- by Adela Yawitz, The Biography of Things exhibition catalogue, The Australian Center for Contemporary Art2014
The images that compose Ilit Azoulay’s Shifting Degrees of Certainty (2014) take the form of a network: audio and texts draw narrative lines between the frames, which the spectator discovers, connects, interprets. The biographies of her objects create a web of interweaving facts, memories and rumours. Azoulay’s collection is, however, merely a semblance of the comprehensiveness and flexibility implied by the word ‘network’—the more you follow each narrative thread, the less reliable its connections become. The network’s centre—the artist-detective, and in turn the viewer who follows her—is surrounded by objects straining for attention, for further investment in their stories. Azoulay’s web proposes ambiguous depths contradictory to the common perception of a network, as it has come to define our economic and social life. The network is an emblem of today’s capitalist labour economy, the objects or individuals that compose it of secondary value to its scope and applicability, which have become goals in their own right.1 The network allows for maximum flexibility of the individual worker, which in the current moment of connectivity is valued above any specific skill. In order to facilitate this flexibility, a new relationship has emerged between individuals and their objects: one that replaces ownership with rental, sharing, and exchange.2 The individualistic subject is no longer tied down to property or committed relationships, but moves freely and quickly within his growing network of possibilities; she stops only long enough to complete one project at a time, never dwelling, investing or investigating more than precisely necessary.3 Artists are such subjects par excellence: always on the move, their skills generalised to observation and image-formation, presumably transferrable and applicable globally. Though conceived during a residency—an embodiment of the artist’s trade-off of stability for creativity—Azoulay’s project is fueled precisely by the opposite drive. Her ‘rental’ period in Berlin may have been brief, but her attempt to plant roots during it is consistent with her practice, which requires long, detailed investigation. Many of the objects in her network are architectural: corners, details, practical additions or ornaments. Architecture, or real estate, is the most stable but also inflexible form of property, since it ties its owner to one location. Azoulay does not disown such binding possessions; for her, property continues to carry its former owners, and she is fascinated by the stories that emerge from the walls. Other objects in her network are links to further idiosyncratic collections: archeological, familial—objects passed down through generations. Their worth is for the most part not monetary but estimated in other value systems—their historical or personal worth, the lives they have touched. Azoulay connects with other professionals whose work is to unearth and permanently attach meaning to objects: collectors, archive managers, natural scientists. Her insistence, along with theirs, on objects’ lasting meaning, on their indispensable properties, proposes a currently unfashionable alternative to the transient, adjustable content around us. It unearths former significance, and clings to the relevance of context even after it is no longer “case-sensitive”, no longer productive. The incongruity between the unencumbered economic networks we move within and the type of networks heavy with ambivalent knowledge that Azoulay proposes create a complexity, an intrigue. The project’s argument for grounding, and for the accumulated meaning of objects and spaces, produces a fascination, a non-practical immersion, a search independent of any possible answer. Her objects’ inability to create one whole—their fragmentation into impractical details and anecdotes—is perhaps a reassertion of our possessions’ complexity, an attempt at assigning lasting but unsimplified codification, for longer than any single artist project’s lifespan.
1. Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2007), p. 107.
2. Ibid., pp. 152-153. 3 Ibid., p. 462.