Haig Aivazian: All of the Lights at The Renaissance Society
All of the Lights, the latest solo exhibition by Beirut-based artist, curator, and writer Haig Aivazian at The Renaissance Society in Chicago (6 February–21 March 2021) is an in-depth investigation of light as a mechanism of power and control.
Haig Aivazian, Prometheus (2019). Video. 22 min 45 sec. Exhibition view: All of the Lights, The Renaissance Society, Chicago (6 February–21 March 2021). Courtesy The Renaissance Society.
Often in his work, Aivazian will take a subject that could be initially seen as non-political, and expand on the ways in which it is deeply political. Comprising three works—two films and one installation—All of the Lights is a case in point.
The 17-minute film All of Your Stars Are but Dust on My Shoes (2021), shown for the first time, brings together found and personal footage to form webs around the history of public lighting specifically, tracking its legacy as a tool of surveillance and policing.
Moving between cartoons and technology demonstrations, blackouts and protests, All of Your Stars Are but Dust on My Shoes offers insight into how power—in both the electrical and ideological sense—is taken for granted by many and withheld from many more; at one point the audio track states, 'Electricity is a nerve / the nerve of life / we're not seeing electricity.'
To counter that lack of visibility, 16 stadium lights installed throughout the gallery illuminate the darkened space at intervals, revealing 1440 Couchers de Soleil par 24 Heures (1440 Sunsets per 24 Hours) (2017/2021) in full detail.
For 1440 Couchers de Soleil, Aivazian drew a chalk grid on the gallery walls and threw magnesium balls—the kind athletes use to keep their hands dry—against them in patterns that roughly reflect crime data maps of Chicago, the city in which the installation can be found and one of the pioneering cities of predictive policing. The magnesium balls remain where they have fallen on the ground, surrounded by their own residue.
Speaking with Tom Jeffreys for Lapsus Lima, Aivazian noted that, for him, while film is a relatively discursive mode, sculpture focuses on 'a bodily ... navigation of a space'.
The original version of 1440 Couchers de Soleil, made for Kadist in Paris, reflected physical elements of the city's Stade de France stadium, featuring light poles encased in plinths made of tar.
At The Renaissance Society, the magnesium drawings are instead accompanied by four seats made from metal, echoing the fencing used to construct the projection screens.
...this newer method of chaotic collage, in the artist's expert hands, leads the viewer to a more nuanced clarity on the complex political reality of such a seemingly neutral terrain as light.
Combined with the stadium lights, the installation serves to make tangibly present the imagery of the city streets and sports stadiums to which the films refer.
During the artist talk held in conjunction with All of the Lights, Aivazian spoke about how in Lebanon, outside of the larger cities, one can expect to be without electricity for half of each day or more, noting how such a steady degradation of the quotidian reaffirms a population's lack of power over their environment. The stadium lights, turned on and off by mechanisms outside the viewer's control, reflect such power dynamics.
1440 Couchers de Soleil expands Aivazian's interest in the politics of public lighting towards a broader view of technology's role in the support of policing algorithms, considering especially where sports metrics and predictive policing intersect. Prometheus (2019), the other film presented at The Renaissance Society, travels even further through this intersection, focusing on two specific events of sport and war.
Using found footage, Prometheus takes as its starting point two seemingly disparate but closely intertwined post-soviet power battles starring the United States: the success of the NBA 'Dream Team' at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and the American attack on Iraq the previous year.
Across the 23-minute film, Aivazian uses these two events to look to the history of the weaponisation of fire and other technologies, with a particular interest in the way tracking technologies developed by the IDF are now heavily utilised for a range of game playback functionalities.
Recent films in Aivazian's practice, including All of Your Stars and Prometheus, have become more fragmented and discursive than earlier works. While initially disorienting for the speed with which they switch mode and subject matter, this newer method of chaotic collage, in the artist's expert hands, leads the viewer to a more nuanced clarity on the complex political reality of such a seemingly neutral terrain as light.
Speaking to Rayya Badran for Ibraaz in 2017, Aivazian noted that rather than use his work to tap into stable truths, he seeks to 'hold onto an entanglement'. Together, the three works of All of the Lights and the geopolitical entities therein weave a palimpsestic map of light and dark, offering insights not through a resolution of details, but through the bigger picture that the details form.—[O]