Otherness as a Wall (exhibition essay)

Exhibition essay for “New York Meets Tbilisi: Defining Otherness Parts 1 & 2,” to be presented at the Kunstraum LLC and The Assembly Room collaborative exhibition project in January and in March 2020.

 

Otherness as a Wall

1

 A positive affirmation of local values later turned into contempt for outsiders.

Mario Vargas Llosa

 

Rita Khachaturian, from series Fears, 2017-2018
Rita Khachaturian, from series Fears, 2018

Otherness is something that exists inside and outside of ourselves. As a concept imposed onto the macro, external realty the Otherness or “the quality or fact of being different”[1] is fundamental to understanding of our roles, system of relationships, rules in the contemporary society, definitions of our collective experience. Other is always there to the point of us completely forgetting his or her presence, without him/her/them we cannot be ourselves, we only exist in juxtaposition to something outside of us. However, Other is also part of micro, internal lives of our psyche, where various parts collide and not always coalesce into one harmonious hole. Otherness or alienation of this intrinsic sort becomes even more difficult to pinpoint and pin down, to analyze and define, because it connects directly to charged ideas of self-perception, ego, and acceptable norms of any given society, deconstructing it becomes very tricky.

Conceptually ‘Other’ and ‘Otherness’ is a fragile, too broad or too narrow, depending on the context and the user of it, of his or her essence, skin color, emotional makeup and cultural baggage. It keeps shifting just as our identities shift and change from one concrete point to the next as we go across our life shifting and discovering pieces and strands of ourselves, some parts of these newly discovered elements could remain hidden, untouched, almost taboo because of the prejudices by now we have internalized about ourselves and others.

Culture and society are built upon the ambiguity surrounding this vague concept. Wars were fought in the name of defeating ‘other’ ideologies, ‘other’ religious or economic values, ‘other’ understanding of realities that could not be reconciled with ‘our’ own be it on a nationalist or cultural basis. As long as the human race exists it has been ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and ‘they’ always continue to be different because ‘they’ cannot be fully understood and completely seen if not juxtaposed by ‘our’ own premises and believes. For an obvious example, the Western hemisphere has constructed image of the exotic, primitive, crude Other as the basis for its supremacy in the world, yet, it kept forgetting that the Other was also looking at the West and its standards, in some cases it lead to mimicry,[2] in others to postcolonial struggles.

Contemporary reality with its roots in poststructuralism underlined the validity of multiple meanings to a single set of raw data. Suddenly it became self-evident that life has many readings, liberating larger cultural discourse into something less fundamental albeit more fragmentary, giving each hypothesis of internal or external otherness a right to exist.

 

Stay tuned for more….

 

[1] Аccording to MacBook dictionary

[2] Homi K. Bhabha, Location of Culture, London and New York,1994