detail, 2007, Mongolian Ger, trailer, Johnson Solids -ply, acrylic

detail, 2007, Mongolian Ger, trailer, Johnson Solids -ply, acrylic, government archives, pallets, plastic film.

 

detail, 2007

 

detail, 2007, vinyl lettering

 

 

FOLLOWING THE PAPER TRAIL

by Soda_Jerk aka Dan and Dominique Angeloro


The territory of an artwork cannot be mapped. What we offer here is a single path through The Paper Trail, pieced together from the bits of paper that guided our way.


Document 1: Email correspondence with the artists [viewed 28/05/07]
The first we heard about The Paper Trail came in an email from the artists earlier this year. The ultimate form that the installation would take had not yet been formulated but Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy were sure of one thing: there would be a yurt in it. At some stage in high school we’d learnt that a yurt was a form of transportable shelter used in nomadic societies. It could be assembled quickly and was suitable for a wide range of climate conditions. As mobile dwellings such as caravans have often featured in Sean and Claire’s work, the fact that the artists were keen to work with such a structure came as no surprise.


Document 2: A magazine article [viewed 28/05/07]
The idea that the artists were interested in utilising nomadic architecture reminded us of an Australian Art Collector that had been sitting under our coffee table. In an excellent article titled ‘Home and Away,’ Edward Colless connects the nomadic travel habits of Sean and Claire with the globalisation of the art market by arguing that “the proliferation of international arts residency programs over the past decade or so has generated a population of subsidised career transients.”1 But for Colless what distinguishes Sean and Claire from other nomadic art professionals is that their nomadism is not simply a way of reaching an international market, but also a key conceptual concern of their practice. On this point he receives back-up from Sean: “Our art is about spaces of transit, where you cross between territories.”


Document 3: The installation floor plan [viewed 24/06/07]
We had been tipped off that Sean and Claire were researching the Mongol Empire and had settled on a ger (Mongolian for yurt) for their proposed installation. And yet when the floor plan arrived in our inbox, our limited knowledge of Mongolian history had left us wholly unprepared for the presence of so many filing cabinets. Just what was this fixture of the Western corporate office doing inside a dwelling utilized by barbarian nomads from the 13th and 14th century?


Document 4: A Wikipedia entry [viewed 24/06/07]
A brief Wikipedia search made it clear that the proliferation of filing cabinets was not so incongruous with Mongolian history after all2. In fact, the Mongol Empire was characterised by a high level of bureaucracy; ruling not only through military intimidation but also administrative force. After a city had been conquered, clerks were instructed to arrange the population by profession in order for their knowledge and expertise to be mobilised by the Empire. A detailed stock take of the city’s valuables was also taken so that the spoils could be evenly distributed amongst the conquering army. Of course procedures such as these required vast documentation, and paper became a key resource for the Mongols—so much so that in 1221 the Empire demanded that Korea present them with one hundred thousand sheets of paper.


Document 5: Reference books [viewed 07/07/07]
However, tracking the significance of paper to the Mongol Empire is not only a matter of volume but also of distribution. More than 200 years before Gutenberg’s press, the Mongol’s had revolutionised printing by adapting Chinese print technology to incorporate their phonetic alphabet. This development sped up the process immeasurably by eliminating the need to carve the entire text from scratch3. Combined with the efficient transport networks that connected the Empire, this generated optimum conditions for the mass dissemination of information – a fact that would be of interest to Paul Virilio who has argued that “[p]ossession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.”4 While the textbook account of the “evolution” of a society posits a flow from nomadism-agarianism-suburbanisation-industrialisation-globalism, the paper trail of the Mongol Empire would seem to suggest a link between the distributed networks of nomadism and contemporary globalism.


Document 6: A mathematics webpage [viewed 30/06/07]
None of this, however, appeared to account for the stunning mirrored forms throughout the artist’s installation. Labelled “Johnson Solids” on the floor plan, we typed the term into a search engine, half expecting to unearth a rare gem or traditional Mongolian relic. Instead we discovered the following definition: “In geometry a Johnson Solid is a strictly convex polyhedron, each face of which is a regular polygon, which is not a Platonic solid, Archimedean solid, prism, or antiprism. There is no requirement that each face must be the same polygon, or that the same polygons join around each vertex.”5 The fact that a Johnson Solid is a form consisting of an irregular combination of shapes recalled a passage we had read in Jack Weatherford’s text Genghis Kahn and Making of the Modern World (2004).


Document 7: A reference book [viewed 07/07/07]
For Weatherford what is significant about the culture of the Mongol Empire is that it was essentially a conglomeration of influences. He argues that “because they had no system of their own to impose on their subjects, they were willing to adopt and combine systems from everywhere... They searched for what worked best and when they found it, they spread it to other countries.”6 So while the Mongols are credited with very few inventions, they were undoubtedly responsible for facilitating an environment where disparate ideas and cultures could be combined into new constellations. “The Mongol armies destroyed the uniqueness of the civilisations around them by shattering the protective walls that isolated one civilisation from another and by knotting the cultures together.”7 Interestingly, it’s a quotation that could just as easily function as an assessment of contemporary globalism.


Document 8: An artist statement [viewed 24/06/07]
Of course, what is conspicuously absent from the above paper trail is the very document that initiated the circulation of sources in this text—the artist statement. Sean and Claire conclude with the following: “The conflagration of Nomadism and Globalism challenges our perception of both concepts: removing the perceived purity of nomadism and questioning the sophistication behind globalism.”

 

 

1 Edward Colless, ‘Home and Away’, Australian Art Collector, Issue 38, Oct-Dec 2006, p109
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_Empire, online: 24/06/07, p1
3 Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Crown, 2004) p232
4 Paul Virilio, Pure War (Virilio and Lotringer, 1997 [1983])
5 http://mathworld.wolfram.com/JohnsonSolid.html, online: 30/06/07, p1
6 Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Crown, 2004) p234 7 Ibid, p267