Project Statement at Parallel Vienna, September 24-30 / by Alina Bliumis

Lassallestraße 1, 1020 Vienna

Press preview: Monday, 24th September. 2018
Opening: Tuesday, 25th September 2018

The fair will run from Wednesday, 26th September-Sunday, 30th September 2018.

I will be showing Most of Us Are 2018 alongside works by Jeff Bliumis and Ivan Novikov, curator Maria Kalinina.

Most Of Us Are, 2018, Ink and graphite pencil on unprimed canvas, 68x58 cm each

Stamatina Gregory
Never Been to Nauru

What is a global citizen? In the absence of a transnationally enforceable set of laws or doctrines on human rights, ecological preservation, or other interests of humanity, what remains is a set of ideas, historical and contemporary, on what this term—global citizenship—could mean. In 2005, the World Values Survey—a global research project providing data on socio-cultural and political change—included for the first time the statement “I see myself as a world citizen,” in its polling of almost 54 countries on subjects including religion, national identity, and well-being. (For the record, most of those polled in 2005 agreed.) Over the past decade (one in which globalization and its discontents have been only recently the subject of major electoral rifts), global citizenship has come to be defined in various ways, including interconnectedness, social and environmental justice, empathy, and cultural understanding.

Although there are now plenty of innovative curricula and inspired mission statements around this idea, there is little consensus on how and why people come to see themselves as shar- ing some wider identity. But one could extrapolate one possible shared idea: on some levels and in some ways, however banal or incidental, we are more alike than different. Regardless of mass educational inequality, we generally agree that the earth is round. Despite our nuanced views on the finer points of the government’s regulation of the free market, or the degree to which extreme wealth is rightfully earned, we mostly agree that capitalism’s effects are evident (the poor get poorer). We have statistically dominant favorite colors and favorite Disney moments.

If some of this sounds like a sappy commercial, that’s no accident. “Most Of Us Are” (2018) takes as its material recent years of both statistic demographic research and global opinion polling—practices that originated after the Depression, when decreased funding for advertising created a demand for more informed knowledge about domestic (and eventually, international) consumer demographics. Bliumis’s work references several of the hundreds of worldwide polls undertaken recently, including regular Bible reading (tracked by Gallup since 1992); acknowl- edgment of climate change (Gallup, 2007); belief that capitalism results in growing inequality (YouGov, 2017); and the belief in extraplanetary life (Glocalities, 2017). In each work on canvas, a global everyperson, metaphorically sketched in broad categorical strokes, is accompanied by the literal sketches of figures, resembling those found in instructional books on life drawing, which present “average” human figures and the basic shapes of their rendering – cubes, triangles, oblongs, long and arced lines. Unique physiognomies, race, disability, and other forms of dif- ference evaporate in these dual portraits, each a simultaneously tender and absurdist poem of statistical appropriation. 

On the one hand, no citizen of the world cobbled together from shared demographic data truly exists. “Most of Us Are #1” makes this point, tongue in cheek, noting “most of us are named Mohammed, last name Lee.” A few Mohammed Lees undoubtedly exist in the world—but clearly under a radically different set of intercultural circumstances than the vast majority of those that share either their surname or first name. (A well-known line from the American TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in which a character, angling for a “statistical edge” in his answer to a trivia question about a famous astronaut, shouts the name “Mohammed Lee,” has become a contemporary punchline.) “Most of Us Are” playfully follows this tension, moving between the broad strokes which sketch an imaginary global citizen (at least, an imaginary product of a nar- row set of offered choices, opinions, and affiliations), and a citizen for whom broadly constructed categories of identity may never (or could never) apply.

Whoever a global citizen might be, most of us would agree: freedom of movement is en- demic to their self-perception. (The mere ability to respond to a poll, signaling some degree of enfranchisement, might be another indicator.) What “Most Of Us Are #2” states is true: most of us have “never been to Nauru.” But the tiny state in Oceania is a microcosm for the global forces that shape our opinions and affiliations, as well as our seemingly immutable identifying data. Nauru is like many other parts of the globe in its history of colonization, military base use, ecological devastation due to phosphorous mining, turning the island into a hollow shell rimmed by coconut palms: an invasive species that has wiped out any remaining indigenous flora. With its natural resources depleted, and its one-time economic boom turned to seemingly permanent bust, the Nauruan government instituted liberal banking policies, becoming an easy access point for international money-laundering operations. Most recently, Nauru has entered into the rapidly expanding business of offshore refugee detention, partnering with the Australian government to keep asylum seekers, including children, in conditions of imprisonment lasting years: an indefi- nite “processing” aimed to quell anti-immigrant sentiment. Residents of similar places in the world, in which neither practical national citizenship nor any sense of global affinity are able to exist, are growing.

With this in mind, perhaps the better question is not who is the global citizen, but where is the global citizen? Or rather, where and how does this idea exist? According to a recent poll by GlobeScan, citizens of emerging economies, including China, Peru, and India, are most likely to identify as citizens of the world—more strongly than their sense of belonging to their own country. But, perhaps unsurprisingly among citizens of Germany, the US, and Russia a sense of nationalism has been rising. “Most Of Us Are,” deceptively simple in form, draws the faintest lines of the structures of power that construct our entire subjectivity. In this speculative space, a gentle call, a lyric appeal to look beyond a rapidly encroaching, perilous nativism.