“NOME, a lexicon” by Jesi Khadivi

Imagine a newspaper without news. Imagine a sentence that rebels against itself, or leaks a bit, or refuses to be confined by a period. Imagine propaganda from a biotechnology company being subjected to the same violence it perpetuates upon the land. Imagine old maps covered with new markings—or a lexicon written in disappearing ink. Opacity, queer, surveillance: these are merely a few of the terms that would appear in its pages. Indeed, such a book could be considered a guide to our present, which critic and media theorist Boris Groys describes as “a point of transition from the past to the future, becoming instead a site of permanent rewriting of both past and future—of constant proliferations of historical narratives beyond any individual grasp or control.” The question of what it means to be contemporary has filled countless books, but I particularly like Groys’ notion of being with and in time, a “Zeit genossen,” a comrade in time, an attitude closely aligned with NOME’s mission.

As Groys so aptly notes, “the contemporary is actually constituted by doubt, hesitation, uncertainty, indecision—by the need for prolonged reflection, for a delay.” This notion of delay can be understood as a counterpoint to the forward charge of the modernist avant-garde in their pursuit of an enlightened, utopian future. Over the five years of its exhibition and publication activities, which have provided a platform for a number of artists, writers, and curators to test new ideas and formats, NOME has opened a space to dwell in this “period of delay,” and the exhibition NOME, a lexicon can be understood as an unruly glossary that looks back on the five years of its operation. This is an exhibition that is not meant to be read linearly and the categories that the lexicon puts forward often bleed into one another, creating interstitial zones of tension. Organized around a set of terms that have defined NOME’s conceptual and theoretical commitments over the past five years, which are embedded within this text, the exhibited artworks provide overlapping, at times oppositional, ways of entering and grappling with these concepts. In this light, NOME, a lexicon is both a poly-vocal examination of topics related to black sites, copyright, computation, greenwashing, finance, and queer culture, among other topics—as well as a form of autocritique.

The exhibition includes work by all of the artists whose thinking has contributed to shaping the gallery’s program. James Bridle calls for “new metaphors” to understand the array of complex systems that comprise our networked, information-overloaded present. His work Chagos (Waterboarded Documents) relates to a black site where waterboarding was allegedly carried out, yet the evidence could not be shared due to purported “water damage.” Through mapping, documenting, and identifying elements of network infrastructure, Ingrid Burrington’s practice draws attention to the often overlooked or occluded landscapes of the internet. Her lenticular photographs show multiple versions of a single location at different points in time, revealing “the instability and shifting realities of satellite views.”

Paolo Cirio’s works process different data and information to shape new structures, often intervening in corporations, media apparatuses, or the so-called network “users.” Sociality is a searchable database of technology patents that shed light on the ethics—or lack thereof—of more than 20,000 algorithms, interfaces, devices, and online platforms. By setting data into new context, aggregating and fabricating it, he shapes new and unexpected compositions of information. Cian Dayrit adopts a practice of counter-cartography to revise historical and political narratives. In Dayrit’s hands, art is folk and activist in a contemporary sense: it carries remnants of the past into the future.

Informed by research and interdisciplinary collaborations, Marjolijn Dijkman’s works often propose alternate knowledge systems through their entanglement of different temporalities and geographies. In Reclaiming Vision (2018), Marjolijn Dijkman and Toril Johannessen stage encounters between a diverse cast of microorganisms sampled from the brackish waters of the inner Oslo Fjord, adopting an expanded approach to the documentary form that combines fiction and speculative abstraction. Goldin+Senneby’s work explores structural correspondence between conceptual art and finance capital, drawn to its (il)logical conclusions. The artists acquired their “trading strategies” from financial experts who are also interested in the arts, in exchange for artworks. The strategy documents are bound in files with cover illustrations by the designer Johan Hjerpe, which visually interpret the main dynamics of the strategies.

Structured as a series of photographs that riffs on the editing principle of the jump cut, Igor Grubić’s 366 Liberation Rituals documents guerilla actions, the straightforward encounter with the streets, performativity, civil disobedience, and poetic terrorism. Grubić implements a series of social adjustments with these “rituals,” correcting the irregularities of a post-transitional society.

The practice of Khaled Hafez produces an amalgam of visual alphabets that bridge Orient and Occident, and address how globalization and consumerism have altered Middle Eastern societies, to create aesthetic hybrids. In Contaminated Belief (2007), he presents a specific but opaque space in which the notion of tool, prop, and sculpture coexist, reinforcing but also negating one another.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos’ painting practice develops a geometric abstraction that merges the traditional aniconism of Islamic art with the algorithmic nature of our networked world. The work Expanding and Remaining emerged from her ongoing research into Islamic State propaganda. The design and layouts of page-spreads from an issue of the online magazine Dabiq provide the structure for a series of panel paintings.

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez examines how algorithms and surveillance have pervaded our society. To create his synthetic painting The Codification of Leadership, he subjected three photographs of George W. Bush to an algorithmic auxiliary function in the graphics program of Adobe Photoshop, creating a new temporality that collapses the signing of the Patriot Acts, Homeland Security Acts and Intelligent Reform Acts into a multifarious, self-perpetuating moment.

Sajan Mani’s #MakeinIndia’ mobilizes the body as a “site for the powerless, the untouchable, and the unspeakable.” Kameelah Janan Rasheed brings together spirituality, mathematics, and the tradition of black radical poetry to articulate new forms of language. Through xerox recombinations of sampled phrases and formulas, her work explores how we narrate the complex connections between the past, present, and future.

Kirsten Stolle’s research-based practice is grounded in the investigation of corporate propaganda, environmental politics, and biotechnology. In her ongoing series Monsanto Intervention, Stolle examines the connections between corporate interests and public health through strategies of redaction and collage. The self-taught artist Xiyadie revives the ancient tradition of Chinese papercutting, transforming this folk art form into queer, erotic landscapes of transformation.

Despite working in radically different media and aesthetic outputs, NOME’s artists nonetheless share a distinct approach to grappling with our present moment. Their practices—often driven by conceptual, documentary, and investigative approaches—shed new light on our reality, which they understand as cutting across both the visible and unseen aspects of our world. Their approaches are neither merely endemic of our times, nor do they place their work at the service of a particular political cause, yet they share a broad commitment to questions of social justice. The diverse artistic practices that NOME supports contain and produce modes of seeing, doing, and making that propose a politics in their own right—particularly in how their work intersects with how our contemporary reality shapes visuality, perception, linguistics, and communication. They zoom into the complex web of social, economic, political, and environmental forces surrounding us to extract the stories that they tell—and don’t tell—and NOME, a lexicon proposes a set of terms that enable us to read between the lines.


Jesi Khadivi
is an independent curator and writer. Together with the artist David Horvitz she runs PORCINO, one of the city’s smallest exhibition spaces. Khadivi has curated exhibitions at Fondation Ricard, Paris; PS 120, Berlin, and the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco. Her essays have appeared in numerous artist monographs and edited volumes, as well as publications such as Texte zur Kunst, Frieze, Fillip, FlashArt, Kaleidoscope, and The Brooklyn Rail. She has collaborated with NOME since 2018.

“NOME, a lexicon” by Jesi Khadivi