playing pretend---deconstructing the narrative

Curated by Kari Johnson
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---Joseph Campbell, a theorist on narrative structures, wrote “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” ---All the artworks included in this exhibition are alive/interactive, whether they shun narrative structure or embrace it. Fictive or real, these pieces take the formerly passive observer of narrative form (be it film, literature, photography) and force him to create an individualized, pretend “storyscape”. Rather than recapitulate standard plot-arcs, the artists in this exhibit favor the cyclical structure of children playing pretend. ---With My Lover in Unequal Parts: A Found Photo Project, for instance, Rheim Alkadhi connects pictures from Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine with words of a fictional person seeking a lost lover. The narrative is loosely drawn, and is nonlinear. The artist writes that “…the lover is revealed through all and one…”. The photographs—although blurred and poorly composed—are vague enough that they allow the viewer to explore his own memories. The lover could be anything; the artist imposes no authoritative metaphorical significance. Since the viewer knows Alkadhi crafted this narrative from bits of life, there exists an inherent freedom to play with it. ---The Email Flyer Project by Tim Devin also offers participants the opportunity to interact with a fictional narrative. By leaving flyers with the notes of bickering lovers (intended to mimic what might be printed off yahoo mail), Devin attempts to engage people in the make-believe drama he’s created. He succeeds, in that people email to console or criticize Sue and Jay. Thus, the story of a real person’s real day becomes entwined with the pretend-world of Sue and Jay. Devin imagines that some people spent time and energy crafting the perfect reply. This is a formless narrative—as the participants never hear back from the feuding couple. It is just a moment rich with the meaning of being alive, without any introduction or denouement. ---Hundekopf by Knife and Fork uses simple text-messaging technology to allow those riding the Berlin metro to participate in a vaguely subversive political group. Once on the train, text messages connect the real sights with a narrative structure designed to mimic the train ride. In this way, a virtual/story world can be entered and exited from any point located around a central hub. The hub, in this case the TV tower, serves the same function as the child’s fort, a fixed object around which play revolves. ---Luca Bertini’s 800-178968 also blurs the boundaries between the real and imagined. After calling a toll-free number, the audience is assaulted by phone calls intended to capture the spirit of a stalker: “I’d really love to hear you breathing into the phone.” One can imagine that after the first few phone calls, the participant might begin to wonder when the calls will stop. Like the delayed emails of Mouchette.org, this art project focuses on forming a fluid interpersonal narrative between the fiction and the real observer. ---In The Kissing Booth by Kimberly Simpson, the viewer sees the artist’s life reconstructed into stories about kissing. Such a focal point seems wildly arbitrary, but is—in the postmodern sense—no more arbitrary than career changes or moral accomplishments. By presenting her history in this way, Simpson shows the impossibility of any narrative structure to accurately represent a life lived. As Campbell explained, we bring the meaning to life. By imbuing kisses with meaning, the artist invites the viewer to reexamine his own life, and to fill in the gaps in Simpson’s story with imagination. ---Lastly, Accidental Mpegs by Joe McKay compiles found slices of life recorded with digital cameras. A design flaw causes people to switch on the video function when they mean to take a picture and, in doing so, a context-less, structure-less story is revealed. This is the narrative deconstructed to its barest form: characters (rich with backstory) interacting. From that bare moment, the viewer has the freedom to find meaning where he will. As with My Lover in Unequal Parts, McKay gives the viewer agency to craft his own fiction out of reality. ---Together, these works represent a step away from traditional notions of narrative, fiction and truth. The viewer wields the power to begin and end his interaction with the storyscapes. The amorphous nature of such “pretending” echoes the structural boundlessness of the internet itself, and of human consciousness.

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