Patrick Cruz: Archeological Apathy
by Marina Fathalla
The earth’s circumference is 40,075 kilometres and 47 hours is the travel time required to circumnavigate the earth by plane. At the entrance to Patrick Cruz’s solo exhibition Archeological Apathy, co-presented by the South Asian Visual Arts Centre at 8eleven Gallery, a lightbox displays this distance while traditional folk music compiled from YouTube forms a 47-hour-long soundtrack of “world music” for the exhibit. These numbers are a conceptual nod to scientific and “factual data.” As poetic displays of a measured sense of time and distance, culture is summarized here in an effort to reduce concepts of the “global” and to depict worldliness. Folk music carries a history of political weight; as an immaterial history, oral narratives circumvent ownership and authority over culture, in contrast with artifacts preserved in a museum or in academic institutions. As a shared form of expression that escapes institutional frameworks, it also creates a common platform for exchange.
Cruz begins his process with the performative act of digging and uses archival mining as an inquisitive search for meaning. The viewer is left to witness the evidence of his exploration and archeological excavation of the courtyard space behind 8eleven Gallery. As such, the performance considers the intersection between a site, its history and cultural representation. That line of inquiry also lends itself to other aspects of the exhibition – for instance, regarding the “space” of the Internet, which navigates an unsettling-yet-recognizable pseudo-reality of mysticism and knowledge-making.
The flattening of time occurs in the threshold space of the gallery’s hallway. Sourced using Facebook, Google and Twitter, the images accumulated in Cruz’s research archive, which completely cover the walls and ceiling of the hallway, have been printed in black and white with a low-quality aesthetic. The immaterial space of the Internet is thus made material, creating an embodied and abstract space referencing the deep net. The images themselves also present parallels that pose questions about the intersection of material culture in the technological age, and its conflation with pre-historic and primitive narratives. For instance, a larger, visually compelling image – and a respite from other more unsettling images – displays a mountainous land- scape, which could be interpreted as a clearing or an open pit mine, both human instrumentalizations of the natural landscape. In all of the images, there is a fragility to the document and a sense of subjective interpretation of information read through personal lenses and backgrounds of knowledge.1 Some of the images depict current atrocities and include images widely shared over social media, while others, seemingly based in reality but leaning toward fiction, elicit abject responses. A woman wears a burqa in camaraderie with a police officer and an individual in a KKK robe; Tupac and Osama Bin Laden give each other props; a hand is morphed into the shape of a computer mouse. The effective treatment of the images, pointing to low-tech displays, positions the viewer in a space of outmoded aesthetic. The artist resists the impulse to present information that is comfortable to look at, or with any explicit finality, or clear logic.
A recurring theme that weaves through the images and fragments of the exhibition is mysticism and religion/spirituality. A few of the images mirror the gesture of encompassing the world, systemizing the passage of time and religion: for example, a Soviet calendar from the 1930s that orders the major religions is pictured. When measured quantitatively and presented as data, the complexity of mystery and mysticism is reduced and becomes a humourous critique of empirical research.
Connecting the performance of digging to a “funerary” and religious space, bricks that have fallen from the wall adjacent to the 8eleven courtyard are collected and reconfigured in the front space of the gallery as a tomb-like structure. The space is treated as a mortuary, with the walls painted stark white and harsh fluorescent lighting, as Cruz responds to the sensibility of the front gallery as a white cube or “dead space.” A cyclical relationship between the life and death of people, nature and land is demonstrated here, with no clear beginning or end to the exhibition’s narrative. In response to the tomb, Cruz installs a shrine next to the display window. The shrine is an arrangement of objects and artifacts combining relics from Chinatown with objects from Cruz’s personal collection. A plastic dog figurine wrapped in lights; a pineapple; coconut cups containing dirt and a fake plant; a cleaning brush placed in a vase; a painted primitive mask with a mop placed atop as its “hair.” The eclectic arrangement includes cleaning products from the 8eleven bathroom and a tool for plastering the walls between exhibitions. The shrine combines the primitive and tribal with the kitschy and commercial, representing a subculture of Chinatown and the appropriation of Western commercialist aesthetic. The “primitive” is usually isolated in the museum, presented as historical material, whereas here it collides with the “modern,” in a configuration of “cheap” objects as mobilizing counterparts to material culture. In this way, Cruz challenges the assumed need to separate and reserve objects according to their respective historical contexts. There is a dismantling of principles and rules in favour of an intuitive sourcing of information and presentation of culture, loosely sensing the site’s past histories.
Archeological Apathy does not directly engage museological language but instead meanders between an understanding and concretizing of cultural materials. Somewhere between those two points, empirical methods break apart to reveal their limitations. There is a resistance to established forms of generating knowledge, bringing forth the notion of democratic access and decentred authorship. Cruz inserts his own cultural narrative within established colonial viewpoints and histories. In doing so, he seems to suggest that while we can return to the act of archeological digging and sourcing, this search appears futile and existential, yet it is satirical in its sincerity, acknowledging that the weight of knowledge is our potential demise.