81 image 35mm slide projection.
The keepers of cell-a
Haval Hosain Mohamod
Questions of where we choose
to look, where we expect to find information and who we expect to
be guarding that information are all raised by ‘cell-a 2016’.
Through a series of 81 images, projected in sequence in a slide
projection, a group of Kurdish asylum seekers in Margate are seen
to study, rearrange and store 10 years of archive material from
Cubitt, a contemporary art gallery and artists' studios in London.
As though a science fiction, the entire project is set in 2016 when
the Cubitt lease expires and once more its artists will be on the
look out for a new, safe space. Chodzko proposes that, in the future,
only a group of asylum seekers, away from the capital, might recognise
the importance of this archive perhaps seeing it in someway symbolic
of their own situation.
As people uprooted from their homeland they evaluate a history uprooted
from its source.
The English art criticism texts and reproductions of contemporary
art work that comprise the archive are perhaps as incomprehensible
to the Kurdish asylum seekers as they are to some of us. Similarly,
the Kurdish writing with which they label the material in the archive
is likely to be equally incomprehensible to a British audience.
So, ‘cell-a 2016’ provides us with many signs that we
can only take on trust. We can only work with what we see, yet ‘cell-a
2016’ also proves that all expectations surrounding this may
be constantly undermined.
Although apparently 'buried' the archive is visitable in Margate,
through the guidance of one of its Kurdish keepers.
Often acting as a mediator, Chodzko identifies and catalyses overlooked
circumstances that might bring people, places, states and images
together. Using the activity of the search or the notion of collecting
as a structure for his work Chodzko's work demonstrates that looking
is an active, and not a passive, process .
Jeremy Millar ‘A new start’
Adam Chodzko — cell-a 2016
8 April 2003
‘On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
— from ‘The Fire Sermon’ in T.S. Eliot’s
‘The Waste Land’ (1922)
‘What might this mean?’, we might ask ourselves as we
look at slides projected upon a wall in a darkened room until there,
within one of these glowing rectangles, we see an image of some
men, themselves looking at a projected image and asking themselves
perhaps the very same question. As a question prompted by an engagement
with contemporary art it is not uncommon, although it is one seldom
asked — and even more rarely answered — in good faith.
It is a question that is not simply asked of Adam Chodzko’s
work but it is also a question that is asked by his work, throughout
his work, of the many people, places and events that can be found
within it. And so we wonder what it might mean to look at a projection
of these men who, in turn, wonder what their projection might mean
and we think: here, we are the same.
Let’s continue to look, as they do. We can see them reading
photocopied texts in the hope that they might make matters a little
more comprehensible (perhaps as you are doing now). A headline or
piece of bold type within a folder may catch our eye: ‘If
you see a man crying hold his hand, he’s my friend’,
or ‘The resurrection of the body’, or, simply, ‘Shift’,
although it is unclear whether in this case it describes a movement
or seeks to bring about one. The men seem to look through the material
with great care, and no little attention. They make notes upon pieces
of paper, arrows from them pointing to pictures or pieces of writing
that have, for some reason, been separated from the mass and stuck
upon the wall.
Perhaps the handwritten notes explain what these pieces of paper
are, and why some of them are displayed upon the wall in this way.
As the notes have not been written in English, it is difficult to
say, difficult to read. Perhaps it might help if we knew that these
men are Kurdish asylum seekers currently living in Margate and that
the material through which they have been looking is the archive
material of Cubitt, a contemporary art gallery and artists’
studios in London (and the artist can always ensure that such important
information is made available). We might similarly learn that the
events to which we seem to bear witness will only occur in the year
contained within the title, 2016. How does this affect what we had
thought of these people and their activities previously? We continue
to look at the changing slides, and begin to consider how greater
knowledge does not always lead to a greater understanding.
The men have gone outside now, and are looking through the folders
while sitting in one of the shelters overlooking the sea. Perhaps
this is the shelter in which T.S. Eliot sat while composing part
of ‘The Waste Land’ — a vision of a civilisation
in decline, of a search for meaning — before walking back
to the Albemarle Hotel and attempting to calm his nerves by playing
scales upon his mandolin. The men are now carrying a watertight
plastic box past Droit House on the seafront, past the place where
J.M.W Turner used to live, until they reach a passageway cut through
the rock, the Thanet Canoe Club visible just behind them. The men
are carefully wrapping the archive material in plastic, each parcel
then taped securely before being labelled — once again in
Kurdish — and placed within the large plastic box. They are
upon the beach now, the tide having retreated. The spade’s
blade slices through the ripples of wet sand as a hole is dug and
the box lowered into place, after being marked once more with the
date of their burial — 05/12/2006 — exactly four years
after the slides were first shown at a contemporary art gallery
and artists’ studio in London called Cubitt.
Chodzko has long been fascinated with ritual and the way in which
it can bestow meaning upon a particular activity, place or group
of people and this is apparent throughout this entire work, even
before the work was begun. The running of an art gallery is, in
itself, a form of ritual, the presentation of objects which one
believes have a certain importance and value, and the recording
of these activities in the form of an archive also. Interestingly,
the word ‘archive’ derives from the Greek ‘arkheion’
which meant the Judge’s residence, and a place where official
documents were kept. The ‘archontes’, or judges, had
the right to shape the law — the meaning of society, in some
sense — and as guardians of the documents in their possession,
had the right to ‘interpret the archives’. In cell-a
2016 the ‘archontes’, the keepers of the archive, are
not those that embody the law, the rules of society, but rather
those who have no legal place within society. They have been brought
together, by chance, intention or circumstance, and, while simultaneously
subject to the petty humiliations of English law and the invidious
racism that drips like poison through the body-politic, now find
themselves within a position of certain authority. Perhaps they
are able to recognise the value in something that has been displaced
because they recognise its position as their own, a people that
find themselves in a place where they are little understood and
consequently little valued. More than this, however, perhaps they
understand the most important thing about the archive: that it is
not simply a question of the past, the depositing of valuable historical
material to which we might have access, but rather that its true
value is what it is able to offer the future, and that these people
understand this because it is true of them also. Or as the French
philosopher Jacques Derrida remarked, with uncharacteristic clarity,
‘The archive: if we want to know what this will have meant,
we will only know tomorrow. Perhaps.’
Press about 'cell-a 2016.'
2002 Laura Gascoigne, “Fear and Laughter,” ‘What’s
On in London,” December 4th-11th, p.23.
Jessica Lack, Guardian Guide, Dec 14th-20th, p.35.
Neal Brown, “Romanov,” Modern Painters, Winter, p.165.
Rachel Withers, Critics Picks, www.artforum.com/picks/place=London#picks3923.
2003 Martin Coomer, Time Out, January 8th-15th, p.51.
Dan Smith, Art Monthly, no.263, February, p.29-30.
MB, Modern Painters, Spring 2003, p.116.