********field report from Agent Jennifer Leary**********
This piece is about fuzzy lines. Camp CARPA proposed a very interesting scenario – one which manifested some ambiguities for us makers. Our political, artistic, and personal identities are full of unresolved compromises and contradictions – it is most convenient to overlook the bottomless complexity.
Do we put our energies into revitalizing the economy with a successful entrepreneurial Etsy endeavor? Stay true to revolutionary roots and join up with the Occupy movement, maybe teaching knitting at a protest camp? Political motivation is not simple. We live in an internetworked, transparent world where we fully witness both sides of everything. We see all kinds of actions being both glorified and demonized.We have the dual Russian / US interpretation of the Syrian conflict – complete inversions of one another, each narrative fully fleshed out. The Russian stance seems insane, yet it continues. Our condition is one of confusion, of lack of clarity as a result of increased transparency.
The Magnetic Nailpolish Kit sent to CARPA contains several layers of contradictory narrative:
- The “real” story behind this. I am an artist who works with magnetism. I’ve discovered some intriguing techniques that lend themselves to embedding hidden codes in objects, and have patented some of them. Questioning my own decision to patent, I open up the technology to the CARPA participants, inviting open collaboration. I created a kit inside my official CARPA briefcase. In the filing pockets, an invented Afghani women’s magazine and various documents created the backstory for a foreign intelligence network of beauticians. Magnetic nailpolish caps were sewn under the case’s false bottom, and the case was mailed to CARPA base camp with a set of instructions (click here for the Letter, the Instructions, and a schema of the Cap Design).
- The kit also presents a fictional scenario. A sister organization (another unlikely government research agency, comprised of beauticians) is reaching out to CARPA for help in decoding an enemy message confiscated by the TSA. It comes in the form of magnetic nailpolish bottles with a message encrypted in magnetized nailpolish bottle caps. This playful narrative mirrors the theatricality of Camp CARPA, using lots of props to make the story seem quasi-real.
- The heart of the piece – the encoded message. This is the “punchline” of the fictional scenario, which you might expect to carry on with the narrative leading up to it. Instead, it takes a sharp departure and simply directs people to the website of an exiled musician who escaped from the Taliban: http://www.forafghanistan.com/album/index.html . A pearl at the center of a multi-layered briefcase. Her songs are genuine, classical, vulnerable, and direct. Her political art lacks all of the irony, defensiveness, sarcasm, layers of theatricality that is symptomatic of mine (ours?). I very much wanted to juxtapose these two irreconcilable stances.
How many of us would turn down an invitation, a real one, to join a top-level group of elite thinkers? If the advanced craft research agency came knocking, would we appreciate that recognition of the power of making? CARPA toyed with this scenario using theater, going to great lengths to give its participants a chance to imagine it as non-fictional event. It is something that crosses my mind frequently, with my current occupation being Army-funded research on functional textiles.