localStyle: Naming Things

Jay Alan Yim and Marlena Novak
Naming Things (2015-16)

looping single channel video installation with stereo sound
24 minutes

In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”, Jorge Luis Borges blurs the line between fact (Wilkins was a 17th century clergyman, scientist, and philosopher) and fiction (in the form of a non-existent encyclopedia). In doing so, Borges tries to undermine our confidence in the infallibility of mankind's efforts to make sense of the world. One passage from this was the point of departure for Michel Foucault's book, "The Order of Things". Similarly inspired, our work's sometimes playful appearance aims to subvert the unstable assumption of a coherent underlying logic in how we categorize everything in the world around us.

In the essay there is a passage where JLB 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.' 

The innate drive to taxonomize the external world enables us to comprehend our relationships with other beings and other things, extending telescopically to our understanding of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the cosmos. Taxonomizing our internal world helps us gain greater comprehension of our bodies and our minds, extending microscopically to the world of subatomic physics, and perhaps the nature of the universe. These methodologies can be extrapolated to give us the ability to empathize with other people, and other forms of life.

As one of the Borgesian tactics that Naming Things emulates, existing fauna are juxtaposed with invented organisms into a fictitious codification whose credibility invites interrogation of how culturally specific systems of categorization and knowledge are imposed and perpetuated.

Location: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60601

10.5 — 4:25-5:26 (3 showings)
10.6 — 5:25-6:26 (3 showings)
10.7 — 4:35-4:56 (1 showing)
10.8 — 4:25-5:26 (3 showings)
10.10 — 5:00-6:23 (5 showings)