Nation on the Move
By Minoo Moallem
Design by Erik Loyer

Author's Statement

In this essay, I focus on the Persian carpet as a borderline object between art, craft, and commodity. I interrogate the politics of demand and desire that derive from the modern notions and imaginaries of home and homeland as well as consumer pleasures arising from the conveniences and commodiousness of a repetitious consumer activity. The Nation-on the-Move involves a multidimensional, multilocational, and polyvocal approach by way of digital technologies. It recognizes the unevenness of time (time of production, advertisement, online auctions, and consumption); the mingling of the old, the new, and the emergent; spatial proximity or distance (here, there, and elsewhere); and the relation of nonvalue to use value and exchange value in a "scopic economy" that subsidizes the flow of representations for the history of material objects by producing audiences/spectators with a scattered and disconnected sense of attention. To challenge the shattering effects of consumerism, the designer and programmer, Erik Loyer has created what could be similar to a panel-design carpet that brings into the same frame of reference different times, spaces, and locations—real, fictional, and virtual—including ethnographic photography, TV auctions, movies, Orientalist painting, advertisement, museums, and art galleries.

Erik's design enables the reader/audience to take part in an embodied mode of interaction, weaving together different and fragmented worlds of images and meanings while interacting with the project. A number of threads are available and each thread has a color which corresponds to one of the ten main themes that are running through all the panels, linking what seems to be disconnected. Each panel has a number of sites and each site has different content that is linked through the colored threads. The embodied interaction with the project surpasses the centrality of sight and involves other senses including hearing and touching, along with the aesthetic and affective pleasures of visual maps, moving diagrams, and geometric shapes. The white thread functions as a wrap or a tar, which includes the threads stretched between the two sides of the loom. The colored threads are functioning as the weft or pood, which runs through the threads that are located between one line of knots and the next. Its function is to keep the knots in parallel lines and to firm up the fabric of the carpet. In this case, the weft is keeping the thread for the geometrical shapes with the text (the circles and squares containing the text). The text and the design are nonlinear, leaving gaps open for what yet can come into the writing/view/perception.

This project is part of a book-length manuscript. I began to think about this project when I started to question the limits of feminist politics as it relates to the politics of value and choice. The speed in which the connection between political oppression and economic exploitation is abandoned for the seductive and consumerist purpose of whatever gains an exchange value in the political discourse is striking if not disturbing. An interrogation of the convergence of militarism, surveillance, and consumptive production through gender, sexual, and national tropes in everyday life and the disconnection of bodies destroyed by war or overexploitation from those making choices in their performance of who they choose to be, what frames of identity to belong to, and what to consume on a daily basis has been crucial in working on this project. There is an urgent need for an understanding of the linkages between the current global feminization of labor and questions of political oppression and the politics of value. While we are living in an age of cultural interference and hybridity of ideas, values, and aesthetic sensibilities, our present condition does not break with modern ways of thinking conspicuously influenced by cultures of colonialism and postcolonial forms of otherness. Indeed, civilizational thinking has gained new purchase in our current context investing in the notions of identity and difference as absolute entities in constant conflict and antagonism with each other. In this process, gender and sexuality have been the defining components of such thinking as they converge with the representation of goods and commodities in modernity and postmodernity in bordering and marking identities.

In this work, I reformulate and rethink a number of issues in a radically different fashion. Firstly, I problematize the separation of arts, crafts, and commodities in modernist regimes of differentiation as they participate in the separation of politics from the realms of culture and economy. Secondly, I question the discourses of gender, sexuality, race, nation, and empire in the production of identity and difference in commodity culture and consumerism. Thirdly, I elaborate on the importance of what I call the scopic economy in looking at the intersection of visuality, consumerism, and identity. Fourthly, I examine the politics of mediation in the transnational, translational and transactional moment of exchange. Some of my general questions include: What are the new aesthetic forms of citizenship that are articulated through notions of identity and difference in a transnational world? How are they defined by transnational alliances of art, media, advertisements, and the circulation of commodities? How are they articulated through notions of gender, sexuality, race, and nation? In which ways do they participate in making the nation compatible with the empire by means of a scopic economy?

This project challenges modes of explanations within which "the primitive," "the tribal," and "the female subject" are brought into the scopic economy to be dismissed as "the other" of civilization. It rather shows to what extent modern forms of subjection rely on the power of the subject (or the effects of the power in the body) that they try to control. An analysis of commodity culture and the implicit and explicit connections between the formation and transformation of gender and sexuality, the male gaze, and the representation of difference in the oculocentric culture of modernity is crucial for our understanding of the recurrent visual display of a number of tropes, including "the woman on the carpet" or "the Oriental tribal woman at the loom," as they exhibit the desire for a feminized "home/homeland" in its distinction from the "market/diaspora."

This project is not aimed at resolving inequalities or taking the seductive position of the modernist avant-garde (artist/scholar) to advocate for the oppressed and the exploited. This is not a counterculture effort but a manner of thinking via digital technologies about how commodities came to be the way they are, how identities are assembled through consumption, and how the "I" of the subject gets inserted into this process. As a result of collaborative work with the designer and the employment of digital technology, this project aspires to resist logocentric notions of communicative action as well as the consumerist recounting of suffering as it takes pleasure in consuming pain. It also moves with and against the "I" as the sovereign self of the consumer and sight as the ocular location from which a commodity is targeted by experimenting with the critical effects of what is the result of a collaborative undertaking between Erik and me which required a decentered scholarly mediation to allow the carpet to speak to an audience which is evoked to interact with the interface via a mimetic identification with the weaver through the mediation of the computer designer and programmer.

Minoo Moallem