An Abnormal Tourist Itinerary: David Tomas's "Live Rightly, Die, Die ..."
Leger, Marc James, Afterimage
On March 24, 2012, the New York-based electronic network e-flux posted an announcement to some forty-five thousand readers. It stated that from March I until April 29, the Montreal center for contemporary photography, Dazibao, would be showing a two-part exhibition by David Tomas titled "Live rightly, die, die ..." At the top of the posting is the date of the announcement along with the e-flux logo. Below a perforated line, the name of the gallery is placed in bold. Below this is an image: a 1929 photograph of a sailor holding a severed human head. To the right of the image are the exhibition details, and below that, another perforated line is followed by a detailed description listing the names of the artists whose works are shown. Among the prominent figures are Bas Jan Ader, Francis Alys, Lothar Baumgarten, Mareel Broodthaers. Chris Burden, Andre Cadere, Guy Debord, Jan Dibbets, Leon Golub Richard Hamilton, Allan Kaprow, George Maciunas, Irving Penn, and Robert Smithson. Also listed are some lesser-known artists: Pavel Braila. Stanley Brouwn, Tim Clark, Jamelie Hassan, Bouchra Khalili, Vincent Meessen. Willem de Rooij, and some odd inclusions: Documenta H, e-flux, and NASA. The mention of e-flux in this list gives the first indication that the announcement itself figures as one of the artifacts presented in the exhibition. The description explains further:
Over the past 20 years there has been a notable increase in the transnational circulation of cultural information through multiple forms of artistic activity. This activity has emerged in tandem with neoliberal models of global trade and the creation of interlocked systems of economic and cultural exchange. This circulation and its possible relationships with economic and culture [sic] patterns of globalization raise fundamental questions about the models upon which these activities are founded and status of the information once it has been presented in new cultural locations. Are artists now engaged in a new professionalized from of artistic tourism and amateur ethnography? And what is the relationship between tourism, information gathering and reception, and the exotic in contemporary art?
According to the announcement, the exhibition was modeled on Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. The novella provided an "eccentric frame or historical reference" for the exhibition's presentation of unknown places, opaque languages, and singular encounters. Included among these is a series of e-flux news bulletins, a nineteenth-century photograph of an eighteenth-century photograph of a Chinese Lingchi execution. The statement itself is attributed to Tomas, the gallery logo is presented, and below another perforated line the e-flux logo is displayed again with the suggestion to follow e-flux through Facebook or Twitter. In the following, I provide a brief account of one of the most eccentric and challenging exhibitions ever shown in Montreal. The exhibition mobilizes the theories and motifs of Tomas's work both as a visual artist term he avoids and as an anthropologist who specializes in the study of media histories as spaces of intercultural contact. It updates and refines his performed installations from the early 1980s in light of recent sociopolitical developments, and explores how artists call adopt a critical stance in relation to the art world and produce meaning from a socio-anthropological viewpoint. This "monumental" exhibition can also be approached in terms of what Tomas has defined as "post-photographic" practice. Insular as his work is described in exact detail in his writings, it is for the most part accessible to anyone interested. Yet, due to its complexity and unusual form--both as writing and as installation work--it tends to go unnoticed. This essay concerning "Live rightly, die, die ..." will therefore outline the terms of post-photography, present select aspects of Tomas's elaboration of his exhibition and its association with a global artistic-touristic complex, provide an account of my encounter with the exhibition and its documents, and conclude with a suggestion of how this e-flux announcement details the features of a contemporary neocolonialist subject. …