Babi Badalov´s New Babylon Digital Dadá
Babi Badalov has made an original and important contribution to the renewal of the relations between visual arts and language. Due to his vital parcour, it could be almost said that he was bound to it: he was born in 1959 in a village in the border between Azerbaijan and Iran, Lerik, during the Cold War. With his mother he
spoke the local language – Talysh, of Indoeuropean roots – and with his father Azeri, the official language in his country, which he learnt at school, together with Russian. Since those times he has experienced inmigration and exile, going through different cities and countries, adapting and learning new languages and alphabets.
In a normal day, Badalov might speak four or five languages, as if he would be the citizen of a New Babylon. Russian with his friend Mireille. Arab with the owners of the algerian restaurant next door, in the neighbourhood of La Goutte d´Or, in Paris. French with his galerist. Azerí on the phone with his sister, living in Baku. Farsi with the Afghan refugees camping at the Canal Saint-Martin. Turkish with waiters at his favorite bar… Badalov not only speaks or patters several languages, most of them related to his cultural roots, but he is neither afraid of amalgamate or even make them up, if he needs, in order to express himself and communicate. He rejects understanding language as a barrier or a closed structure, and he rather
uses it as a fluid spaces for encounter, exchange, and freedom. At his second exhibition in Uma certa falta de coêrencia, Porto, Badalov shows one of his most recent projects, together with tissue works, a words intervention in the wall, and a collection of photographs documenting his Parisian flâneries. The new
project is a performance in which he improvises poems with his cell phone, following a previous presentation he did last summer at HIT Gallery, in Bratislava.
With his cell phone connected to a beamer and loudspeakers, Badalov chooses words, types down, and combines them with the expressions proposed by the software, out of others he previously wrote. Thus the title Automatic Electronic Algorithmic Predictive Poetry. In this project, Badalov uses technology – something
new in his work; often related to manuality, drawing, and caligraphy – in order to create but also with the aim of questioning and sabotaging the medium. A hundred years after Dadá, Badalov address again the absurdity and non-sense of contemporary urban life – now in a digital environment. In the 1920´s, Tristan Tzara bypassed the bourgeois fear to the “blank page” creating poems out of words cut out of newspapers, and putting them together, after picking them up randomly from a bag. Badalov inherits this anarchistic
attitude and reinvents it in his phone: the artist no longer needs to find the right words to express his inner life – software created by Big Data companies such as Google or Facebook can “do” it for him. Immediately after the artist writes improvised sentences – often “bad words” or very emotional ones; related to his
story as a refugee, his memories, his family, and his life in the street – the phone or browser “corrects” and indicates possible paths. Subjectivity ceases to be solely the fruit of experience or memory, and becomes a sort of linguistic hybrid edited by Sillicon Valley. For most of us this represents the nightmare of a totalitarian and dystopic future. For Badalov is not new: Soviet estate also commanded huge control on individuals wishes and choices. In front of this reality, the artist modulates and subverts language through absurdity, surprise, and humour – what he calls “hooligan sentences”. He explores and developes its plasticity through
abstraction, and brings it far out of its original meaning and boundaries.
Pedro de Llano