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Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen

Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen Visual Artist

Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen is a visual artist working in Oslo. His research-based art works often take form as moving images, paintings, and site-specific art installations. Representation is a central theme that underpins all of his works.

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Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen
Visual Artist

Artistic practice

Being trained as a fine artist in a classical art school, the choice of mediums was limited to drawing, painting and sculpture. This tradition of reality modeling based on physical material has influenced Yohannes’ understanding of representation as a creation of correspondence between the nature of a subject represented and that of the medium employed. Yohannes has employed this notion of material embodied cognition as a visual strategy in most of his works.

Beside his formal studies, another factor which has further strengthened Yohannes’ interest in representation is the fact that he grew up in Addis Ababa - the capital of Ethiopia. A city that brims with an array of ethnic and religious cultures and hosts multiple competing narratives of plural origins. Yohannes has always been intrigued to observe the intersections and tensions that arise from such coexistence of pluralities. His recent works that deal with the question of representation of reality and the role of power in the creation of truth/narrative have their roots in this upbringing.

In addition, these works are predominantly informed by his study of the relationship of reality and its myriad representations and how these representations dictate individual and cultural relations. Some of his works, such as, ‘Pygmalion's pen’, ‘Map of possibilities’ and ‘What The Wise Awakens to’ - discuss how ideological representation corresponds with reality from different perspectives. For instance, ‘Map of possibilities’ examines how 20th century correspondence theory of linguistics parallels the rise of totalitarianism. ‘Pygmalion's pen’, on the other hand, aspires to create a material expression of how the nature of a medium finds an expression in how we make sense of the world.

Selected works

Maps of possibilities

Why are grammatically incorrect statements less appealing than the correct ones? Why ambiguous and uncertain speeches are less preferable than assertive and eloquent dialogue?

With no linguistic measures, we would be able neither to fully comprehend nor represent the human world with all its totality. But Certitude seems to be the defining characteristic both of our language structures and scientific understandings. 20th century linguistic philosophers believed the problems dealt by philosophy are rooted in the problem of the language. Hence the proponents of such schools of thought argue that creating correspondence between the world and language must be the central task in our strive to solve the metaphysical inquiries dealt by philosophy.

The historical parallel of the optimist project of the 20th century towards achieving linguistic utopia, is the language of totalitarianism which is also aimed at cultivating a language structure that dictates what is possible to think. To create a cultivated language, according to Schiller, which thinks and writes for you. Everything human, the errors, the mistakes and the uncertainty should be eradicated, in order to render every human into the extension of its own language.

Through a clear language and a certainty of vision, totalitarianism justifies itself; Rational individuals will be mobilized to be feeling crowds. Whenever an idea believes in itself, when ideology is too certain, it forces the whole world to resemble its own image. Every ideology should have a systematic self doubt as an integral part of itself. Map of possibility is intended just to do this by a symbolic attempt of putting the medium in flux and piecemeal alterations in a manner that alters the subjects that the medium corresponds with.

Pygmalion’s pen

Pygmalion’s pen, another work within the same genetic pool as my former works, is a visual contemplation on the influence of the nature of a medium on communication.

Representation is not a passive process of taking note of the reality happening outside. But it’s rather an active involvement in shaping the possibility of the reality outside. Foucault in relation to seeing order in reality argues that “Order is, at one and the same time, that which is given in things as their inner law, the hidden network that determines the way they confront one another, and also that which has no existence except in the grid created by a glance, an examination, a language; and it is only in the blank spaces of this grid that order manifests itself in depth as though already there, waiting in silence for the moment of its expression.” It’s to say that the gaze itself projects character onto the thing being looked at. The fact that mediums of representations have an inherent reality of their own with their own limitations and also possibilities which they project onto the subject they are used to represent. It is often the case that the limitations and possibilities of the medium are also of the human realities.

Pygmalion’s pen aspires to create a material expression of how the intentions of the writer and the nature of a medium take an expression in how we make sense of the world.

The study of artefacts on display IV

What are artworks outside the principled system of understanding (epistemé) they are part of?

‘The study of Artifacts on display’ aspires to place the art work within the web of knowledge system the work belongs to. This is achieved by incorporating signs and symbols that signify the particular knowledge system.

The study of artefacts on display is a painting series, developed as antithesis to the dominant practice of representing non-western people and their artworks in museums and art institutions without paying much attention to the reality the works are part of. These series of works want to render visible the cultural, human also a political biography of the works.

What the wise awakens to

“What the wise awakens to” is a short animation film made from individually hand-painted frames.

The narration of the film is based on the famous allegory of the cave from the Republic. The allegory of the cave as an archetypically structured story has a lot of similarities with other myths and stories on the same subject. For instance, with the life of Buddha from the east. Both stories begin from more or less similar settings. In both Plato’s cave and Buddha’s youth, the reality is carefully constructed. The protagonist from Plato lived in a cave where what he sees is selected and structured as shadows. Buddha also spends his pre-enlightened life in a world devoid of hunger, illness, and death: curated and controlled by his father.

These two stories diverge only in their picture of what the real world is: what their protagonist awakens to. According to the allegory, the protagonist will leave the cave to awaken to the splendor of the real world. Radically better. While Buddha awakens to the suffering of the world. This is also where the interest of the film lays: what the knower awakens to. Moreover the film also wants to contrast the utopian platonic vision with the indifferent and violent gaze of nature.

Director, producer, animator: Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen; Assistant Producer: Amogh Muralidhara; Music: Yisihak Getahun (Yizzac)

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