We tend to approach discussions of global politics in one of two ways: either we base our arguments on general theories and statistics or we derive them from personal experience. Deborah Ligorio’s recent body of work is concerned with both of these perspectives, exploring modes of knowing that emphasize lived experience or ‘embodied knowledge’ without relinquishing the challenge of theory.
For her solo exhibition ‘Accessories in Algorithmic Gardens’, at Francesca Minini, Ligorio created a series of abstract portraits based on the carbon footprint – the sum of greenhouse-gas emissions created by an individual’s daily activities – of 11 of her friends. The artist used the collected data to create collages from materials such as cotton, paper and polyester. For example, in the case of Markus, Beijing, friend, carbon emission 14.98 Tons per year (2014), a collage made of torn fragments of image print-outs (plates of food, small toys on a keyboard) is fastened onto a support made of woven black shoulder straps with the help of two thinner straps. Anonymous, Village close to Guwahati, Assam, India, carbon emission 0.65 Tons per year (2015) consists of a collage of elephants’ trunks glued to a support made of cappuccino-coloured leather, with thin parcel twine spanning the lower section of the piece. The strings, which appear in various materials and gauges, suggest modes of transportation.
Ligorio describes these conceptual portraits as ‘research tools’, much like the series of what she calls ‘relational objects’ (a homage and reference to Lygia Clark) that were scattered on a wall-mounted shelf: a hand-knitted woollen hat, a mask, a pot with spikes, a miniature children’s slide, a hoop, spheres of different colours and sizes, the branches of a miniature tree – curious objects to touch or wear or toy with while the voice of Ligorio walks you through a guided meditation, which plays on a TV screen. Visitors were invited to wear headphones and follow the instructions. The audio mixes relaxation exercises with excerpts from the writings of Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook and Timothy Morton. What can you do with Braidotti’s theory of ‘embodied knowledge’ if not test what knowledge actually does to your body? Words mean something different when you don’t just read them in a book, but listen to them on headphones during a breathing exercise. Likewise, data can be treated as an abstract matter – or used as material to make collages.
To explore how abstract knowledge relates to material practices, and to expand the means of her artistic research, in 2014 Ligorio initiated a series of workshops entitled ‘The Eponym’. After two sets of similar events in Berlin, she brought this idea to Milan, where, a day before the exhibition’s opening, guests met to discuss the data-driven economy, wearable computers, sustainable growth and to do exercises with the help of a choreographer. What remained of the workshop were chairs and carpets, and a monitor showing a series of short looped trailers for ‘The Eponym’ workshops. Tickling the curiosity of the viewer, these abstract mini-films show close-ups of what could be plants or molecules, and announced more workshops to come. Ligorio swiftly and competently moves between meanings and matter, theories and bodily practices, between scientific research and poetic enquiry. The artist raises the crucial question of what it means to think through the body and develops a series of propositions to turn theories into practices.