All roads lead to Babel: an interview with Alexis Fidetzis

Posted by metamatic:taf_editor 1.5.2015

tags: blogging

On April 23 opened at metamatic:taf the exhibition Babel Fragments: Revisited, curated by Alexis Fidetzis. The exhibition constitutes the evolvement of an archival project initiated by Fidetzis having the biblical myth of Babel as a starting point. Shortly before the exhibition opening, the metamatic:taf team had the opportunity to discuss with the curator more aspects of his research project. 

- Let us start with the title, referring to both the archival project and the exhibition presented at metamatic:taf. How did the allegory of the Tower of Babel become the point of departure for this project and why did you choose to add the word "revisited" in the exhibition title?

In the last few years my work as an artist deals with structural components of the nation state in an effort to expose any arguments related to ethnic and nationalist rhetoric.  In search of those components, I had extensively dealt with ancient myths, and how these myths are being appropriated by modern societies.

The story of the Tower of Babel is one of separation.

In a period of ignorance, the myth was invented in an attempt to rationalize the multiculturalism of the known world, as well as to establish closed societies through the fear of God and the Other, the “stranger”. I decided to approach the myth of Babel, parallelizing it with conditions of national segregation.

In this context, the parliaments of nation state buildings functioning as national symbols, can be seen as glorified fragments of the Τower. Searching for the forms in which these institutions are presented in the public space, I produced an archive of architectural elements as well as photographs of 184 parliamentary buildings from the nation states that are full members of the UN and the IPU (International Parliamentary Union).

The concept behind the term “revisited” arises from the fact that while the archive of the parliaments constitutes a complete artwork, the 21 participating artists in the exhibition approach this archive with a naked eye, following and presenting a completely personal reading.

- The Tower of Babel project is an essentially archival project, an open collaborative venture. As an artist, how do you perceive the role of the archive within the framework of a broader process of the democratization of art?

The idea of an archive used by artists extrapolates not only on the democratization of art, but also on the democratization of the society as a whole. Through the arts, archival research practices surpass the narrow academic sphere to confront with a broader audience. I feel that society’s familiarization with research fosters critical thinking and, by extension, reinforces democracy.

- How do you see the Internet space in a broader cultural context?

This is quite an issue… Internet functions as a Heterotopia: It carries within itself the promise of utopia, since it may be perceived as the platform on which the Tower of Babel can be constructed. It promises a form of decentralization that is evident in initiatives of direct democracy. And this is a particularly positive thing. However, at this exact point the said Heterotopia can become dangerous. If in our daily life we feel that as a society we have full access to knowledge, entertainment, information, communication, in other words if we feel that we have approached utopia, we can very easily overlook certain institutional political-economic constraints that render the Internet a platform with its own terms and rules. Among these rules are the access limits imposed by various regimes worldwide, as well as the diligence of access imposed by search engines. I think we should be totally aware of this condition.

- What challenges did you face during your research and in which way did you handle the findings until your work reached a final form? 

The research was from the very beginning internet-based, since part of this venture was to see the way in which the tower fragments - the parliaments - presented themselves in the public internet space. Apart from the fact that it is quite hard to find objective Internet sources, another issue arose that turned out to be an interesting aspect of the research process. This was when I noticed that in many states, the formal institutions have little online presence or no presence at all. The most fascinating difficulties appeared once I contacted the 184 parliaments separately. Although the response was limited (approximately 20%), many replies were very interesting. For example, Chile sent back information in Spanish, while the parliamentary building in Vietnam, though presented in all official sources, it has been demolished since 2008! As far as the final form of my project is concerned, I am grateful to the editorial team of Deuxpiece gallery for taking on the graphic design as well as the financial support for issuing the archive.

tags: blogging