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TENT presents Libia Castro & Olafur Olafsson Asymmetry

TENT presents Libia Castro & Olafur Olafsson Asymmetry open 7 February–5 May 2013, a solo exhibition in the Netherlands by the Rotterdam/Berlin based Spanish/Icelandic artists Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson. Titled Asymmetry, this survey exhibition gathers video-based, installation, sound and sculptural projects from within the last decade that consider asymmetry as a dispositif that generates and influences an imbalanced political, social and economic landscape of the contemporary world and reality.

Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson, Il Tuo Paese Non Esiste (Your Country Doesn’t Exist), 2011. Video still.

A dictionary explains asymmetry using the mathematical term “incommensurability,” the relationship between things that have no common measure. Another definition refers to a defective, disproportionate correspondence between things or their parts. Asymmetry is the absence or violation of symmetry and it involves things that are not in accord, out of balance, not responding and not matching or facing one another. It is an indicator of unfitness: a matter of two unlike systems interacting, each within its capabilities.

Asymmetry haunts the conceptual edifice and thematic zones that constitute the interventionist and site-related, multimedia work of Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson. The artists’ venture into the mechanics of asymmetry is an attempt to decipher the logic of power division which upsets a balance of justice and disturbs a constitution of equality. Asymmetrical power relationships lie at the foundation of a world of precarity and political confusion, influencing the manner in which social and political life is structured and policed and how legislative and juridical systems are established. Castro and Ólafsson’s emphasis on asymmetry is the expression of the artists’ post-Machiavellian, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri-inspired, confrontational and agonistic perspective which articulates a difference, heterogeneity and ambiguities of today’s world of deregulated finance, social conflict and depolarized, intellectual debate. Asymmetry appears in their portraits and interventions as yet another vehicle of indeterminacy, estrangement and alienation.

Castro and Ólafsson’s exhibition Asymmetry is centred around the artists’ most recent ongoing and research-based project ThE riGHt tO RighT, launched during the 7th Liverpool Biennial, 2012, and executed in their signature format of a campaign. A monumental neon sign reads alternately “ThE riGHt tO RighT” and “ThE riGHt tO WrOnG,” thus questioning the essence of the (human) right itself, its habit and rhetoric as well as its ownership and belonging. “Right” and “Wrong” blur, as if producing yet another paradigm of political behavior, discipline and ethics. The project’s Liverpool iteration is accompanied by a free newspaper, which features an essay by British writer and philosopher Nina Power, who, in a dialogue with the artists, deconstructs the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and replaces it with a philosophy of wrong and its brand new manifesto—”The Partial Declaration of Human Wrongs.”

Castro and Ólafsson’s exhibition Asymmetry acts as a laboratory where yet another stage of ThE riGHt tO RighT is going to be elaborated. Its Rotterdam-related edition focuses on a complex problem linked to asymmetrical constellations imposed upon a social, political, economic and urban fabric of a city by a dominant presence of a harbor. A symposium in three chapters as well as a new issue of a newspaper are going to highlight ambiguities of power relations that condition city’s image, its reality and postindustrial status.

Castro and Ólafsson’s artistic practice concentrates on the phenomena of transition towards the post-Fordist phase of political, social and cultural development. Exclusion and exploitation appear as the main issues in Castro and Ólafsson’s critique of flexible subjectivities under a pressure of the decline of the nation-state and the rise of global markets and corporations. In their work, executed across media and a variety of genres and disciplines, from political history, through gender studies and sociology, the artists portray an injured world of non-belonging and denied participation. Reaching beyond a cliché of interventionist art of a political and social sharpness, they construct a dynamic discursive space of a particular urgency and aptness.

Architects of hope and utopias, Castro and Ólafsson, often referred to as “citizens of the world”, are careful observers of the everyday contemporary reality, drawn in a moral dilemma of the global/local divide. Articulating an injustice and inequality and portraying both the marginal or rejected subject as well as the influential and authoritarian one, in charge of decision and policy making, they speak for the human rights and their crisis and violation. As both a portrait of a contestation and a testimony of a survival, their work is a (short) organum for the drama of a world of failed democracies and collapsed economies. Jamming cultural texts, languages and traditions, it is a search for a universal vocabulary of a communal, transnational and intercultural experience; a manual of a political and social life at the current, late-capitalist, precarious moment of inflation of values and ethical abuse. Understanding emancipation as a catalyst of change and progress, Castro and Ólafsson’s critical device renders visible what is normally left unnoticed or ignored within a dominant social order and hierarchy.

Collaborating since 1997, Castro & Ólafsson are based in Rotterdam and Berlin. In 2008 they participated in Manifesta7 with the video work Caregivers. Their music video Lobbyists was awarded the Basis Prize of the prestigious Dutch art prize the Prix de Rome in 2009. Castro & Ólafsson represented Iceland in the 54th Venice Biennial, 2011, with the exhibition Under Deconstruction.

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