You may have heard of politicians being compared to reptiles, but an interactive exhibition in Spain compares global politics to a very specific kind. Camaleón (Chameleon), the latest effort from artist duo Varvara Guljajeva & Mar Canet at La Rambleta Art Centre in Valencia, illustrates the complexity of defining national identities by comparing the constantly-changing colors of a chameleon’s skin to the political effect communication technology has on countries around the world. Together, Guljajeva and Canet tell The Creators Project the thinking behind the work in the exhibition: “Facebook and Google have been blamed for faking news that was shared. Moreover, according to some sources, they might have played a huge role in Trump winning the presidential elections. This means that how technology behaves, or it is programmed, has a big political impact,” says Canet.
Guljajeva is Estonian and Canet is Spanish. The inspiration for the exhibition came from their multinational background and their observations on the rise of nationalism throughout an increasingly globalized world. “I am a Catalan living in Estonia," says Canet. "I don’t really identify myself with the Spanish flag and less with the Estonian one. Neither do I feel comfortable with my Catalan one outside its territory. Hence, the exhibition plays with the symbolic meaning of flags, triggering emotions and questions.” Guljajeva also shares a similar experience with her ambiguous national identity. “For some years after Estonian independence in 1991, I had a grey passport, which was given to people without a nationality. Sadly, many people in Estonia still have those. Since I was a child, I’ve wondered why we need nationalities and all these nationalistic symbols as flags and passports for labeling the people.”
The exhibition consists of three works that each interpret information related to globalization and communication technology. Camaleón, the exhibition’s title piece, consists of a white flag made of fabric embedded with LEDs. The work is triggered by the presence of the viewer, causing the lights to change from one nation’s flag (chosen at random from a database) to the next before the designs can be completely displayed. Just as a chameleon’s skin is constantly changing to match the color of its environment, the work illustrates how countries around the world are constantly changing their own identities to match the political environment.
The results of the Brexit vote in the UK is a perfect example of a recent political change. Who is Next? addresses increasing nationalism by questioning which country might follow suit and leave the European Union, as well. The work consists of an illuminated “EXIT” sign, beside which EU country codes are constantly shuffled, just like an electromechanical flip clock. As the two-letter country codes appear beside the word “EXIT,” the work spells out what the departures of various countries might be called. While the work doesn’t deal directly with interactive information, it does comment on the impact that social media is thought to have had on the results of the Brexit vote.
One Flag Every Day is the third work in the exhibition and, as the title suggests, consists of a collection of individual flags that are produced on a daily basis. The flag designs are generated using artificial intelligence software that combs through google news feeds to create a new flag design based on the flags of the countries that are mentioned the most that day. The designs are then printed and added to the installation over the course of the exhibition and automatically posted on the the project’s Twitter account, a quick scan of which vividly reveals how much certain countries, like the United States, dominate the global news cycle.
The new media materials Guljajeva and Canet use throughout Camaleón remarkably echoes the technology that they feel has such a profound impact on global politics, and the interactive nature of the work is an effective reflection of the political impact our relentless use of communication technology. “Media communicates to us only one side of the story. Often art shows the flip side, makes unusual connections, makes the audience discover unnoticed facts or stories, and makes us laugh when otherwise we will cry. [...] In the end, art helps to balance ‘the serious world,’ I think,” says Guljajeva.