Modern Fuel show goes the distance

State Greetings builds art around notions of citizenship, states and national identity

State Greetings artists Robert Jelinek and Mark Prier study identity and nationhood.
State Greetings artists Robert Jelinek and Mark Prier study identity and nationhood.
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A nation doesn’t need UN approval to be recognized as a country or to recruit citizens. Nomadsland and The State of Sabotage, two micro-nations, loosely defined as multidisciplinary art projects, have been recruiting citizens since 2003 and have come to Kingston to find more open-minded participants.

Mark Prier founded Nomadsland in 2003, as a response to a Kitchener art gallery’s call for submissions on the themes of borders and identity. A Canadian-born American citizen, Prier refers to his own citizenship as a “lottery,” and so developed a charter for his own state.

“I thought it was important to let people have more than one citizenship,” Prier said, adding that the most important part of his project isn’t recruiting new citizens—it’s getting people to think about and question their notions of citizenship.

These notions of national identity are explored by State Greetings, an exhibit-of-sorts at the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre. The gallery space has been transformed into a passport office for Nomadsland, complete with an instructional film and the nation’s charter.

“Nomadsland, an Independent State of Mind, is what you make it,” is the first statement from the Nomadsland Charter.

Suspended from the ceiling of the gallery is Gareth Lichty’s Monument to the 4th Anniversarial (of Nomadsland). Lichty’s sculpture was given to Nomadsland in order recognize its existence as a state. The simple ownership of an art object legitimizes Nomadsland as not only an ambitious project, but a community of people who consider themselves citizens of this state of mind.

Nomadsland’s passport office, which recently toured the U.K., is always run by the character Alex, a non-gendered citizen of Nomadsland with no history or identity. Prier created this character to coincide with his state’s purpose.

“Nomadsland legitimizes a sense of wandering and searching but never arriving, of always travelling. The charter emphasizes the right to change your mind and the idea of fluidity. I think citizenship can reflect this fluidity,” Prier said.

State Greetings explores themes of national identity, culture and citizenship. For citizens of Nomadsland, national identity is no longer defined by borders, and culture is no longer exclusive to recognized citizens. As borders become more arbitrary, so too do our ideas of national identity.

“It’s amazing how easy it is to make a country and how fragile a state really is in terms of its hold on power, said Gjen Snider, the guest curator for State Greetings.

“The interaction of different cultures in a contained space, such as a city, makes our own cultural identity become a lived experienced rather than a proscribed one,” Snider said. “Cultural identity is now self-described not proscribed.”

The gallery also contains objects from Robert Jelinek’s State of Sabotage, which began in 1992 as an art collective and evolved into a micro nation in 2003. SoS, as it is referred to, is constantly growing, not only in its number of citizens, but in its physical size as well. Unlike Nomadsland, SoS is a tangible state with real territory.

“I’m collecting space,” said Jelinek, who, as the non-president of SoS, has amassed two territories around the world—650 acres in Australia, 1.5 acres in the Czech Republic and two acres in Morocco.

Jelinek is in the process of negotiating with Morocco for the official acknowledgment of this land as an SoS territory. If they agree, SoS would be recognized by the United Nations.

Tomorrow Jelinek will claim some land on Wolfe Island. SoS will be accepting new citizens to participate in the ceremony which consists of eating the soup of sabotage (a soup made up of ingredients for each letter of the word “sabotage”—it’s a different recipe every time) and a trip to Wolfe Island. On the island, citizens will take turns throwing stones in opposite directions from a central point to create the perimeter for SoS’s new territory.

“The territory will be defined by the muscle power of its citizens,” said Jelinek.

After the ceremony, the stones will remain a permanent sculpture.

Jelinek is against the idea of art as commodity.

“The authorization of art is a shallow and hermetic form,” he said. “I wanted the work to speak for itself without an artist’s name attached.”

For SoS, the artist’s label isn’t important. It’s the participation of its citizens that sustains the State of Sabotage.

SoS has also developed its own currency. 2,000 of the coins, the value of which lies only in being an object of art, have been sold. An official perfume for SoS has been in production since 1998 and is sold in Japan, Europe and Australia. Jelinek describes these ventures as investments in SoS.

Hundreds of micro-nations exist around the world, both in a physical form, such as SoS, and as a mental state, such as Nomadsland. There are also virtual micro-nations that only exist online.

The questions raised by State Greetings about cultural and national identity are not answered at the gallery. The exhibit merely provides an avenue to participate in alternative community building.

“These projects are based on participation—there is no state without citizens,” Snider said. “They are expressions for positive social change via the construction of alternative communities and policies.”

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State Greetings is at Modern Fuel Artist Run Centre until Sept. 29. An opening reception and other activities will take place tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. See modernfuel.org for more details.

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