“Naphthalene” participating artists are convinced that hierarchies are been woven into the fabric of our lives so tightly that we cease to notice their existence, become blind to see the processes behind their emergence. In other words, we take them for granted. The workings of “Naphthalene” begin, so to speak, with the condensation of the hitherto intangible and unmanifested body of hierarchies. In this sense, “Naphthalene” acts as an estrangement device, destroying the perceptional automatism and unveiling the hierarchies in all their diversity.
The next step would be to temporarily embrace one of the surrounding hierarchical systems and start playing by their rules. Here “temporary” is the key. Let us pretend for a moment that the hierarchy is legit and valuable thing, that it really is supposed to make the life easier. Let us accept them (again, temporarily) as ready-to-use models.
Having done this, we approach the main phase of the experiment. Since any ranking is organized vertically, with the most valuable/important/influential items on top and “so-so” stuff underneath, let us agree to only pay attention to the lower part of any given ranking, focusing on the areas where the “mediocre”, “grassroots” things are.
Welcome to the world of secondary!
It feels appropriate to have a small break here and understand the exhibition title, “Naphthalene”, better. Naphthalene is a chemical used to prevent damaging the fabrics by the moth. One usually places it with garments which have been put aside closets and aren’t supposed to be worn often. In its material form, naphthalene is the companion of clothing items no longer needed but still been kept for god knows what reason. Viewed metaphorically, naphthalene can shed some light (and maybe to question also) on decision-making processes of determining what’s necessary and what’s unnecessary. Choices like this are nothing more than the hierarchy building exercises. The “unnecessary” has its place on the margins of the ranking. The “unnecessary” is protected from spoiling and permanent destruction with the agency of naphthalene. This situation represents, so to speak, the good news for the “secondary”, a kind of eternal life promise for it.
The bad news is that the flows of the most valuable asset of the information age, the attention capital, most often go past the “secondary”. Only the upper floors have no shortage of attention. When everybody’s looking up, it becomes clear that “Naphthalene”’s invitation to look “down” is a political decision rather than an aesthetic one.
Indeed, “Naphthalene” is a politically charged exhibition. However, you will not find any single project serving the current socio-economical and political agenda in this exhibition. The subjects of ATO, Donbass and Crimea, all those mandatory themes in practically all recent Ukrainian contemporary art shows, are not given the voice. Not a single utterance on migrants and refugee crisis, the nuclear threat, bitcoin and Trump. “Naphthalene” artists seem to be more interested in talking about Barbie dolls, curbing after dogs, billboards and comic books. They explore Christian heresies with the same passion they inspect the garbage containers contents. They prefer non-actual over the topical.
The political nature of choice implies that when something has been selected, at the same time something else has been unselected. Viewed as unselected, the body of secondary and non-actual stops being a mere foundation of the pyramid. Moreover, the inviolability of the pyramid itself becomes less obvious. Bringing the context of the “politics of choice” into our analysis of the phenomenon of “secondary” allows to question the authority of the choice-making actor.
The act of rejection, or the act of unselection, is thematized by “Naphthalene” as a repressive one, as one of power apparatuses. As an alternative to rejection, we propose considering the refusal, despite in English the two words are synonymous. Refusal is tied with the well-known Bartleby formulation “I would prefer not to…”, which brings in the subject of non-trivial relationship between these two concepts. It is unlikely that we are dealing with a dialectical pair, where the constituent parts reinforce each other. Most likely (this is still a hypothesis), refusal can be thought of as rejection subjected to rebranding. Almost identical from the outside, the procedures of refusal and rejection are fundamentally different in motivation. The rejection is hierarchical, the refusal is counter-hierarchical. Refusal is the rejection of rejection.
By the way, “Naphthalene” as a whole serves as an example of refusal practices, since it has deliberately refused either the cheap spectacularity or the transgression. To some extent, we feel fed up with the ‘screaming’ contemporary art, and “Naphthalene” was conceived as a ‘quiet’ exhibition, rich in textual works and inviting for lengthy immersion. But the main motivation was precisely to activate the political potential of refusal as a strategy for resistance to the spectacle.
Finally we have to admit: it was very interesting for us to work with the secondary, irrelevant, outcast, discarded, forgotten, left for later. The research is not complete. “Naphthalene” has done a job of creating a precedent, and it is premature to put a point in the discussion.
We wish you a pleasant viewing!