The Unreliable Narrator
Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, How to Protest Intelligently

12 June – 9 August 2014
Private view Wednesday, 11 June 2014, 6-9pm

waterside contemporary is pleased to present The Unreliable Narrator, an exhibition of new installation and video works by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler developed especially for the gallery.

narrator, n., nəˈreɪtə: The voice or persona (whether explicitly identified or merely implicit) by which are related the events in a plot [Oxford English Dictionary].

'You are the Prime Minister', a prominent neon work in the window of the gallery becomes an empowering invitation to take up the title role in a fantasy fiction. It is soon revealed to be misleading: the statement belongs to a larger piece from a scholarship exam for thirteen years-old boys entering Eton College, an elite school that trained 19 of the Britain’s Prime Ministers and 12 members of the current Government.


Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, You Are the Prime Minister (neon sign), 2014
installation, neon sign, 220x12cm
installation view at waterside contemporary

A video installation The Unreliable Narrator narrates the 2008 Mumbai attacks, alternately from a position of the terrorists and of a seemingly impartial commentator. The video sourced from CCTV recordings of the siege, together with telephone conversations between the attackers and their controllers, suggest that the event was performed for the benefit of news cameras: “this is just a trailer, the main feature is yet to come”.


Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, The Unreliable Narrator, 2014
video, 2-channel video installation, audio, 16’20”
installation view at waterside contemporary

In the exhibition, Mirza and Butler expose the existence of an Unreliable Narrator who takes advantage of the gap between fiction and reality. We may imagine that in the street and at the gallery alike, we are tacitly comfortable with our own classic roles as actors and audiences. Making visible the self-propagating assemblies of circumstances, references and implications, the artists force a reconsideration of the mandate and power of the narrator, whether he, she or it is explicitly identified or merely implicit.

And so, in the Prime Minister’s Question, the thirteen year-old candidate is required to argue for the necessary and moral use of military force against civilian protesters, at his command. In Mumbai, the terrorists play into the hands of Bollywood filmmakers, who rush to register epic film titles even before the siege is lifted.

Stories slip between construction, rhetoric and reality with implausible ease: language itself appears to create and propagate the conditions of authority, violence, and division. As the Narrator continues to hijack the rhetoric of cultural and political discourse to rupture, Mirza and Butler expose the absurd ventriloquist act.

Related event: The Exception and the Rule, Tuesday 15 July.

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