Breaking Binaries

Another seminar conducted as interdisciplinary course within the context of Studium Generale at the University of the Arts, Berlin, found its way into our Hybrid Lab last weekend. The American artist Kim Collmer, normally based in Cologne, was leading the seminar and had the aim to generate and collect binary systems in form of different kinds of art works.

The course »Breaking Binaries« met from the 18th until the 21st of May. We began the course by discussing basically what a binary is, its structure, and why it as a concept seems to be gaining traction. Throughout the course we viewed the negative relationship of the binary in political, gender and racial narratives while also examining the binary as an interesting structural element in constructing and deconstructing meaning in artworks (sound, video, etc.). We looked at a wide range of historical and artistic works that moved outside of binary thinking, discussing the power of the Outsider, the rhizome, the complex structure of mushrooms, tartanism, free Jazz, and more.

We broke up into groups and came up with compelling binary word relationships. Afterwards, as a group we chose six binaries with which to work. Using these words each person (or group) found corresponding imagery through photography and video. We then shared our data to see similarities and differences in the materials. We discussed theoretically how images become more complex and the meaning behind the word can become difficult to comprehend and how this has benefits and drawbacks. We discussed how putting opposites together can be dynamic, thinking of  Sergei Eisenstein for example. Moreover, we discussed how we could use our data (images and video) and recombine them to change their meanings (basically like putting together words in a sentence or poem). We also saw how one's position, physically, culturally and mentally, can alter one's view of the world, amongst many other observations.

After brainstorming and image gathering, the students worked on their project ideas. Some of them chose to use the database we generated to make video and audio works, playing with recombining and re-contextualising the materials. One student worked sculpturally to understand the invisible space around binary interaction. Another student did an audio performance playing with opposites, using Beuys' "Ja, Ja, Ja. Ne, Ne Ne" to trigger a changing black and white screen while inserting himself into the image, creating shadows and voice layers. Two students continued with taking photographs and creating photo collages combining opposites. One student created a sound collage which translated the binaries into music using an algorithm.  And another student (along with our tutor) chose to explore physical interaction based on the theme of letting go. She did this through performative actions, some of which were time lapsed, and video. The course ended with final presentations and the students all seemed quite motivated to continue the work and ideas they began in the course. It was a very dynamic group with highly individual results!

– Kim Collmer

Kim Collmer is an American artist based in Cologne, Germany. In her practice, she negotiates history, memory, fantasy, and humor to question historical and contemporary notions of progress and development. Working with traditional animation techniques, video, collage, drawing, and photography, her work often pays tribute to forgotten “futuristic” spaces.