EMPORIUM OF BENEVOLENT DATA
Opening on Saturday, 9 July 2016 at 18:00h.
Sunday, 10 July 2016 at 16:00: Artist Talks, presentations and discussion.
Emporium of Benevolent Data is an exhibition project by Adrien Guillet and Quentin Lannes, in collaboration with Corner College, based on the two artists’ long-term friendship and discussions. It puts on display their recent works Citracit, a site-specific research-based installation by Adrien Guillet, and the two video installations #IamRebekah and The Next Round by Quentin Lannes.
The title of the exhibition project is inspired by the story “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” The latter is a scientist from 17th century enlightenment whose “ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge’” with its taxonomy of animals. The exhibition especially considers the distinctive character, listed in this encyclopaedia under the letter “(f)”, of being “fabulous,” as a method of fabulation on historical materials, modern ruins, commodities, and the recent rapid move of virtual-reality technologies into the medium mainstream, revealing a new geopolitics of the virtual and a crisis of representation of the body that inevitably follows from it. The dialogical format of the exhibition invokes a benevolent methodology that breaks with genealogy and linear narrative, détourning ‘cognitive technologies’ to actively speculate and generate deviated narratives that remain open in their “inherent formlessness,” providing the viewer with a “groundless basis of the aesthetic experience.” This methodology is both anachronistic and futurist, which inevitably come together in a live structure, in what Shklovsky describes as a “ludic ruin/construction site that lays a foundation for the subversive practice of estrangement.” The connecting principle of the works on display is the interplay of de-coding and encoding of the technological dispositifs, colonial history, and material knowledge. As their collective motto, the artists refer to what the Red Queen says to Alice about remembering events before they happen as well as events that have happened: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, to which Emporium of Benevolent Data refers, was an important inspiration for Michel Foucault when writing The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, for his fabulation on epistemological models out of “the laughter that shattered” and its echo “continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other.” This echo shall be heard from the depth of the exhibition, rather than forms of mediation of the ambivalent.
Citracit is a uchronia, a dystopian and anachronistic fiction that explores the problematic relations weaved by the automobile constructor Citroën with the African continent. The project takes shape through the creation of a number of modified advertising products, sculptures and accessories of African artisanship. These two types of productions respond to the following statement: “Citracit souvenir gifts have been found that were to be sold in the boutiques of the Citroën bordjs hotels. They escaped André Citroën’s order that they be destroyed!”
What does Citracit consist of?
As Alison Murray explains in her essay “Citroën Tourism”, the failure of the Trans-African Company was skillfully hushed up, so that Citracit was completely forgotten. The main objective of my project is to dig up the Trans-African Company following a strategy reverse to that of André Citroën. Since the communication material of the Trans-African Company was destroyed, I take care of producing them from scratch and sell its on the souvenir gift shop www.citracit.fr.
In my project, Citroën no longer exists, and is replaced by Citracit. In this uchronia, the founding of the Trans-African Company went well, and Citroën has not defaulted. In this parallel reality opened up by the Citracit project, Citroën is no longer a constructor of cars but embodies the very notion of exoticism, adventure and travel in the way of popular travel agencies.
I chose to call my project Citracit in order to bring back to the present the history of the Trans-African Company. This tourism project for a chain of camping sites and hotels in Africa was also called Centracit or CEGETAF. From Citroën to Citracit it is enough to delete a “oën” and replace it by “acit.” Three of the letters to append are already present in Citroën. As for the suffix “a,” it is easily created from the “r” of Citroën. In this play of typographical détournement lies the essence of the Citracit collection. Observing more precisely the Citracit logo that can be found ahead of this article, one can observe that the “acit” of Citracit is pixelized. What looks accidental is done on purpose and bears witness to the détournement style of the Citroën brand, a raw and DIY kind of détournement. The two chevrons of the logo become sacred clan symbols. We discover them once more on the sculptures, as motifs and texture.
Rather than attempting to find out what might have actually been sold in the souvenir gift boutiques of Citroën’s bordjs hotels in Africa, Citracit is taken as a starting point for a sculptural and conceptual reflection. Far from a historical reconstruction, the elements of the Citracit collection of souvenir gifts are a marriage between the African artisan codes and techniques, and a selection of second-hand promotional Citroën products. Online market places (Le Bon Coin, Ebay, Price Minister, Tutti, Delcampe, etc) allow me to collect at moderate cost advertising objects and tourist souvenirs from Africa I am interested in. The collection process in itself says something about our times, in the sense that it is mainly about online buying and postal shipping. This dematerialization of the act of buying breaks any possibility of a personal narration, and raises questions about the problem of recycling of symbols. Indeed the value of the souvenir gifts brought back from Africa by travelers is almost nil, since they consist of an ersatz of traditional African art, produced for tourists (airport art). While the great majority of Citroën advertising products are initially free, and intended to be given away (notion of reward and of communication) to clients, future clients, employees and institutions. These are thus indeed symbols, intrinsically poor fetish objects to which a strong history is attached.
The artefacts mixing the visual identity of Citroën and African aesthetics take the form of statuettes, clothes, bags, belts, gadgets, etc., where references cross and symbols enter into confrontation. Each element is the stage of a merciless struggle between the visual identity of Citroën and that of Citracit, between Europe and Africa, between cars and tourism, success and failure, serial production and manually produced work. The status of these creations is ambiguous, both travel memories via a tour operator that has never worked, and counter-advertising products, problematic in that they evoke a chapter of French colonial history that has been completely blanked out.