Cat Auburn, Alan Lynn, Jessica Ramm

Carpet Territory 

 

ABSTRACT

Carpet Territory  is a remote, digital collaboration exploring the fear of physical and ethical contagion. This fear flows from our awareness of the proliferating struggles associated with late capitalism and inherent contradictions faced whilst trapped in modes that command our complicity. Our collaboration over the course of a pandemic-year resulted in a video, in which three autotheoretical protagonists adopt distinct personas roughly characterised as Compromised, Contaminated and Thwarted. Carpet Territory straddles boundaries between documentary and art-object, conversation and performance. Carpet Territory is a digital palimpsest with the capacity to act as our avatar while we - the artist-researchers - cannot act due to distance, contagion and isolation.

Carpet Territory was conceived as a research project based within the physical gallery space of 36 Lime Street (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK). We - the artist-researchers - proposed to use an Oriental rug as a provocation to work through our theoretical and ethical concerns surrounding contradictions extant in objects, narratives, embodiment, and identity. In particular, we hoped to address the performative metaphor of ‘trying to get off the carpet upon which we stand’ (an impossibility), and ‘pulling the rug out from underneath someone’ (a betrayal).

The onset of the pandemic required a sea-change in approach. The opening date for our exhibition continued to be pushed back and social-distancing measures became a barrier to developing working relationships in person and within the physical gallery space. We found ourselves grappling with the unfamiliar, disembodied space of online video calls, whilst the development of collaborative physical art-objects felt increasingly untenable and inappropriate. We discovered that the material most readily accessible to us was the ‘virtual meeting space’. Our lives, conversations and concerns became both theoretical text and artistic material.

As our virtual collaboration developed, our research-based artistic concerns continued to mirror our concerns over the pandemic. We questioned whether the necessity to act, make a mark in the world and be recognised is irreconcilable with the necessity to not transgress, not act in bad faith and to not spread contagion once aware of one’s own role.

The result is Carpet Territory, a polyphonic video in which the three protagonists - ‘Compromised’, ‘Contaminated’ and ‘Thwarted’ - grapple with their awareness of an unspecified malignant presence. The video’s central conflict is a coin toss game. This 50/50 game of chance acts as a strategy to alleviate the characters’ fears of contamination, contagion and transgression by posing questions concerning an Oriental rug to the coin. Instead of alleviating their fear, the characters succumb to an ontological re-ordering which ultimately leads to cognitive overreach and fatigue.

The perpetual struggles of late capitalism — perhaps only temporarily viewable and nameable as COVID-19 — are not new, though light has been shed upon racial health inequalities, class based labour conditions and income inequalities. What is new is the ability to name these conditions, and for that name not to be easily deleted, replaced, or reconstituted in a process of capitalist myth making. The tensions of isolation, connection, contagion, desire for immunity, politics of restraint, depressed economies, healing and disinfection are present within the abstract forms inscribed, transcribed and (mis)translated from our collaborative process. Carpet Territory is a digital palimpsest with the capacity to act as our avatar while we - the artist-researchers - cannot act due to distance, contagion and isolation.

KEYWORDS

Autotheory, Collaboration, Compromise, Constructive-Doubt, Contagion, Plural-Authorship

MODALITY

VIDEO CREATION

SECTION

ART - TERRITORY

BIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCE

Auburn, Lynn and Ramm are an artist-researcher group with deep interests in 'the ability to know' and the proximity of structures that undermine that ability. They create work at intersections of remembering, borrowing, erasing, forgetting, and re-discovering.