Into the Unknown

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Alongside the Whitney and Venice biennials and certain other surveys of contemporary art, the Carnegie International has not always received its adequate share of attention. Which perhaps accounts, in part, for curator Douglas Fogle's controversial decision to name this year's edition -- the first time in the International's 112-year history. "Life on Mars," lifted from the eponymous David Bowie song, provides a thematic foundation for Fogle's group of forty artists from seventeen countries, all of whom "emphasize the modest over the monumental, and the hand-made over the machine-made" to convey "the poetic wonder in the everyday world." The question about the possibility of life on Mars thus operates as a metaphor for a state of alienation characteristic of contemporary existence, which many of the International's artists endeavor to highlight and explore. This question is ultimately a constructive one, Fogle contends, suggesting that the hopes, fantasies, and other signs we project into the unknown could yield responses - that connections can be made. While the practices of many of the artists in the show, including those of Phil Collins, Cao Fei and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, examine the various ties binding communities, it is the International's website that potentially offers the most interesting place to address the exhibition's topic. Beyond establishing pages on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, the International has introduced a section to its homepage, "Signals," devoted entirely to the reflections and ruminations of online visitors. The majority of the posts, to date, were written by people associated with the exhibition, but as the International runs through January 2009, the forum aspires to attract a broader contributor base. If "Life on Mars" truly considers our relationship to unknowns - both great and everyday - then what better venue for inquiry and discussion than the virtual cosmos? - Tyler Coburn

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Unknown Forces, 2007

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