is an exhibition of fifteen text-based works by ten artist-writers and collectives from across seven cities. Its title makes direct reference to The Otolith Group’s hypnotic and exquisitely observed video, but draws equally upon Etel Adnan’s quietly astounding and unsettling poetry. Examining the relationship between these two formidable artworks — video and poem — and the forms of media they encompass — namely moving image, sound, speech — I am interested in how various interwoven and overlapping kinds of communication can and do function, in and through art and its curation, in ways that foster (or, more problematically, foreclose) greater and more nuanced connection between people, places, things, actions, and ideas.
Thus embracing the im/possibilities that inhere in humanity’s use of language to convey one’s subjective experience to another, INFINITE DISTANCE exemplifies a wide range of artistic approaches to 'the word' — that unruly unit we humans use to construct this storied castle we (perhaps wishfully) call “communication.” Through strategies such as fictioning, humour, transgression, citation, research, confabulation, and collaboration, the artists (and their avatars) verbalize and materialize an extraordinarily diverse array of artworks and writing in the exhibition. This heterogeneity of method (e.g., narrativizing, satirizing, theorizing) and message is an intentional outcome of a curatorial process that desires difference, and seeks to speculatively respond to the artworks with respect to the ways in which they may be witnessed to communicate, each on their own terms, in the hope of some kind of eventual reception.
There are overlaps, intersections, and collisions, of course. Based, as they are, in explorations of language, many of the artworks are grounds for a rich intertextuality seeded by communications from across the span of human existence, from the ruins of prehistory to the future of AI alike. Indeed, artificial intelligence, and the increasing technologization of the body are other aspects of the ever-shifting “I, I, I” that the artworks embody, undo, or exceed. There is always the voice — astonishing in its sheer variety — from the nine year old explaining the universe in Johanna Hedva’s album to then-87 year old Etel Adnan reading from Sea and Fog in 2012. But it is not only the relatively unprocessed recordings that possess this exuberant aurality; between artworks where the voice has been modulated or simulated there is also surprising nuance and complexity, and close listening is rewarded in these cases as well — as it always is when we are talking about communication between humans.
Whether assuming the form of monologue (e.g., Beckett’s character, Mouth, in Simon M Benedict’s video), dialogue (e.g., between Midi and FauxMidi in Onodera’s videos), dissemination (e.g., Black Quantum Futurism’s performance lecture), or polyphony (e.g., SHATTERED MOON ALLIANCE’s collaborative soundtrack) — or somewhere in between (that space which all of the artworks actually occupy) — the common denominator is communication, and how it comes into play within the proliferating worlds we co-construct today, including worlds beyond the human, beyond body, and beyond time. Manifesting within images and conceptions of inner and outer space, gravity and flight — and planets and oceans as well as everyday objects and actions that recur across these works — worlds are what we collectively build through language and living, even if too often unthinkingly.
At a time when media technologies far exceed human capacities to keep pace — and the kinds of distancing that have become normalized are as much political as physical, language remains ever the imprecise tool. And yet — perhaps in acts of speech alone we fabricate our collective reality. What can we do but communicate anyway? There is no definitive answer or ending to this line of inquiry, only continuing questions, observations, and ongoing attempts to converse on these and other emerging questions and observations. Such is the nature of communication itself, as I have come to understand it.
To embrace this infinite distance between us is to accept that an unbridgeable chasm separates the self from any other, and that despite this, the only way forward is to refuse to foreclose on communication with care. Such a stance would see the current burgeoning of social acts of silencing, denial, neglect, or nonresponse for what they are: the grievous negation of our constituent humanity. Against such anti-human endgames of shutdown and shunning, depoliticization and withdrawal, INFINITE DISTANCE assembles and amplifies a multiplicity of voices that speak, sing, gesture, whisper, sample, cite, invite, cajole, converse, warn, wonder, and rail — anything but refuse — to sound a collective call for more human futures.
How might we (gently, consensually, care-fully) occupy each other in the current moment and beyond? Can we enact a politics of mutual affection and regard between us, even across the infinite distance between our individual subjectivities, in ways that materially enact care (transcending even love, in all its abstraction) — despite, or more desiringly, because — of difference? Where the infinite becomes intimate, and vice versa?
Shani K Parsons, Curator TORONTO 2021