Project 88 is pleased to announce Westfailure, The Otolith Group’s first solo exhibition in Mumbai, in collaboration with British Council India.
The Otolith Group was founded in 2002 by Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar. The Turner Prize
nominated artists, who live and work in London, are renowned for their videos, curatorial practice,
writing, publications and development of discursive platforms for the close readings of documentary fictions.
Westfailure, the title of the exhibition chosen by the artists, has been adopted from The Westfailure
System, the influential essay written by British economist Susan Strange in 1999. Westfailure is a
homonymic pun that refers to the Westphalia System, the ‘international political system of states
claiming exclusive authority and the monopoly of legitimate violence within their territorial limits’,
named after the Treaty of Westphalia signed by the European powers, in Westphalia outside Munster, Germany in 1648.
Strange argued that in order to prosper, ‘production and trade required the security provided by the
state. To survive, the state required the economic growth and the credit-creating system of finance.
But the latter has now created three major problems that the political system, by its very nature, is
incapable of solving. First, there is the major failure to manage and control the financial systemwitness the Asian turmoil of 1997. Second, there is the failure to act for the protection of the
environment. Third, there is a failure to preserve a socio-economic balance between the rich and the powerful and the poor and the weak.’ The result, Strange concluded, was that the ‘Westfailure system is thus failing Capitalism, the Planet and global (and national) society.’
As a term from the recent past of 1999, Westfailure looks forward to our present. Westfailure
summarises the pervasive sense of life as it is lived today, in an ideological junkyard strewn with the wreckage of economic systems.
Since 2002, The Otolith Group has revisited episodes from the archives of the twentieth century in
order to intervene into narratives that aim to capture futurity for market fundamentalism. Their work
has proposed aesthetic hypotheses that emphasize methods of comparability and modes of
The Group’s new work Anathema (2011) might be understood as an attempt to make visible the
archetypal power of what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’ that works by enthralling
populations at the level of libido. Anathema recombines magical gestures, isolated from hundreds of advertisements for mobile phones, laptops and flatscreen televisions, from the United Arab Emirates to United States of America and beyond, purchased by the artists. By confronting the gestural regimes of touching and clicking with images of liquid crystal that provides the material substrates for digital screens, by demoralizing the value of the high definition image and by descending beneath the dimension of the high resolution image into the world of post-cinematic abstraction, Anathema can be understood as a prototype for a counterspell assembled from the occult economy of what Isabelle Stengers and Philippe Pignarre call ‘capitalist sorcery.’
Timeline (2003-2011) offers an insight into the scope and scale of The Otolith Trilogy (2003–09).
Conceived as an epic fabulation, Timeline introduces events and figures from The Otolith Trilogy,
beginning in the late 19th Century and extending into the far future, marking out the fateful events that lead towards the year 2103 in which Otolith I (2003) was set. Fictional and archival episodes are assembled into a genealogical installation that projects the impact of the Cold War into a future whose history unfolds in the conditional time of a reimagined present.
Communists Like Us (2006-10) exists in multiple modalities, as a performance, a double channel and single channel projection and as a sound assemblage. Installed in Westfailure as a single channel work, Communists Like Us(2006-10) assembles archival photographs produced by Soviet and Chinese agencies that record journeys made by Indian stateswomen to the USSR, Mao’s China and Japan from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. English subtitles, retranslated from Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise (1967) are added to the recto and verso of the images. The subtitles transcribe a sixteen minute exchange, filmed on a train journey, between the indexical figure of the activist and philosopher Francis Jeanson and the fictional character of Veronique, his Maoist student from the University of Nanterre, played by Anne Wiazemsky.
The melding of images and text produces astonishing conjunctions, some planned, others intuitive, all supplemented by musical sequences edited from Paragraph 2 of The Great Learning (1969) by Cornelius Cardew and The Scratch Orchestra and the soundtrack of Dario Argento’s Il Gatto a Nove Code (1971) by Ennio Morricone. In his essay Shared Senses of Inquietude: Communist Like Us (2011) Shanay Javeri points to the ways in which ‘territories and histories overlap, intertwine and converge, but still maintain parallel autonomies.’ In its ‘exposition of the visual cultures of India’s bygone commitments to the Non Aligned Movement’ and its ‘reimagining and redreaming of socialist aspirations’, Javeri suggests, Communists Like Us can now be understood as a ‘unique and seminal work.’
Some, but by no means all, of the photographs from Communists Like Us recur in Otolith II (2007)and in Daughter Products (2011). As Javeri writes, the ‘presence of these images across different projects in variable tenors suggests The Otolith Group’s expansive and multiplatformed practice.
Their foregrounding and backgrounding at alternate frequencies accommodates active spectators
willing to re-view works and to carry the memory and usage of factors in one method and to play the
memory of that methodology off its usage and positioning in another.’
Daughter Products (2011) offers insights into forms of socialist friendship. Delegations can be seen, intermingling, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, visiting museums, factories, schools, nurseries and laboratories, participating in conferences, meetings, plenary sessions and discussions. These photographs, found in Sagar’s family home in Mumbai, belonged to her grandmother Anasuya Gyan Chand, former President of the National Federation of Indian Women.
Be Silent for the Ears of the God are Everywhere (2006) dramatises the figure of the guru as the
recurring enactment of a prosthetic Indophilia, characterised outside India, within and across Europe and America and beyond, as a series of overdetermined projections, mistaken attributions and persistent phantasms. The guru enacts an organisational force of spiritual authority that is
inseparable from practices of despotism, renunciation, terror, persuasion, devotion, commodification and translatability. In the words of Srinivas Aravamudan, the modes of participation made possible by the figure of the guru can be characterized as constituting a ‘transnational, religious cosmopolitanism’ in which invented theologies, marketable ethnicities, devotional sexualities and utopian desires interanimate and mestasize.
One out of many Indophilias (2010) approaches the supports of the vinyl album record sleeve as a
platform for the visions of prosthetic spiritualism. As a medium that invents the public it adresses, the record sleeve facilitates the circulation of a stylistic imaginary that create spaces of identification
through which, in the words of Paul Gilroy, ‘cultural and aesthetic exchanges between different
populations across the diaspora’ can be constructed. One out of many Indophilias emerges from the artist’s longstanding preoccupation with the music of composers such as Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry and musicians such as John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, each of which invoked a
spiritualised politics through the form of the jazz suite and the rock cycle. By elevating details of
fabulated Hinduism, hybridized Buddhism and invented Islam to a scale that is simultaneously
devotional and commercial, One out of many Indophilias invokes the modes of interpellation that call forth the obedience of the behearer.
The Otolith Group
The Otolith Group was founded by Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar in 2002. Shortlisted for Turner
Prize in 2010, The Otolith Group is named after the calcium carbonate microcrystals within the inner ear that produce and maintain the bodily sense of orientation.
The Otolith Group live and work in London, UK and in other parts of the world.