POWELL + MEHRPOUYA
THE PALACE OF FORGETTING
MAY 28 - JUNE 21
1 India Buildings
OPENING RECEPTION: TUESDAY 27 MAY 6 - 8PM
Like Borges Aleph, a peep-hole in the basement, our new exhibition bundles up the whole of time and space in a neat, easily-consumable package, and presents it to the art-public like an art flavoured microcosmic vol-au-vent. Including a series of etchings - 'A Universal History of Iniquity', that retell the whole of human history from the beginning to the end and then back again
- POWELL + MEHRPOUYA
The Warburton Gallery is pleased to present The Palace of Forgetting, an exhibition of new work by POWELL + MEHRPOUYA.
The Palace of Forgetting by Robert Powell and Hadi Mehrpouya is an exhibition encompassing both new and traditional media, which focuses on the construction and manipulation of knowledge and its relation to questions of power and control.
In his 1937 essay on the thinking machine devised or imagined by the medieval Spanish polymath Ramon Llull, Jorge Luis Borges illustrates his workings by describing how the machine operates on the attributes of God. The machine creates a complex network of connection between these attributes, he explains, “In such a way as to affirm, with impeccable orthodoxy, that glory is eternal or that eternity is glorious; that power is true, glorious, good, great, eternal, powerful, wise, free, and virtuous, or benevolently great, greatly eternal, eternally powerful, powerfully wise, wisely free, freely virtuous, virtuously truthful, etc, etc.” “I want my readers”, he adds, “to grasp the full magnitude of this etcetera.”
In constructing their own thinking machine for this exhibition Robert Powell and Hadi Mehrpouya do indeed display a firm grasp of that ‘etcetera’: the idea and the form, no less than the functioning, of the machine enmeshes the viewer in a protean and ungovernable plenitude of possibility. Their machine both re-enacts and mocks efforts to systematise and codify knowledge and its pathways, the efforts of Ramon Llull himself (Raimondo Lull or Raymond Lully) as well as those of more recent pioneers such as Babbage, Turing, and Patrick Geddes, whose outlook tower provides the model for the machines architecture. This thinking machine recalls renaissance memory theatres and 18th century automata; it is part oracle, part wunderkammer and part pier-end what-the-butler-saw device delivering a saucy penny worth of licensed subversion. The precise operations of the machine are determined by the positions of players in an accompanying game, suitable for ages 8 – 88, with rules loosely based on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. The machine is clad in etching plates, the etchings themselves, which also form part of the exhibition, being from a work in progress, which will, Powell claims, depict every episode in world history. This tongue in cheek hubris conceals a serious point: the etchings are history paintings borrowed from the tropes of history painting; they exist in an intertextual dialogue with the tradition of history painting. The fluid space opened up by this dialogue is inhabited by a rogues gallery of typical Powell grotesques, carnivalesque characters who through symbolism and synecdoche, metaphor and metonymy can adopt and discard identities at will. Powell’s Burns is Dante, his Dante Orpheus, his Orpheus Lot’s Wife: the radical instability of the symbolic realm unleashes the ‘torrential ambiguity’ which Borges identified as being characteristic of that original thinking machine of Ramon Llull.
If this ambiguity engendered by a multiplying network of interconnections can be seen as a liberating force, we should not forget that a net is also a snare. The thinking machine and its offspring the computer may have given us unprecedented access to knowledge and to the power knowledge brings, it may have given us unlimited space to play out our dreams and hopes and desires, but it can also be co-opted all too easily as a tool of government repression and commercial exploitation. Mindful of this, Powell and Mehrpouya have created on the upper floor of the exhibition a large scale immersive and interactive experience, part laboratory, part (Chinese) Whispering Gallery, presided over by Philodox a search engine with a mind of its own.
Playful, witty and inventive, The Palace of Forgetting dramatizes a moment in time, a moment in which everyday realities trump the most outré fantasies, in which science fact faces down science fiction, in which Amazon’s algorithms anticipate our every desire and Google looks to measure our tears.
The Thinking Machine is funded by New Media Scotland's Alt-w Fund