategy of Choice, today, sounds closer to the individualism of self-help than ideological promise, but its actual subject, environmentalism, is still very much a contemporary issue. The selection of ideas to be distributed by the mass media, and who controls this distribution, has long been recognized as major influence on public opinion.

Linda Post’s new sculptural video installation, Glean, presents a ‘pas de deux’ (dance for two) of observations and physical adjustments. The gestures in her video make oblique reference to the Alexander Technique. Developed in the late 1800s by Matthias Alexander, this technique connects an individual’s non-conscious movements with their state of mind, recognizing the former as a reflection of the latter. Post’s interest lies in Alexander’s emphasis on self-observation as a tool to correct inaccurate self-perceptions. The key for Post is the individual’s agency in this process, altering habitual patterns. Post’s monitors lean in a way that replicates the dependent nature of behavior and thought.

The most intimate form of behavior modification, for better and for worse, is that of the self by the self. Dream, a new painting by Shai Azoulay, depicts a minimalist painter, alone, asleep in his studio. As the artist slumbers, his unconscious mind takes the form of paint drips. The drips come alive as tiny figures, advocating the unexpressed ideas his conscious mind keeps at bay. The morals and ethics instilled in an individual by his/her environment maintain social conduct, as well as function as an inner regulation system. Dreams shares a vulnerable moment in which the self-editing process has been completely internalized. This is the most extreme permutation of a “Pawn”—when one becomes his/her own oppressor.

Special thanks to Consulate General of Israel; Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, Turin; Carlo Bronzini Vender; Rivka Saker; Yael Reinharz; Vardit Gross and Artis, Tel Aviv; Guido Costa Projects, Turin; Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver; Jenifer Papararo and Instant Coffee, Vancouver; ZieherSmith, New York; Lisa Spellman; Manon Slome; and Rob Teeters.
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