The exhibition ‘Breach!’ is inspired by China Miéville’s novel ‘The City & the City’ (2009). The book, a captivating urban fantasy, tells the story of two cities – Besźel and Ul Qoma – that occupy the exact same space, but remain separate entities with each having its own government, laws, history and traditions. The inhabitants of Besźel and Ul Qoma speak different languages, adhere to different habits and wear different types of clothing. Through all of that as well as a variety of other traits, they signal their belonging to one city or the other. Thanks to years of training – which in this case means learning to “unsee” or “unhear” anything happening in the other city – the people of Besźel and Ul Qoma are able to completely avoid noticing each other. The act of ignoring this separation – intentionally noticing a person or object belonging to the other city, so called “breaching” – is a severely punished crime.
Although the setting of ‘The City & the City’ seems to be at first glance a purely fictional construct, after a closer examination it reveals itself as a compelling allegory of contemporary city life. Like the citizens of Besźel and Ul Qoma, we make and remake the cities around us without realising what we leave out of the picture. Constantly living in a state of a mild dissociation we omit the elements of the urban environment that do not fit into our social, conceptual and sensual apparatus. Walking anywhere in our towns is like undergoing a master class in unseeing – in relation to neighbours, homeless people, inhabitants of a different class or cultural background. The divisions enforced by education, economy or politics become every bit as real as actual physical walls. As a result each city consists in fact of several other cities whose inhabitants, although very close to one another, rarely meet and if the encounter happens, its scope is very limited, making understanding somebody else’s life very difficult. Isolationism, reinforced by the ideology of pure, clearly delineated identities, creates a culture of hostility, marginalisation and oppression.
How to offer a meaningful resistance to this state of affairs? Is there a way of capturingsome more of “the enormous rest” of the iceberg so that the Titanic eventually doesn’t go down (Cortázar)? In this exhibition Miéville’s “breaching” becomes a narrative instrument helping us to recognise, practise and reflect on various techniques of “opening up” towards the barely experienceable “unknown” – reaching out for it, partly succeeding, mostly failing, being invited to speculate about the unseen rest and accepting the fact that some things will never be fully understood. What remains is living with a consciousness that the whole (for example somebody else’s culture or religion) will never be fully given. Selected cases of transgression, appropriation, contamination and violation of numeric, geographical, conceptual and sensual limits presented here are driven by curiosity, fascination, desire and longing to become someone/something else, ultimately getting at a complex, hybrid and uncategorizable identity.
A number of artworks in the exhibition are of scattered nature; having multiple elements or being of vast scale, they are sometimes not easily discerned from other objects in the gallery, making it impossible for the visitors to experience them in full. Some of the works even “breach” each other, creating a sort of fungal or rhizome-like structure that does not allow a delineation of the borders between them.
Together with the artists whose works are presented in the exhibition, we want to invite you to breach with us, to cross over the threshold into a city in which life goes beyond what is usual and expected, a place full of fascinating intercultural encounters, clashes and influences – an “Extra City”. Breach!