Named after ancient Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad’s bold claims about the extent of his rule, this exhibition crams 25 works, including colourful paper collages, sculptures, installations, found objects and a video – the fruits of four series and three collaborations from 2004 to 2019 – into all three floors of the gallery. The titular paper collage series (2018), video installation Chronoscope 1952 or 1953 11pm (1) (2012–17) and Ian’s Gulf (maps version) (2018) are clearly part of the Venezuelan-born, Berlin-based artist’s critique of cultural imperialism. In other works, this is brought to bear on contemporary art production per se.
Edward W. Said justified the limited scope of his essay collection Culture and Imperialism (1993) by referring to the ‘unique coherence and special cultural centrality’ of British, French and American imperialism. With the title series, Balteo-Yazbeck displaces some of these expectations by going further back into history, turning classic imperialist maxims from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and more into email addresses and hashtags. He does so using familiar typefaces from consumer goods against a background of fragments from fashion magazines, holiday snaps and stock photos, like an extravagant ransom note. Some titles refer to imperialist projects that saw themselves as Sargon of Akkad did (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com), but others #benevolentglobalhegemony, #encodingworlddominationgenealogy and firstname.lastname@example.org – point to continuities between earlier empires and neoconservatism or today’s Silicon Valley ideology. Each piece’s fractured, patchwork feel mimics how empires impose powerful interests (gods, laws, economic activity) on diverse groups. By inviting us to look at ancient empires using the visual codes of the present, Balteo-Yazbeck suggests that today’s networked culture gives the world a more uniform look than any historical empire despite its eclectic style.