Re-nomad: the art of Kristen Alvanson
12 May 2008

Since moving from United States to the Middle East, Kristen Alvanson has built a body of work which has developed ��� almost spontaneously ��� into an interconnected project entitled Cosmic Drapery.
Alvanson���s Cosmic Drapery Project has gradually gathered under the rubric of the Middle Eastern drapery, or to be precise, the Middle East itself as a manifest drapery: how is it possible to capture the enigma of the Middle East with all its explicit state formations and implicit nomadic folds through its textile history?��� or as Alvanson puts it, ���the unfolding of the enigma of the Middle East through its drapery.��� If the Middle East in its different formations is full of explicit organizations, implicit folds, sutures of heterogeneous establishments, surreptitious alliances or folds of oppositions, miniature twists and creases which evade relevant socio-political approaches, then drapery is a medium for diagramming the Middle East in its explicit and implicit dynamisms. In this sense, Alvanson���s artistic project suggests a re-nomadization of the Middle East through fabrics and their omnipresent pleats.
Still from Kristen Alvanson���s animation ninefold
Still from Kristen Alvanson���s animation for Cosmic Drapery Project – ninefold (2008)
Comprised of three main categories (1) fabric studies / manifest draperies, (2) drawings / diagrams and (3) animation studies, the Cosmic Drapery Project currently includes five series, nomadic fabric chadors, spell chadors, flags, abjad-9 drawings and ninefold animations. The first three series are works with fabrics which themselves are divided into different sub-series based on their structures, colors, or forms of installations. Drawings and animations diagrammatically or dynamically elaborate the structures of the fabric works according to their social, political, religious and occult formations. This focus on schizophrenic orders and intricate categories can also be seen in Alvanson���s recent visual-essay for Collapse: Concept���Horror, in which she proposes that in order to tackle with deformities of nature (monsters), there should be a model or taxonomic medium which can bind all deformities without being exhausted. Rather than rectifying itself in the direction of hosting existing monsters or deformities, such a taxonomic model should precede monsters in generating deformities or anomalies. A fitting taxonomic model for monsters, Alvanson argues, must be built by a self-sufficient generative structure capable of producing deformities by which future contingents can be affirmed and hosted. For this reason, this aspect of Alvanson���s work can be artistically recapitulated in the light of her fabric orders, hierarchies of folds and drapery which capture the monstrosity of the Middle East in generating unheard-of formations.
Still from Kristen Alvanson���s animation ninefold
Still from Kristen Alvanson���s animation for Cosmic Drapery Project – ninefold (2008)
The question of diagramming or taxonomic medium (model), for Alvanson, is not a search for finding a way to draw upon potential or actual resources of Now, for its true ambition is to develop a medium to cover the future contingents. Rather than being confined to potentialities-actualities of Now, Alvanson���s artistic persuasion is the exploration of things which are currently inexistent because they belong to deeply subterranean formations (i.e. they are elusively resistant to our current actualities or even potentialities). In other words, these subterranean formations (secret folds) are not accessible by actualities or potentialities of our existing establishments because they belong to the inner logic of their components and constituting elements. For example, in Alvanson���s nomadic fabric chadors, the state fabric (of the black veil) is sutured to nomadic fabrics in order to generate new formations. These formations are developed by anomalous folds between the state and nomadic fabrics and insinuating yet unknown or inexistent alliances or oppositions between the state and the nomad���s art.
In Alvanson���s nomadic fabric chadors, spontaneous formations, folds or configurations between these fabrics diagrammatically ��� albeit implicitly ��� suggest different structures generated by anomalous connections between the state and nomadic entities. As deeply subterranean structures, these formations are unfolded by the remobilization of the state and nomadic entities in regard to each other. Despite their persistent socio-political insinuations, the majority of these formations between the state and nomadic entities do not have any corresponding counterpart in the existing actual (or potential) socio-political formations of the contemporary world. Therefore, Alvanson���s manifest drapery suggests creative formations between the state and the nomadic which are either deemed as inexistent according to actual / potential socio-political establishments of the contemporary world, or irrelevant according to the existing world���s status quo. If the implicit socio-political formations of Alvanson���s nomadic fabric chadors do not have a corresponding equivalent among actually registered social or political structures, they are not in line with what is called relevant or responsible art. If such implicit and subterranean formations cannot be accessed through our existing structures, either through analogy or recourse to the existing socio-political establishments as points of reference, then what we have here is a persistent irrelevancy which is deeply political. Yet in order to be radically political, this irrelevancy must first constitute a line of resistance toward the cultural, social or political actualities / potentialities of our world. It is this irrelevancy or subterranean (inexistent) relevancy which forms a resistance toward establishments of the current world order and hence becomes political. Since for Alvanson creating this line of resistance ��� embodied as irrelevancy to the current order of actualities ��� is a matter of artistic creativity, then the political is only generated through the artistic, not the other way around.
Rather than dwarfing art by drawing upon existing socio-political resources or established formations, Alvanson���s art questions the legitimacy of existing orders in revealing the grounds on which they have erected or from which they have emerged. This is why the resistance of the Middle East toward all globally appropriate socio-political models or establishments as an obscure formation with a subversive irrelevancy has become an artistic idea for Alvanson���s cosmic drapery project.

A nomadic fabric chador, Pewter

A nomadic fabric chador from Alvanson’s Cosmic Drapery Project – Pewter (2008)
Similar to her differentially assembled teratologic model Arbor Deformia in Collapse IV, Alvanson���s cosmic drapery project is not supposed to remain chained to the actual or potential formations or deformations (monstrosities) of the world, but to subvert them with currently inexistent formations. Having in mind that inexistent is in this case is that which cannot be afforded by or correlated with the actual or potential formations of the world we live in. Examining Alvanson���s Cosmic Drapery Project in light of her essay on monstrous taxonomies rather than taxonomies for fitting monsters opens up an entirely new dimension in regard to her art where the idea of responsible or political art is undermined in an utterly subtle and creative manner. This subversion and counteraction against relevant art and appropriate politics is carried out on behalf of a radical and speculative creativity which is the medium of the politics of resistance.
If contemporary responsible art has assumed that the artist should emphasize on relevancy of art in regard to sociopolitical and cultural formations, then art today has never been more irresponsible. A sufficient example is the image of an artist who in persuasion of relevant and responsible art attempts to envelope current and existing affairs in his art; but in doing so he debases the art by turning it into the subject of socio-political or cultural affordability of foreign events and environments. Under the politico-economically charged anthropomorphic assumption that anything can be reduced to a sensible phenomena or material and consequently can be afforded regardless of its inner logic, contemporary (responsible) art has become an obnoxiously humanitarian field in which every affair or event can indeed be a theme for an art exhibition, incorporated with art and be relevant. This is firstly, a complete failure to grasp the autonomously creative ethos of art as that which vitiates relevancy or the supposed relationship-dependent world of events and phenomena which has been constructed upon the existing potentialities and actualities of our world. Secondly, the idea of a responsible or relevant art has a purely moralistic consequence in regard to producing a generation of artists and viewers for whom art needs to be relevant in order to safeguard their position in regard to an ever expanding universe and an unfolding world of events which fundamentally exceed the capacity of our existing models or mediums of inquiry. In short, the idea of relevant art is the idea of correlating the status quo human with the contingent and alien world out there through reprogramming art with a bankrupt and already disintegrated socio-cultural system. It needs a lot of inhuman indifference or intense sympathy for sappiness to ignore the tragicomic status of the contemporary relevant / responsible art (such as this) where artistic creation is always the matter of making a bad mixture between folly and marketable sensibility, but always with different ratios: an artist responsibly heeds the latest exhibition call on War, Terror or the Middle East (having in mind that they are not that different) by presenting a machine gun from WWII or pulling a condom over a fake or defunct bullet. In line with the principles of responsible art which dictate that the artist should be up to date with current global affairs and project them in the art, another artist makes art with a relevant theme while he has never been exposed to the Middle East other than through his appropriate media or perhaps through the immigrant Middle-Eastern cabbie.
Kristen Alvanson’s first Tehran exhibition ‘nonad’ opens on May 23; it features nomadic fabric chadors, abjad-9 drawings and an animation study from her Cosmic Drapery Project. For more details on the show and her Cosmic Drapery Project check here.