that got away
SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art
372, Ste-Catherine W St, #507 Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), QC H3B 1A2
Friday, April 6, 2018, 6 to 9 PM
Tuesday to Saturday 11am–5pm Thursday 11am-8pm
or by appointment
Curtis Talwst Santiago
Couzyn van Heuvelen
Thy Anne Chu Quang
It has come to our attention that your correspondences have not been getting through. Effort to make yourself known to your beloved may have been garbled, misaddressed, left on draft, or finally discarded. Was it the common language that changed during the time of writing? Portraits of tongues rendered poorly, sent with no return address? Perhaps the intended recipient was never made clear. This is a story that starts with a whisper and ends in laughter. In the gestures that our mothers never taught us, we let the regulation of colonial languages go. The secrecy of broken telephone—words behind cupped hands, spoken in fear of falling on false ears—becomes the power of full-bodied folly.
Lost and found in Dead Letter Offices: elixir of life for a distinguished man on deathbed, perforated can with rattlesnakes alive and fighting, miniature obelisk cut from the bark of Californian redwood, roll of butter from Germany with a tin of diamonds at the centre, endless chain letters. As the industrialization of cities expanded to encompass the public’s desire for communication, a faction of the postal service was developed for its misconnections. These Dead Letter Offices became repositories for an intended future. A time capsule and dead end, they act as nodes in an alternative communication network where messages and objects have their stories writ anew by postal workers.
On July 13, 1935, The Spokesman-Review reported from Washington that between two to three million chain letters were held in Dead Letter Offices across the United States. A tool of resistance to incite sabotage in occupied Germany and an effective measure to search for lost loved ones, the ability of a chain letter to build intended yet anonymous networks led to their outlaw. Now, the Canada Post have chain letters listed as a prohibited item and thus “non-mailable matter.” The chain letter is both personal and empirical, inherently diasporic, and indubitably incendiary. Flitting through gaps in the system to form off-the-record kinships, migration goes viral.
Economists tell us that families migrate for purely economic reasons. A pillar of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration bill is “ending chain migration,” where family reunification is read as code for a pyramid scheme. Desire is capped with an accounts balance sheet. Fear is premised on an exponential network of common aliens making homes designed by cultural difference. There were whispers of these common aliens who came here from far-away lands, birthed by mythic creatures whose waters ran deep. At first they tried to hide in plain sight. Without wielding the language of power, they made tonal utterances. They organized their disappearances. They laughed in the face of their oppressors.
When I write, I try to represent myself at the time of its receipt, a note from the future that faces import restrictions and turbulent travel. I whisper into the oak tree for its secret to be heard 49 years later. Schoolgirls in the former Tanganyika released a ripple of laughter that broke the surface of a lake. Unprovoked, it traveled quickly into the surrounding regions. In 1962, fourteen schools were shut down over the course of the laughter’s several month grip. Gelotologists called it mass psychogenic illness, an individual’s retaliation turning into collective affect. The body’s rebuttal. To find recourse for the message that cannot speak for itself, we propose an untraceable routing system connecting those seeking friends in the struggle. From April 7 to June 2, 2018, common aliens will find their undeliverables within the Dead Letter Office at the SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art. Find release in folly.
Courtesy of Paul Litherland and SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art