“We do not start from human beings, those latecomers, nor from language, a more recent arrival still. The world of meaning and the world of being are one and the same world, that of translation, substitution, delegation, passing. We shall say that any other definition of essence is ‘devoid of meaning’; in fact, it is devoid of the means to remain in presence, to last. All durability, all solidity, all permanence will have to be paid for by its mediators. It is this exploration of a transcendence without a contrary that makes our world so very unmodern, with all those nuncios, mediators, delegates, fetishes, machines, figurines, instruments, representatives, angels, lieutenants, spokespersons and cherubim. What sort of world is it that obliges us to take into account, at the same time and in the same breath, the nature of things, technologies, sciences, fictional beings, religions large and small, politics, jurisdictions, economies and unconsciousnesses? Our own, of course. That world ceased to be modern when we replaced all essences with the mediators, delegates and translators that gave them meaning. That is why we do not yet recognize it. It has taken on an ancient aspect, with all those delegates, angels and lieutenants.”
- Bruno Latour We Have Never Been Modern
Taking its title from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, the summer exhibition on view at Room East considers the unmodern, that ancient, enduring quality of art, which transcends contemporaneity and incants origins and prophecies, rituals and rebellions. The title of the show also refers to the German prefix ‘ur-’, as in ‘ur-text’, a term used in literary theory to refer to an origin text. Insofar as any idea has an origin-—albeit impossible to fully reconstruct-—all materials have uses prior to their value in the making of art, whether it be wood, metal, fabric, ceramic, paint, paper, or ink.
The works in this group exhibition were selected because of their archaeological undertones, their appropriation of materials, their reference to prior points of artistic practice, and their layers of the handmade. Each in its own way is an attempt at eking out some ineluctable truth whether that kernel of knowledge be hidden in the history of language, the development of images as objects, the failure of various artistic tropes, or the duplicity of an object that serves both form and function and neither simultaneously. The unstated goal is to present an excavated tomb, one that is filled with archetypal treasures, the origins of which may be felt but cannot be known.
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