The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

My Strangest Stranger Exhibition at UC San Diego, March 13-May 9

Dates: March 13 – May 9, 2014
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 13, 5:30 – 8:30 pm

Location: University Art Gallery, Mandeville Center, UC San Diego

An exhibition by New York–based artist Mary Walling Blackburn, My Strangest Stranger engages the psychic and performative aspects of extraterrestrial encounters in areas adjacent to both natural and national borders. Over the past two years, the artist conducted research in eastern Turkey, southern France, and most recently at the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking out the narratives produced to stabilize our encounters with what appears to be an Other – the extraterrestrial, the expatriate, the alien, the Strangest Stranger. How do we organize our relationships to the unknown? As a compromised artist-ethnographer, Walling Blackburn attempts to plumb ways in which our conception of these “visitations” overlaps with the paths and behaviors of expatriates – whether migrating from another territory or galaxy.

What might be discovered when our perceptual orientations are reversed, our identities inverted, and the production of meaning is dispersed across multiple places and times? The gallery exhibition invites visitors to look down in order to see what is up: a photomural mounted from the ceiling depicts a study for a painting in a desert mountain corridor, the setting of an extraterrestrial encounter and border crossing. A sound installation transmits seismic frequencies that can be felt but may not be heard, redirecting the external source of a low, uneasy rumbling to a place deep within. Videos shot, edited and composed during the artist’s research process, play continuously in order to meditate on the remaining engines of orientalism. How might we continue the incomplete project of postcolonial theory without ideological resolution?

In the weeks leading up to the exhibition, video memes and trailers, comprised of outtakes, discarded photos, and salvaged sound omitted from the gallery’s videos, will circulate in the online and offline televisual spaces of the UCSD campus and the University Art Gallery. A trace of what the work could have been persists in the minds of those who never visit the gallery. But what of those who do? The visitor must reconcile the gap between a different set of images and sounds glimpsed elsewhere and those encountered in the gallery. Though desirous of a complete whole, they may discover that meaning sought, like the selves and locations of this Strangest Stranger, infinitely expands and exists as multiplicity.

A publication co-edited by Mary Walling Blackburn invites visitors and uninitiated readers to further thicken our conceptions and narratives of the Strangest Stranger and its political dimensions. “The Extra Earth Analog” will be the fourth issue of Pastelegram, a biannual publication, each volume of which is based on an editorial collaboration with an artist. For this issue, the artist will publish an anti-authoritarian source book that pleasures and nauseates, radicalizes and fortifies aliens and their allies. “The Extra Earth Analog” echoes the structure and intentions of The Whole Earth Catalog — a countercultural almanac published by Stewart Brand in 1968–70 — by gathering an A to Z compendium of critical reflections on the extraterrestrial, the expatriate, the alien and the Strangest Stranger.

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