Graz

“Routes”

Grazer Kunstverein

“Man is a story-making animal. He rarely passes up an opportunity to accompany his works and his experiences with matching stories.” Chinua Achebe, a seminal figure in postcolonial literature, thus sounds the keynote: The theme for this exhibition was storytelling as politically relevant medium. Christian Kravagna’s curatorial vision lit upon eight artists who deconstruct narrative models or spin surprising stories on the theme of travel and migration. What effect has global mobility had on the visual repertoire of the present? Who are these new “nomads,” and what sends them on their way? How can the reality of whole populations swarming across the planet, not always exactly voluntarily, be translated into images? Terror, war, and poverty create unwilling globetrotters, while self-imposed dislocation has been explained by Stuart Hall, the doyen of cultural studies, in more casual terms: “Well, I don’t know if I should just live the rest of my life where I was born.”

“We can’t literally go home again”: Hall’s formulation provides the motto for Zeigam Azizov’s experimental video project Migrasophia: in between home and globe, 2001–2002, which joins cultural theory and the productive forces of migration. This London-based Azerbaijani artist is a virtuosic editor, cutting video, text, and music to fit an infinite, panoramic stream of images of urban settings for international communication: cybercafés, libraries, and conference rooms. To be at home, Azizov shows, is to be on the move. This is also the theme for Gülsün Karamustafa, who has not been allowed to leave Turkey for the last sixteen years due to her political activities. In her photographs she explores the hotel room as a transitive nonplace. Emily Jacir, a Palestinian with American citizenship, deals with phantasms of flight and freedom. In From Texas with Love, 2001, she uses the idealized image of a Texas highway to contrast the myth of unlimited personal freedom with the forced immobility of her countrymen, and intensifies this icon of longing with a collectively chosen musical program—the songs a group of Palestinians said they would listen to if they could drive freely, without being stopped at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks.

From the Wonder House, 2002, the Documenta-tested piece by Austrian artist Lisl Ponger, revolves around the political, economic, and cultural strategies for appropriating the colonialized “other.” Here, found promotional pictures of “exotic” Hollywood films are juxtaposed with a photograph of the artist as a Taliban fighter with a machine gun. The concept of “foreign” is a matter of individual viewpoint, as Dorit Margreiter knows: Her mother is Chinese, brought to Vienna by her musical studies. Margreiter made a home video of her mother sitting on the living-room couch and reading aloud passages of a popular book called Women of the Orient—a guide for the male sex tourist with all his racist projections.

In Veiled Threats, 2002, Tim Sharp, a British artist living in Vienna, uses found footage from a ’70s documentary to undermine its own assumptions about authenticity. The conventions of portraying foreignness are questioned through the work’s repetition and reflection of arranged groupings of Tuaregs, who look like extras as they wait to portray themselves. Austrian-born New Yorker Martin Beck works in a similar vein with Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975). The red star in my travel guide, though, goes to Vivan Sundaram from India: Adobe Photoshop conjures up a fictional graphic novel from his family archives, a peep show of constructed passions and narcissistic individuals, made in Bollywood.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.