I was immediately struck by the consistent whirring, the analog sound of the past, that greeted me upon entering Galerie Campagne Première. Two 16 mm film projectors produced the sound and atmosphere of Marco Poloni’s exhibition, Codename: Osvaldo. Two Case Studies.
Inside, the lower third of the gallery’s walls are painted a light green reminiscent of military camouflage. Crude wooden planks with evident nails make up the floor. Three fluorescent tubes cast sheets of white light onto most of the room; in one corner, there is a single lightbulb, comparatively yellow, hanging over an unrefined rectangular wooden table.
Housed in this space, Poloni’s exhibition is composed of various media: film, pamphlet, photograph, text, diagram, sign, architectural blueprint, cactus… These elements, although diverse, share an allegiance to facticity—they are in no way abstract—they simply chronicle moments. Yet these moments are haphazardly showcased such that they have no linear narrative—they come upon the viewer all at once. I was initially overwhelmed.
As I meandered through the space, I slowly realized that the actual assembly of images is not the point of Poloni’s installation, at least not for me. None of the exhibited elements are particularly inspiring on their own (a film reel of a scientist studying piranhas, a professional headshot of a moustachioed man, a triangular metal sign riddled with bullet holes); where the artistry really resides is in the space between these elements, where the imagination takes over.
I wondered why the images were placed in such an unsystematic manner—how these moments, how these facts, are connected. The reality that that underpins the exhibition is that no one actually knows. Thus the real creation took place in my mind—Poloni simply orchestrated a moment of creative reflection. The chaotic placement of the exhibition’s elements becomes incredibly poignant when perceived along this conceptual vein.
I was reminded of the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre: no matter how much time one has to list every quantifiable and qualitative detail of something, there will still be something inherent that escapes expression. In Nausea, Roquintin realizes that no matter how many facts, no matter how much research he does into the life of M. de Rollebon, a minor figure in the French Revolution, about whom he is writing a biography, there will always be a level of speculation to his work. The inevitable space between facts will always be filled by conjecture. At that, he feels nausea—he encounters the existential burden of his own subjectivity.
That subjective burden is what I encountered in Poloni’s exhibition, through the lens of Bolivian nationalist groups and authoritarian regimes—through the lens of history.
Poloni also comments on the mechanisms of power in authoritarian regimes—it’s about controlling the facts seen by the public (the public image of Colonel Roberto Quintanilla standing over the corpse of revolutionary Inti Peredo, for example). He upends that hierarchical relationship by displaying a rarely seen image of the naked corpse of Quintanilla (what They, capital T, don’t want you to see) alongside the Bolivian propaganda.
Codename: Osvaldo. Two Case Studies amounts to a renunciation of history as an imposed narrative while commenting on the nature of facticity. Even the text, which is the crux of the first case study, The Pistol of Monika Ertl, there is a necessary degree of speculation: events “likely played out as follows.” There is so much relational space in between the authentic documents presented by Poloni—the image of Roberto Quintanilla’s corpse, the diagram of Ms. Ertl’s Colt Cobra .38 Special, the photograph of Qunitanilla posing over the body of Peredo. The exhibition operates in that in-between.
While today’s digitized world is one of perceived certainty, Poloni’s analog environment hearkens back to another era—one that did not attempt to deny, and even revelled in, the extent of its imperfect chronicling. Listening to the antiquated whirring of outmoded technology, I realized that today we are just as fallible; the memory that hinges these facts together is perennially imperfect.
I found this installation provocative: it challenges the hegemony of dominant political narratives and celebrates the tenuous relationship between fact and truth.
Artist: Marco Poloni
Exhibition: Codename: Osvaldo. Two Case Studies
Date: November 27, 2015 to January 30, 2016
Gallery: Galerie Campagne Premiere
Photos courtesy of Campagne Première Berlin
Photos: Henning Moser
Writing by Abigail Lynn Klinkenberg
Photographs provided by the gallery