Past and Future Conditions was an exhibition of artists interested in highlighting paradigms in which truth and knowledge is discovered.
– Emily Schleiner, 2016
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS WE LIVE IN THAT LEAD US TO VARIOUS TRUTHS? …I pondered this question after digging through an article by the post-modern thinker Foucault. From the way I suddenly started to see new and interesting details around me by asking myself that question, I knew that I wanted to curate a show on the topic of today’s various conditions, and to open this question up to an eclectic variety of artists to see what they saw. Grappling with the notion of conditions as a pre-curser to ‘truth’ is difficult. This is, essentially, a grappling aimed at revealing invisible assumptions. Where should we begin such a challenging enquiry? The following works took a variety of approaches, from focusing on a techno-social engineering standpoints – to a meditation on the unknowns of pre-historic humans. At the end of this article I outline the essay questions I asked of each artist who participated in this show.
Some artists contemplated contemporary technologies, such as Liat Berdugo & Emily Martinez’s artwork, which parodies online purveyors of ‘howto’ information in today’s online environment of nonstop advertisements.
Richard Munaba videos show lonely and humorous re-enactments of Missed Connections based on letters from the website ‘craigslist.org’.
The exhibit also includes works by Jennifer Gradecki & Derek Curry, who have created an interactive artwork that replicates techniques that intelligence agencies use to collect data.
Annamaria Gundlach and Neranza Noel Blount, on the other hand, crafted mixed media objects on the topic of environmental awareness in an era of disposable plastics and water contamination.
Robert Thompson comments on the public’s awareness of health and safety in industrialized food production with truthful warning labels.
Joyce Gralak’s mixed media piece uses 1950s caricatures to highlight changes in public awareness of nuclear weapons.
Swiss artist Sarawut Chutiwongpeti explores social values in mega policies in his mashup of flight launches, bridging generations with explosive imagery.
One intricate piece by Shelley Mangold even wrestles with the mysterious conditions of prehistoric cave people as they painted and carved long ago.
In order to better understand your work as it relates to the theme of the show, please write a paragraph about which ‘episteme’ (listed below or newly invented by you) that you consider your work to be a part of, and how your episteme fit’s into the trajectory of your artistic practice? (The concept of epistemes is described below.)
“In The Order of Things, Foucault is concerned with epistemes: an episteme is a set of ordered but unconscious ideas that are foundational in determining what is regarded as accepted knowledge in particular periods and times. This was also called the “historical a priori” by Foucault (Flynn 2005: 31; Merquior 1991: 36). But the episteme is not a general body of known knowledge or natural science. An episteme is a kind of unspoken and unconscious stratum underlying and being the precondition for accepted knowledge in each historical period, so that Foucault thought that to unearth the episteme of a period one engages in a metaphorical “archaeology” (Merquior 1991: 36).
Each episteme from one period to the next is supposed to be discontinuous and incommensurable in the sense of being radically different (Merquior 1991: 37), and there is only one underlying episteme for each historical period:
“In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice.” (Foucault 1970: 178).
Some examples of historical epistemes as identified by Foucault are as follows:
(1) the pre-Classical period (the later Middle ages and Renaissance up to the mid-17th century), in which people thought in terms of similitudes, resemblances and antipathies (Merquior 1991: 45);
(2) the “Classical” period (the mid-17th to 18th centuries), in which the prevailing episteme stressed representation, mathesis (a science of order and measurement), and taxinomia (science of classification) (Merquior 1991: 46);
(3) the “Modern” period (the 19th century to about the 1950s), in which deep, dynamic historical explanations became important (Merquior 1991: 51);
(4) the contemporary age (from the 1950s onwards) (Merquior 1991: 37, 39).”
Artists of the Past and Future Conditions Exhibition, each in their own way, created artwork that highlights ‘now’ by focusing on the conditions of the past, present, or future by direct comment or contrast. The exhibit also includes works by of Marika and Leopard of Minsk, Belarus and Berlin, and by local artists Joyce Gralak, Peggy Mann, Norman Magden, (myself) Emily Schleiner, and Christina Fowlergraves.