February 1 – March 21, 2014

Opening Reception: January 31, 2014

No Linguistic Content is an exhibition of work by Antonia Hirsch (Vancouver/Berlin), Gabriel Mindel-Saloman (Vancouver) and Luke Munn (Berlin) that responds to contemporary forms of surveillance, considering how design can work to counter an excessively coded city.

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four has often been cited as a prescient reference to state control in authoritarian regimes. Historical revisionism in this fictive piece reflects the means by which propagandic narratives act as an art of the state, where societal codes and conventions are determined or imposed through tactics of persuasive narratives. While covert technologies of capture and surveillance, such as city-wide security cameras, remain evocative emblems of state control, ‘Orwellian’ tropes of societal control and surveillance are widely present across the architecture and design of urban spaces. Public spaces have notably become determined by the use of technological devices such as the mosquito (a low-frequency sonic emission only audible to youth, used by businesses in the UK to deter loitering) and long-range acoustic devices (used for instance during mega events such as the 2012 Olympics). Increasingly, architectural features on buildings or public chairs and benches have taken on design features which can be considered hostile: metal bars and bumps that prevent you from taking a nap on a bench or skating on a ledge are considered ‘security’ measures, which of course are uninviting, and deter you from outstaying your welcome.

Elements of urban design have been utilised as a way to deter certain behaviours, and features of urban design impose sensory measures upon our movements, directing how we move through the city. However, less overt aspects of these designs can carry the function of the panopticon, affecting psychology through social fragmentation. Faced with these determinations inserted into the material everyday of the city, how can design instead become utilised as resistance to counter an excessively coded city? How does the questioning of codes and conventions of design allow for the possibility for alternative subjectivities to emerge?

As the areas of surveillance in our movements and communications seem to grow ever more infinitesimal on a digital horizon, so does the degree to which autonomy is relinquished to specialists. In the responsibilities of surveillance organisations such as CSEC, GCHQ and NSA to their citizenry, the technical specifics of the capture and organisation of data are framed through a systematic opacity and illegibility. Justification for this opacity is typically cemented by a state of exception discourse, whereby national security requires the temporary withholding of citizen autonomy. Here again, covert designs determine the movements of individuals and social relations.

In No Linguistic Content, the artists taking part in the exhibition question to what extent certain structures of control remain visible and transparent, or on the contrary, opaque and invisible to the public. How can our movements, awareness, or embodied experience preserve a sense of autonomy in thinking about expanded territories as opposed to pre-determined limited territories?

*The name of the show is inspired by a typeface that was designed by Sang Mun. A typeface that has the ability to defy NSA digital surveillance systems. ZXX is a library of congress classification code that stands for ‘no linguistic content; not applicable’. The content of books/texts that are not being able to be classified or determined by subject matter or other significant points of reference. Texts that fall into the interstices and defy classification.