In 2009, the writer and academic Sari Hanafi coined the term ‘spacio-cide’ as a way of describing cultural destruction by means of the denial of physical space to a targeted population. Spacio-cide, Hanafi argues, leads inevitably to a form of ethnic cleansing; a population is ‘unpeopled’ by their displacement. Hanafi’s work provides a key philosophical touchstone for this exhibition: Dayrit builds on it by exploring the ways state and commercial entities collude, to recapitulate the worst abuses of colonialism and to develop new methodologies of exploitation.
The status of the map as a site of knowledge, power and potential violence is explored across a number of works in the show, collectively entitled ‘Frontiers of Struggle’. Painted over in red acrylic, these consist of collages made from sections of maps from periods of European colonialism. Dayrit’s images are bold and declarative, sometimes recalling the impassioned scrawl of graffiti. The associations graffiti has with vandalism resonate with the destruction Dayrit depicts; scribbled smoke pours out from boxy factories while jaunty, almost childlike, renderings of helicopters vie for space in a sky crowded with surveillance technology.
As Hanafi notes in his writing, the spaces subjected to spacio-cide include aerial territory and Dayrit’s collages provide an intriguing visualisation of these interlocking dimensions of denial. Land can be thought of as simply a location. A ‘space’, however, is understood as a site of interchange. Rendering a space merely land, in Hanafi’s terminology, is to strip it not only of a population, but of its history and meaning. Dayrit’s literal overwriting of maps mirrors this process, but also inverts it, the human element reappearing in a scrawl that makes visible what traditional maps exclude and leave to other fields of enquiry. Messiness, exploitation and pollution are at the heart of Dayrit’s attention.
These, and a number of textile works which Dayrit has created with collaborator Henry Caceres, provide the strongest images in the show. The textile pieces also feature maps, renderings of container ships and galleons, and in the ‘Tree of Life in the State of Decay and Reverse’, a stylised rendering of a tree with words like ‘capitalism’, ‘beureacrat’ (sic) and ‘feudalism’ emblazoned on the roots. These work best when not seeking a final interpretation, as in ‘Et Hoc Quod Non Nescimus’ (‘And the World As We Know It’), which represents an upended projection of the continents of the earth with commercial ships appearing to float like shadows of landmass. This kind of uncanny reordering of the things of the world leaves a bit more work for the viewer than the more literal ‘Tree of Life…’ embroidery.
But the tensions between enunciating outrage and creating irony sometimes results in works that elude me. This is particularly true of ‘Monuments of the Great Divide’ (completed with the assistance of Felman Bagalso), comprising of a set of digitally printed maps placed on a wall between scale models of barbed-wire fencing and barrier walls. Certainly Dayrit and Bagalso capture a bleak truth about the contemporary geopolitical moment at which colonising states build barriers against the consequences of historical depredations, and fetishise, indeed commodify, the aesthetics of security, but this work feels superfluous in a way that the ‘Frontiers of Struggle’ series and wall hangings do not. It’s said that it’s better to show than tell, but in some of Dayrit’s more strident works, the showing feels rather more like telling.
A more complex proposition is offered in the second room which displays works created by participants in Dayrit’s workshops that produce maps described as ‘counter-cartographies’. Rather like the ‘Frontiers of Struggle’ works, these images depict the truths of the lives of populations at the sharp end of neoliberal ‘development’ projects in Dayrit’s native Philippines. I was particularly drawn by one of these counter-cartographies inscribed with the phrase ‘Development of Aggression’ which shows a section of land along a river near a mining project. Close to the mine, there is a star-shaped image labelled as the site of the 77th Cadet Battalion, creating a stark reminder of the way governments often treat inconvenient internal populations. All too often, spacio-cide starts at home.
These works are engrossing, and in some cases represent overt calls for action — several reference the practices of a company called Nutriasia. At a time when the Philippines is engaged in a dispute with the government of Canada over the shipping of low-grade Canadian waste to the Philippines for disposal, the works are given particular resonance; the use of former colonial states as rubbish bins for G8 countries demonstrates the appurtenances of the colonialist mindset die hard.
The question is what one does with the knowledge produced in Dayrit’s counter-cartography workshops. The world is drowning in information, some of it is even true, but being informed is not the same as being engaged. In its strongest moments, Beyond the God’s Eye eloquently poses that most elemental and by now familiar of questions about the violated planet on which we live: what is to be done?
William Kherbek is the writer of the novels Ecology of Secrets (Arcadia Missa, 2013) and ULTRALIFE (Arcadia Missa, 2016) and the epic poem, Pull Factor (2016). Kherbek’s poetry collections, Everyday Luxuries and 26 Ideologies for Aspiring Ideologists are published by Arcadia Missa and If a Leaf Falls Press respectively.