DAVID T. COLANINNO 2017
David Thomas Colaninno: Badhdads 1258/2003
Written by: Irena Borić
What connects Hans Blix, S. Hussein, Möngke, T. Blair, D. Rumsfeld? In the project of David Colannino they all at once share the space of the facade of the K18 Gallery. The weird cartoon-like creatures carry names of a famous man, being it a historical or fictive figure. Depicted in various colors and shapes they appear as if they came out of a comic book and not from a stage of world's history. With hope to clarify their meaning by entering the K18 gallery, the puzzle gets more complex with a whole world spread on the gallery's floor. Formations of miniature plastic soldiers are confronting amorphous colorful creatures set in a pile of sand. Whether the sand resembles landscape surrounding Baghdad or it gets a visitor caught within the scene, it also functions as element connecting all the peripheral elements with the central one. The central piece is the only one not to be touched, while each other part of the set can be rearranged by visitors. By walking in, a visitor gets a map as a tool which would help to understand each of the exhibited aspects. For example, certain figures carry names such as S. Hussein or Colin Powel, but then there are Ajami Tower, Sandpaper, The Tower of Wisdom, but also Masculine hero complex or Choose your own adventure. Some of the designated numbers are not even made, such as Weapon of mass destruction. The map enfolds an idea of certainty, of various political and strategic positions, and it was supposed to expose facts behind the depicted events. However, what it does is exactly the opposite. It brings in historical motives, not in order to explain or analyze them, but rather to completely deconstruct them.
When Colannino came to the residency in Maribor, he already preconceived an idea of the project relying on his previous interest for strategical games, science fiction, an ambiguity of historical narrative and his surrounding context. As he drew many maps which resembled maps in any fantasy or fiction novel, he developed this idea further, just that his map within gallery setting became three dimensional. Coming from the current USA political climate where the predominant discourse has a racist undertone, he tackled aspects of racism against Muslims. By re-imagining two historical events – the invasion of Iraq, which was conducted by Americans under George Bush back in 2003 and the siege of Baghdad by Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan. Both of these events, even though some centuries, and cultural and political contexts apart, represent demolishing of cultural and political achievements of Islam. There is nothing strange in comparison of so distant battles as they are both historical ruptures with long-lasting consequences. However, what makes it odd is its representation which deconstructs the usual historical event hierarchy that clarifies who and what is of greater importance and for whom. Instead, David Colannino's arrangement of the events evolves in its own terms, and it goes even further by asking visitors to contribute with twisting the story around. Or, to put it better, its representation.
Moreover, the men of great importance are here represented as amorphous, sexually explicit, objects. By giving them sexual features Colannino undermines the ethnic aspect of the battle and questions it's the gender identity instead. Understanding a battle as predominantly masculine he unfolds an idea of superhuman that is, after all, nothing more than a plain dick.
By recreation of known battles, Colannino wonders on the value of historical narrative as such as it inevitably comes after the fact and it depends on the interpretation of whoever has a power or interest to do so. In other words, history can be remembered or even recreated in many different ways. The ambiguity of interpretations and emphasizes of certain historical events or personalities just underline the fact that everyone is a part of the history, just that some stories are being told, while other simply aren't. Kind of like a story about two painters, numerous times retold by artist Braco Dimitrijević. One of the painters was brought to the king's castle. His name was Leonardo da Vinci. The other painter could have been better than Leonardo, but (s)he never got out of the dark of anonymity.
David T. Colaninno
(or the Empire and Orange County)
Written by: Simon Žlahtič
“Entry #41: The Empire is the institution, the codification of arrangement; it is insane and imposes its insanity on us by violence since its nature is a violent one.”
“Entry #42: To fight the empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox: whoever defeats a segment of the empire becomes the empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies.”
- Philip K. Dick, Valis
We live in an ahistorical time. We often understand the past through narratives that never existed in the first place. This is palpable amongst all cultures, but in my own, there is a perverse narrative of Americans as the “good guys”—benevolent vectors of democracy. This fallacy has prevailed even with all of our collective evils, and it subsists, ingrained into the very idea of what defines the contemporary American. This narrative is absurd and is contrary to the American history of covert operations, economic strangulation, and out and out war police action. Conflicts are fought in the same territories, and for the same reasons, for thousands of years, and yet, we, as the public, allow ourselves to be manipulated into supporting these conflicts in each instance. This installation was born out of what is now a ten-year frustration with how Americans often view the Middle East. It is a racist and ignorant perspective that does not take into account the complications in Middle Eastern history (e.g., British and French imperialism post World War I, or the ancient conflict between Sunni and Shia). Moreover, it assumes a version of benevolent American intervention that is overwhelmingly false. I came of age when my country illegally invaded Iraq. This ongoing war has caused tens of thousands of pointless deaths and destabilized an entire region. Yet, my people do not see the war in this way. They allow themselves to be manipulated into some juvenile narrative of good and evil. We allow ourselves to be deceived into embracing oversimplified explanations and reasons for military conflict that do not take into account the complexities of regions.
In 1258, Baghdad was sieged by the Mongols and utterly devastated. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. The world’s largest library and centre for translation were burnt down. Some texts that were destroyed have been lost forever. The epicentre for Islamic academia and culture was crippled in such a way that it never recovered. Up until that point, almost all of “western” literary tradition was only preserved because of the Caliphate. Now, this term is used by Isis, following the Salafi (Wahhabist) tradition (itself a simulacrum of its own history), as a way of creating its own manipulative narrative to recruit. Isis is, of course, only possible because of the United States imperialistic war in Iraq and the subsequent destabilization of the region. The cycle continues. Badhdads 1258/2003, superimposes both sieges on one another. This is obviously not the whole history, but I find certain parallels striking. Isis will wane, as will American dominance. Everything fades eventually, but I fear that we do not learn any lessons and perpetuate the infinite siege of Baghdad. As in Philip K. Dick’s Valis, Badhdads 1258/2003 situates the two events in the same space as a way of eliciting a new conception of non-linear history which is implicitly tautological. We live in a world of science fiction. Objective reality is a quaint concept. Truth is relative, but this
concept is manipulated and packaged into readymade simple narratives. Statistics become magical words of power though they are often referenced without sources. Where nonobjectivity
reality ought to escalate empathy, it does the opposite and strengthens our own biases, which are themselves influenced by a plethora of other factors, although I believe it is fear that is paramount. Badhdads 1258/2003 is participatory. You are welcome to interact with the plastic figures in the sand. I have created a playground and encourage you to use it. The plastic figures placed
about the sand represent the conflict between the Mongols and the Caliphate. They are the distant past, and thus we change and morph it to suit our needs in a way that strikes me as childlike. In the centre, however, is the green zone. This terrain symbolizes the near future, and it has become too complicated to understand. The relationship between the figures and their titles is intended to be darkly comical. This alludes to our misconceptions and misclassifications within our narratives of the past. I believe strongly in shifting art (and the artwork) away from objects created by someone to a collaborative dialogue between the artist and the audience.
Through participating in Badhdads 1258/2003, you change the work. Your subconscious thoughts while accessing the installation are essential elements to the piece itself. Badhdads is dynamic. The shifting of the pieces by the audience reflects the multiplicity of participants in history. Any understanding of the past synthesized into one person as the prime instigator does not encapsulate the myriad of factors that lead to the event. No single person succeeds or fails in a vacuum.
David Thomas Colannino (b. 1985) grew up in Providence, RI in the United States. After studying philosophy, history, and literature at the University of Rhode Island and King’s College London,
he spent several years living abroad in Barcelona. He returned home to study art, receiving his MFA from the University of New Orleans in 2016. David currently lives in New York, and is a
member of the Wayfarers artist collective in Brooklyn.