A State of Observation
The ‘Plurinational State of Observatio’ is a platform for the critical exploration of nationality, community, and identity. Individual understanding of the world around us is ultimately based on the relationships, rituals, and restrictions which influence our everyday interactions with place. A reevaluation of the vocabulary of “coming from” spurred an exploration of plurality within the construct of the state, the cultivation of identity to the benefit of capitalist and colonialist agendas, and the branding of nations. In designing a country, one is essentially imposing identity as an acceptable standard for who its citizens are and what they represent. ‘Observatio’ ultimately intends to challenge collective understanding of the nation-state by bringing to light social constructs which we are taught to uphold, yet is self-satirical in its creation of visuals for a state of multiplicit individuals and defeats diversity by imitating this existing cultivation of community. In doing so, ‘Observatio’ intends to encourage individuals to reconsider the grounds for our patriotism. What structures of power and ideals are we upholding in our allegiance to sovereign statehood? By shifting the focus from a singular “we” or “us and them”, a world where each individual is seen as plural emerges.
Much of my research was focussed on the consumption of visuals of nation and state, and how they are used in everyday rituals. While part of this was spurred on by the marketing concept of cultivated identity around community, my fascination with the incorporation of flags in food and intimate celebrations, of which state has no part (i.e. New Years, Birthdays, Anniversaries etc.), caused me to make a cake with each slice revealing the flag of Observatio.
A part of my collaborative design process was a picnic in which individuals could eat a piece of Observatio cake as a commentary on how we consume nationality, and was accompanied by a few prompts, both written, drawn, and acted. One of these acted prompts was the act of drawing a space on the ground within which one could position themselves, as a space to reflect on the lack of physicality of man-made borders, the ways in which we inhabit them, and our relationship to others in that context. This was an interactive aspect to my project which I felt extremely giving, and thus felt a need to recreate in the gallery space. Just like the difficulties of justifying visual language of the state, the justification of materiality within the gallery space was an equally challenging task to overcome.
Chalk as a documentation of this practice was brought up, which I was hesitant to, due to the materiality of chalk being a newly introduced material which had nothing to do with the exploration of my project previously. After some deliberation however, I saw a valuable correlation between the temporality and fragility of chalk with the impermanence and artificiality of borders. This resulted in a proposed false chalkboard floor on which individuals could perform and document this act.
During this exploration of materiality, I went back to my previous design exploration in which I had made a coat of arms for Observatio. Because my focus shifted primarily to flags as a visual marker, this element had become somewhat left behind. It comprised of two, thin outlined circles which overlapped to create a bowl-like letter ‘O’, but it’s resemblance of a Venn-diagram gave it a metaphorical quality which spoke of the overlap of identity; of two, or more becoming one. This worked in favour with the aesthetics of the chalkboard floor, and the overlapping that would occur within such a confined space.
I loved seeing the lines, circles, shapes and drawings build up, and the recognition of these unique, overlapping, individual spaces becoming their own federation of borders, states and nations.
At the vernissage, several children were using the space to draw pictures of houses and rabbits, and when I was approached with the question of if I was okay with this, I realised that these line drawings were no less borders than existing state borders. And while these children had no notion of their actions being an act of disidentification, it further solidified the notion of the state as being a learned social construct, of which these children were unawares. I was also aware of these spaces in the traditional definition of countries, as something which has to have a population and the ability to enter into diplomacy with other states, and how these drawn borders were creating their own kind of diplomacy with each other. I loved seeing the lines, circles, shapes and drawings build up, and the recognition of these unique, overlapping, individual spaces becoming their own federation of borders, states and nations. The materiality of the chalk was also important in this observation, as the crossing, and stepping on of these lines caused the chalk to smudge and blur.
Reflecting on the development of the project in the space, I saw it as a transition from something I was very much in control over, to something others could take ownership of. Similar to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, where writing is much like the pre-historic gathering of food, the carrier bag is the feminist anti-hero of cultural devices. And just like the book acts as a gathering bag for words which “hold a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us”*, I finally feel as though I am no longer the patriarchal hero, or mediator in this narrative, rather the physicality of this project now acts as the device which passes on that narrative through self facilitation.
- U. K. Le Guin, et al., The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, The Ecocriticism Reader, The University of Georgia Press, 1996, pp. 154-149.