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The promotional postcard for D.C. artist TEMI’s first solo exhibition, “Void,” is a card picturing NC-451, Post-Human Network Cyborg No. 451, a man dressed in a business suit wearing a gas mask and holding a copy of the Financial Times, descending an escalator at the Glenmont Metro station.
The day before the U.S. bombed Iraq last December, TEMI, a 20-something Georgetown University philosophy graduate and current student of Zen, set out with his roommate from Union Station for the last stop on the Red Line during morning rush hour. Once at Glenmont, TEMI had his roommate ride down the escalator to the platform several times while he took pictures. “One man, upon entering the station and catching a glimpse of NC-451, turned around without hesitation and headed out of the station,” TEMI remembers. As he finished his third roll of film, the station manager summoned him up to the control booth and offered the phone. “The voice on the other end identified himself as a Metro Police lieutenant and asked who I was, what exactly was I doing, why was I doing it, who I was doing it forand that I needed to stop whatever it is that I am doing and exit the station promptly.” Before leaving, he invited the officer to his exhibition.
A few blocks from Eastern Market, inside Gallerie 500, Indian music chimes as smoke from sandalwood incense rises. In the middle of the floor, votive candles enclosed by bricks in the shape of a spiral cast dim light around the room, making up a sort of centerpiece. This is the world of “Void,” an installation exhibition with the goal of creating “nothing” by eliminating the boundaries that make up “something.”
Throughout the gallery’s five rooms, multimedia works that look like abstract paintings from afar reveal themselves upon close inspection to be collages composed from single photographs of sites such as Australia’s Ayers Rock; a lake in Queenstown, New Zealand; New York’s Soho neighborhood, Empire State Building, and parking meters; and D.C.’s cherry blossoms. The prints were duplicated up to 200 times, cut, and positioned onto aluminum panels that form double helixes. The assemblages, which range in color from orange and blue to brownish-gray, are suspended from the walls by steel cables and connected to aluminum tentacles that coil around each room. Their objective, says TEMI, is to show the simple duality of expansion and contraction.
TEMI, a former Doctor Who and Star Trek fanatic, now spends most of his time obsessing over and preparing for a technology-saturated world in which people will be controlled by computers. In one corner of the exhibition, nine gas masks hang in front of aluminum panels attached to the wall by more tentacles, which are in turn connected to the ceiling in his interpretation of “network masks connected to the Mother Borg.” The piece, TEMI says, explores the commodification of identity freedom vs. bondage; to emphasize the point he would like to “get some emaciated non-European women to stand inside the gas masks” for extended periods of time.
To encourage people to come to Capitol Hill, TEMI has placed, Willy Wonka-style, five special postcards among the thousands disseminated around the metropolitan area. The cards, one hidden in each of the city’s four quadrants and one secreted in the March 14 edition of a local newspaper, bear, in addition to the information about the show, a string of “9”s within the “seal of the collective.” The holder of one of these cards will be entitled to receive a photographic print at the opening. Other art will be sold by raffle; a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Tardis Group, a nonprofit promoting education through art.Ayesha Morris
“Void” opens Sunday, March 21, at Gallerie 500, 500 9th St. SE. (202) 543-9200.