Note: In May 2011 Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin guest curated the Krakow Photomonth. They took Alias as their theme and in the catalogue texts below they outline the guiding ideas for the project:
Every artist featured in this exhibition is fictional.
Twenty-three writers (of fiction, fact and medical history) were commissioned each to create a text describing an invented persona, which was then assigned to a visual artist to inhabit. The work that accompanies these texts is the result of each individual artist’s residency in their fictitious character.
It’s an experiment that was set up to fail, because it shouldn’t be that easy to stop being yourself; to break with your own particular political and ethical concerns. Yet most of the artists we approached took up the challenge enthusiastically.
‘We never disembark from ourselves,’ complained the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa in the first pages of The Book of Disquiet. We wanted to give everyone the chance to do exactly this: to disembark.
Pessoa’s concept of the heteronym is central to the project. He famously inhabited over 240 different personas, authoring their novels, poems, essays and works of literary criticism. His heteronyms, or what he called his ‘non-existent acquaintances’, unlike pseudonyms, had fully developed biographies: each had an invented history and writing style that was distinct from its author and from one other. In an age in which artists are increasingly driven to present themselves as commercial brands, we wanted to offer some resistance, and Pessoa’s heteronym provided us with just this mechanism.
This strategy is nothing new in art practice, and so the second half of the book is a glimpse at some of the artists who have already deployed it. These artists have all created fictional others, or fictional institutions, or simply decided to inhabit an alternative version of themselves. This has allowed them to explore issues such as sexuality, gender, race or political repression in ways they could not have done otherwise.
Yet fictional artists appear to suffer from many of the same anxieties as real ones do. They are equally prone to self-publicising – a portrait of Duchamp’s Rrose Selavy adorns the label of a perfume bottle. They have a tendency to be whimsical; to succumb easily to bouts of paranoia; to be overly fond of collage. They do not always tell the truth about where they or their ideas originate. Like real artists, they like to travel but prefer not to think of themselves as tourists.
Still, the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño’s fictional anthology, Nazi Literature in The Americas, showed just how helpful the fictitious persona could be when exploring moral and political territory too terrifying to explore honestly in our own skin. We hope some of this work has the same sense of urgency.
P.S. Bob Dylan plays a character called Alias in the film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, but he doesn’t say much.
Broomberg and Chanarin have invited artists and writers to collaborate in pairs to create a fictive third persona. Participating artists include Jeremy Deller, Polly Braden, Lisa Brice, Brown&Bri, Gabriel Orozco, Johan Grimonprez, Godfried Donkor, Andro Wekua, Alec Soth, Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Elizabeth McAlpine, Beatrice Gibson, Celine Condorelli, Marine Hugonnier, Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Michael Chanarin, Clare Strand, Max Pinckers, Roe Ethridge, Janek Simon and David Goldblatt and writers include Jennifer Higgie, Lynne Tillman, Clare Carolin, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Brian Dillon, David Campany, Alexander García Düttmann, Helen DeWitt, Ekow Eshun, Avery Gordon, Chris Mullen, Sean O'Toole, Gemma Sieff, Karolina Sulej, Ivan Vladislavi?, Brad Zellar.
Alias also features an incomplete survey show of invented artists at The Bunkier Sztuki Museum of Contemporary Art. Works created by fictional others, spurious institutions, anonymous collectives and artists who have decided to inhabit an alternative version of themselves including Alex Bag, Roger Ballen, Ane Lan, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Barbara Hammer, Blinky Palermo, Bob & Roberta Smith, Brian O’Doherty, Bruce High Quality Foundation, Christian Jankowski, Claire Fontain, Joe Scanlan, Marcel Duchamp, Gillian Wearing, Jamie Shovlin, Kalup Linzy, Katarina Burin, Kkarlheinz Weinberger, Leila Hekmat, Man Ray, The Otolith Group, Reena Spaulings, Roee Rosen, Roni Horn, Ryan Trecartin, Salvador Dali, Shumon Basar, Eyal Weizman, Jane & Louise Wilson, Simon Fujiwara, Slater Bradley, Sophie Calle, Trisha Baga, Walid Raad, William Kentridge, Meir Agassi, Laura Albert, Wayne Barker, Frederic Bourdin, Oliver Castel, Joan Fontcuberta, Charles Freger, Balthus, Renzo Martens, Matt Mullican, Arjan de Nooy, Claes Oldenburg, John Dogg, Jasper Johns, Jessica Sue Layton,Peter Weibel, Kkarlheinz Weinberger and Zbigniew Libera
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