Naming Things (2015-2016)

single channel HD video, stereo 2-channel audio; looping installation or single screening, 20 minutes

At the heart of this audiovisual installation lies an unresolved skepticism about the ultimate reliability of human-designed systems of categorization, despite the fact that these systems undergird every aspect of human activity and knowledge: science, technology, agriculture, medicine, food, social relations, economics, philosophy, art. The tension between the necessity of our reliance on them and doubt in the wisdom of trusting them was highlighted in a famous essay by Jorge Luis Borges, and subsequently by Michel Foucault in the form of a book.

There is a passage in "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" where Borges recalls:

'...a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its pages it is written that animals can be divided into: (A) those belonging to the Emperor, (B) those that are embalmed, (C) those that are tame, (D) pigs, (E) sirens, (F) imaginary animals, (G) wild dogs, (H) those included in this classification, (I) those that move as if crazed, (J) those that are uncountable, (K) those painted with the finest brush made of camel hair, (L) miscellaneous, (M) those which have just broken a vase, and (N) those which, from a distance, look like flies.'

By blurring the line between fact (John Wilkins was a genuine historical figure) and fiction (the non-existent Chinese encyclopedia) Borges interrogates the infallibility of mankind's efforts to make sense of the world; this was the inspiration for Foucault's "The Order of Things".

Naming Things' sometimes playful appearance aims to destabilize misplaced assumptions of a coherent logic in how we taxonomize the world and our place in it. Emulating Borgesian tactics, existing fauna are juxtaposed with invented organisms in a fictitious menagerie—a seemingly straightforward list, in the Latourian sense—where the organisms can occupy more than one category, and where the categories themselves can seem to create more ambiguous connections than they ultimately clarify. As an additional structural feedback loop, we incorporated some Mandarin sonic elements as a gesture of sharing knowledge about our imaginary creatures with the Emperor.

excerpt on Vimeo (on right): Dining Tsars