Acts of Refusal: Olivia Blender

Artist's bio written for the catalogue of Acts of Refusal – an exhibition at Tartu Art Hall curated by Ellen Blumenstein and Kathrin Meyer (THE OFFICE) in September 2011.

Catalogue in PDF://

Olivia Plender (*1977 in London, lives in Berlin) uses various media, often creating instal- lations that expand their topic into space, creating an environment that allows the viewer to enter physically into the thinking process. In Acts of Refusal, Plender will show an audio piece together with drawings from the graphic novel Are Dreams Hallucinations During Sleep or Hallucinations Waking Dreams? (2011). This book is illustrated by the artist, but the text is claimed to be by Andrew Jackson Davis, a 19th century spiritualist and clairvoyant. Davis, who died in 1910 and claimed to be the first American prophet, offered detailed predictions about future scientific discoveries and inspired Edgar Allan Poe with his lectures.

The text in Plender’s graphic novel was purportedly delivered from Davis through the British medium Gladys Carrs on April 30, 2011. The desolate vision of Planet Earth at the beginning of the 21st century, told from beyond this world, is somewhat soothing in its eternal dimension, thanks to its Biblical rhythm. Let the prophets say what they want: life will go on – and has always gone on – with its customary ups and downs. The text draws on different sources such as literary texts, dreams and the daily news. The resulting narrative is an absurd tale, meandering between times and places, real events and illusions or hallucinations. As on an absurd theatre stage, the world does not make sense – or are we always already living in an irrational, absurd system?

In 2009, Plender developed a series of five posters announcing, among others, the presence of a whale in the river Thames, a warning about fake wooden nutmeg sales and an absurdist play about Iceland and England being at war. While there really was a whale swim- ming up the Thames in 2006, and England did use anti terrorist legislation against Iceland in order to freeze Icelandic assets in the UK after their financial collapse, the nutmeg poster is the only one of the series of five which is a complete fiction. “Don’t take any wooden nutmegs” is a 19th century American idiom that means don’t let anyone con you. In these pieces, Plender relocates actual events, which seem totally absurd taken out of their original context, marking the actual absurdity of the real world.

History is an important source for Plender’s work, which often departs from historical episodes and imagery. Much of her research is driven by questioning the events and conditions that have contributed to the development of neo-liberalism and today’s social and financial system. The “voice of authority” that claims power in the media and in historical discourse, the preservation of inequality and the seemingly immovable status quo are issues that her work seeks to make visible, undermine and call into question.

Acts of Refusal:  Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys    
No99 Straw Theatre

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