Wisdom of Shadow: Art in the Era of Corrupted Information

This exhibition project proposes to invite artists and curators to deal with the notion of spreading information not through light but through shadows and darkness as a response to the existing global politics in relation to the development projects in city of Sinop. The artists are mainly invited to produce interactive work to receive the direct involvement of the residents of the city. Most of the selected artists will be using open source digital technologies, not only for practical reasons for their art production means, but also for the philosophical stand of the open source platform for sharing information and knowledge as opposed to the dominant knowledge production and distribution systems. The artists are not only invited to involve the public in their interactive work dealing with shadow and hidden connotations, but also to provide a variety of workshops to increase public awareness around the decisions about their city, following the prevailing nature of the Sinopale.

Light is a problematic matter in exhibition making as it inevitably causes the “redundant” shadows with itself. When installing an artwork, the usual tendency for the art producer, curator or exhibition designer is to avoid shadows as much as possible, and ignore the unavoidable ones, unless they are not intended to be a component of the work. With an unwritten agreement, the viewer also follows this tendency. If they pass in front of a projection, or a light source in an exhibition space, they tend to quickly leave the territory of the light, not to be an obstacle, casting a shadow over the actual image. The use of shadow as a medium, intentionally or unintentionally deals with this kind of denial, and invites the viewer’s attention to the unwanted and uncanny images. It creates a direct link between the audience and the artwork, crating space for the viewer to become a part of the work to be viewed. It does not only have boundless possibilities for interactivity and playfulness that opens up a space for collective memory, joy and expression, but also provides an alternative space for spreading information. The project can be perceived as the extension of the conceptual framework of the 3rd Sinopale, titled Hidden Memories, Lost Traces.

Wisdom of Shadows is designed as homage to one of the cynic philosopher from the Ancient Greece, Diogenes of Sinope, who not only did defend the importance of simplicity in life but also did he practice it in his daily living sincerely. As, according to the myth, he requested Alexander the Great to stop blocking his sunshine, the exhibition questions the possibility to create an awareness together with the residents of the city to perform an alike gesture to the authorities that are taking part with the global politics, disregarding the sustainable life that metaphorically and literally comes from the Sun.

Preliminary Concept Text:

Once, while Diogenes was sunning himself, Alexander The Great came up to him and offered to grant him any request. Diogenes told him to “Stand less between the sun and me.”1
1 Anonymous. Written in each source with slight differences.
2 Jacques Derrida, Gift of Death, p. 90
There is a visible in-visible, an invisible order of the visible that I can keep secret by keeping out of sight. This invisible can be artificially kept from sight while remaining within what one can call exteriority”2 The era we live in is often cited as the Information Age. Ironically enough, it is an era that each arriving data immediately destructs the previous one; following to the new data, their controversial rhetoric, conspiracy theories, contradictory oppositions are as well spread rapidly. Therefore naming the era as Destructed Information Age would not be less reasonable. Although the ideology of the Western Enlightenment Era has extensively been criticised and deconstructed, starting from the Counter-Enlightenment
Era, today, in our daily language, our metaphors about truth, knowledge, reality, legitimacy, existence, and all other concepts that are carrying such positive
connotations, continuously being associated with light, illumination, and enlightenment. On the counter side of these notions there lies shadow, and darkness, which should be immediately illuminated. Disclaiming the reliability of these concepts, today, in the age of communication, each nation has their struggles with their shadow governments as deep states; each economy has its shadow market, shadow economy threatening the financial existence of these nations. Unsolved murders, abrupt military coup d’états, bankrupting countries, unpredicted rebellions, divisions of countries… All these notions are misleadingly associated with darkness and shadow.
Soon after the invention of the electricity, the 18th century “idea of universal illumination” constructed extreme lighting plans for our cities. Focusing on this fact, Walter Benjamin in “Types of Lighting,” reminds the warning by Jacques Fabien in 1836, against the effects of an “overabundance of light.” It has been widely discussed by the followers of the theories of Benjamin, that under the artificial lighting of our modern cities, we are no longer able to see the “dimensions of the night’s sky”.3 This fact simply shows the fact that a very strong light might cause the eye not to be able to see what’s beyond that. Consequently the eye no longer can perceive what is beyond that strong light and in time probably forgets about it.
3 David Michael Levin, The Philosopher’s Gaze: Modernity in the Shadows of Enlightenment, University of California Press, 1999, p. 410
This tendency of the mind functions in the same way within the normalisation process of all incidents. Right after the arrival of all shocking news, a stronger light comes over them claiming that there is even more “real” information. These juxtapositions of layers of so-called “truths” simply normalise the peculiar information and create further ignorance, confusion and disregard.
Light in the same way, with its omnipresence, constantly creates weak shadows to be overlooked. The eye is educated to neglect shadow, unless it is strong enough. When it is too strong, it would immediately be illuminated.
Known as one of the most prominent authors from Japan, Junichiro Tanizaki, also argued in early 1930s -just a decade before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagazaki, and long before the recent but almost already forgotten accidents in Fukishima- about the western
obsession of avoiding darkness, and following to that the ambition for producing more power and energy in the rest of the world, in his book In Praise of Shadows, considering the notion of shadow as a reference to distinguish the Western and Eastern perceptions of Aesthetics, hoping to bring back the respect to darkness and shadows:
“But what produces such differences in taste? In my opinion it is this: we Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light—his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”4
4 Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, Leete’s Island Books, 1977
The number of artists dealing with the notion of shadow today conceivably indicates a respect to the unknown that is protected from the intimidation of bombardment of exaggerated amount and speed of information that supports the processes of normalisation. Their work appreciating subtlety and simplicity requires patience with darkness, delay of visibility, and slowness in the reception of information. Which contradicts with every aspect of production and consumption processes.
Wisdom of Shadows proposes to open up a space to discuss the consuming the goods of the nature avariciously ignoring the efforts for sustainability and careful uses of natural resources as well as creating the possibility to deal with the dark image that is too long advised to be disregarded and avoided…

Isin Onol,

Vienna, 2011