The Garden of Forking Paths
The Garden of Forking Paths by Argentine short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges offers an idea, which relates to parallel universes and looping narratives. It tells a story about a World War I German spy, Yu, who is exposed and flees to pass on the secured information he has collected. The secret is the name of the city, where the enemy army is located. As he runs for his commitment, he bumps into a pavilion. After talking to the current owner of the pavilion, Albert, he figures that this pavilion is a design of his ancestor. His ancestor has once claimed to write a great novel and build a labyrinth, but neither has being finished. During the conversation, he finds what his ancestor has aimed is not two things but one – a never-ending novel like a maze.
Borges has proposed a theoretical model for non-stop expanding narratives. Multiple possible consequences occur after a character takes an action, and one of these possibilities would lead to other infinite possibilities. And to present all the possible story lines in one story, the story contradicts to itself. ‘… the hero dies in the third chapter, while in the fourth he is alive.’ Borges also gives a thought about looping stories. A story would never end if its ending connects to its intro. ‘… the night in the middle of The Thousand and One Nights when Queen Scheherezade … started to tell the story of The Thousand and One Nights, with the risk of again arriving at the night upon which she will relate it, and thus on to infinity.’
‘… you come to this house; but in other possible pasts you are my enemy; in others my friend.’ Said Albert to the main character. And in the end, the main character kills Albert to finish his job as a spy. If The Garden of Forking Paths is one chapter in the ancestor’s writing, and Borges is describing this short novel through his fictional characters’ words, in other possible chapters, Albert and Yu would both have lived.
Sleeper is a video piece presented by British artist Mark Wallinger. The performance takes place in Berlin, and it features the artist himself dresses up in a bear costume, walking, sitting, and hiding in a building for hours. The interior space inside the building is huge but empty, and since the space is built up with transparent glass walls, the passersby would see the ‘bear’ whole and clear. Wallinger’s performance shows tiring and confusing, and on the other side of the wall, the viewers show innocence and curiosity. As ‘Sleeper’ is a term used to refer to double agent, and a bear is a symbolic animal to the city Berlin, Sleeper relates to the Cold War and the Berlin Wall. Wallinger suggests in his interview that a common folk thing to the East Berlin appear to be a total mystery to the West Berlin, even they share the same culture and are next to each other. The glass walls imply the Berlin Wall, separating the interior from the outside world in a solid but ambiguous way. Due to the walls, neither the people from both sides would have knowledge on the crossing side.
In a Grove
In a Grove is a fiction written by "father of the Japanese short story", Ryunosuke Akutagawa. It pulls up a murderous crime scene through eight related characters’ subjective angles:
The woodcutter is the one who finds the body. In his description, he avoids mentioning a missing dagger, which is supposed to be at the scene.
The monk claims that he sees the victim the other day, yet, he barely describes how the victim’s appearance. He surely has paid too much attention on the victim’s wife.
The office insists that the suspect he caught is the murderer, and he overly brags the suspect’s notoriety.
The wife’s mother condemns the suspect inhuman, as her daughter and son-in-law are pure and innocent.
The objective fact is never told through the entire story, and all the related characters are either concealing or lying for their own benefit. The truth is unreliable and uncertain. The suspect would not appeal whether he is the murderer or not; the officer would not fight for a actual convict, since he already gets all the credit; the common people would not question the justice – the evil gets punishment and the good lives on; the victim stays dead, and no one trusts a lunatic shaman. The suspect murders the victim and rapes the wife, and even though it is suspicious, it becomes the fact. That is how close subjective reality and fantasy are.
The suspect tells how it is happened. He tricks and ambushes the victim, rapes the wife, and he falls to the wife’s charm. To possess the wife, He kills the victim in a glorious duel.
The wife says differently. Both victim and she are too ashamed to live on. The victim proposes suicide, and she agrees. She lets the victim to go first, and she will follow. However, she fails to die.
A shaman summons the victim’s spirit to give his testimony. He never mentions being careless and falling into a clumsy ambush. The core to his speech is how unfaithful his wife is – she yields to a filthy thief, and she even asks the thief to kill him, to cover for her reputation. It breaks his heart, so he kills himself.
One thing brilliant about Sleeper is that the performance locates at Berlin while the performance is embodying Berlin. The audience, the passersby, is a true representation of Berlin, and by seeing the performance, Berlin experiences itself within itself. Berlin stays as Berlin at the same time is also various. It plays with identity and reveals an accurate image for differentiation, vague and disturbing. Instead of building a replica of the Berlin Wall, Sleeper intends to build an invisible wall, a true boundary separates individuals.
French writer and artist Sophie Calle creates an art piece, combines with photography and text, named Suite Vénitienne. For this work, Calle secretly stalks Henri B., a person she newly meets at a party, all the way to Venice. She takes photos for that person from the behind and writes down her witness. The inspiration for this work is based on Calle’s experience. She once has travelled away from her homeland, Paris, and after she returns, she feels apart from the city. The old memories become doubtful, and Paris is no longer intimate. By following a stranger, Calle creates and records herself a fresh piece of memory. Besides the faceless target and Calle herself, some other random characters also involve in Suite Vénitienne. Sometimes a passage on the train, and sometimes a delivery boy, characters bump into her story and leave incredibly suspicious and surreal traces. The work discusses privacy and capacity of memory. Suite Vénitienne is not a presentation of only Calle’s memories, or only Henri B.’s, but a collection of the fragmental pasts that all the involved people have experienced.
Sophie Calle writes her text in Suite Vénitienne like writing a detective fiction. She would write down the date, the time, and her preparation. She uses the photos as illustrations for her text, and rather than backing up her authenticity, they fictionalize the stories. Beyond a discussion of memory and experience, the work leaks an unexpected sense of uncertainty. A dubious man without a face, photographs with well-designed compositions, even the lovely doves look staged. At the same time being honest and sincere, the entire piece of work is very capable to be a scheme.
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The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things
UniAddDumThs is an artist-curated expiation set by British contemporary artist Mark Lecky. The show is a collection of objects and art works from different time periods. Lecky organizes them based on not the timeline but subjective suitability. Each one of the objects features a cultural preference of a certain time, and by rearranging them, the objects build up novel combinations, like they are creating conversations to each other. The present world to the people from the past would be entirely science-fictional, while the ancient history to the modern people is a tale of legend. In UniAddDumThs, where the time disappears, the fictional stands aside with reality. Lecky implies that culture or technology consciously grows and develops itself like they are living beings, and it merges with one and another to produce an heir, a new culture or technology. UniAddDumThs removes time, and an object in it gains an opportunity to make unusual contact with another, to have observable chemistry.
Mark Lecky arranges UniAddDumThs like stagecraft. He uses bright colors divides the objects apart from the viewers, keeps the audience to stay in a distance unconsciously. It is almost like Lecky does not want the audience to disturb a piece symphony. Instead of letting the viewer to participate and interact, they are encouraged to witness, to experience as bystanders. Setting up a stage makes stronger connection between the shown fragments, especially when there are many pieces. It even creates itself a strong lure initially.