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Back to Reviews 96

Alien Staff, June 
1992, in Barcelona. 
All photos by the 

Mouth Piece, 1995, 
in Helsinki, Finland.

Mouth Piece, 1995,
in Helsinki, Finland. 

krzysztof wodiczko  
at galerie lelong  
by Robert Mahoney

After Kzysztof Wodiczko won widespread 
acclaim in the 1980s for his dramatic 
political projections on the sides of 
monumental buildings, he came down onto the 
street. But the Homeless Vehicles he 
promoted in 1991 tended to seem 
condescending or silly, vehicles designed 
more for the artist than the homeless. With 
his new work, Xenology, Wodiczko has 
finally found a perfect combination of the 
philosophy and drama characterized by his 
projections, and the urgent street-sense 
needed in `90s new-world-disorder art. 
"Xenology" is described by Wodiczko as "the 
art and science of the stranger" and also 
"the immigrant's art of survival." 
Fully recognizing the dramatic impact of 
mass migration on world culture in the past 
five years, Wodickzo has responded to the 
"revolutionary energy of the new" based on 
(he quotes Walter Benjamin) transporting 
personal experience into the historical. To 
aid immigrants both on a high 
philosophic/revolutionary level, and on the 
down-to-earth level of confronting 
xenophobia, immigrant scapegoating and 
racism (that responds to types rather than 
individuals), Wodizcko has fashioned some 
wonderful tools. In the exhibition are what 
Wodizcko calls "instruments," a total of 
six "staffs" and three "mouthpieces" 
developed since 1992.
The Alien Staff looks like the great staff 
that Moses led his people out of slavery 
with. A great symbolic weapon of peaceful 
coming, it includes a video monitor in its 
head section which tells the immigrant's 
story, a middle cannister section 
containing documents of passage, and a 
lower section where tokens and souvenirs 
are kept. Thus the immigrant encounters the 
new world with a fully-automated and 
technologically symbolic expression of his 
or her own journey. In the exhibition, 
Wodizcko includes videotapes of different 
users in different cities, including 
Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brooklyn, Helsinki 
and Warsaw. All are fascinating; the 
symbolic resonance of the staff shifts 
depending on the locale of the exchange or 
the gender, age or race of the subjects--at 
one point looking a little-Bo-Peepish, at 
other times becoming a way to pick up 
Wodizcko's other tool, the Porte-Parole, is 
a kind of mouthpiece that is worn on the 
face like the bottom of a motorbike helmet. 
Inset in it is a small LCD monitor that 
displays an image of the wear's mouth, 
speaking, with sound accompaniment. The 
mouthpiece is designed to replace the 
hesitations and fearful quiet of an 
immigrant's personal voice with a fully 
formed version of the immmigrant's story. 
It is easy to foresee a new world in which 
such tools become commonplace, basic parts 
of a global society where we are all, 
eventually, immigrants. Wodiczko is really 
onto something here, and his idealism is so 
much more refreshing that the defensive 
groupthink which afflicts angry America 
Galerie Lelong, New York
Mar. 15 - Apr. 27, 1996
Robert Mahoney is a New York art critic who 
also works as public information officer at 
the Queens Museum.