There Is A Hand To Turn The Time

May 15, 2014
Author Maya Tounta
Published in Review from Lithuania

FRANK CHU AT THE GARDENS February 15- March 14, 2014 IMG_0643


PART I: A virtual tour of the exhibition

Earlier in the year, Chris Fitzpatrick, Director of Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp, and artist Liudvikas Buklys, put on a show featuring the protest signs and recordings of professional protestor Frank Chu in collaboration with project space, The Gardens, Vilnius. The Gardens occupy an intimate white cube space in Vilnius’s planetarium. To get to it, one must traverse through the building and pass through corridors adorned with lunar models, galactic illustrations and astronomic equipment, leftover marginalia of the planetarium’s former life and Lithuania’s Soviet era. For this exhibition a different room in the planetarium has been chosen. Chu’s banners are displayed in the lime-colored, curved corridor at the end of the 1st floor: an undetermined, transitional space. As you enter through the glass double doors, you can see Chu’s banners displayed serially on the right, unpretentiously fixed on the wall and cast in the stark light of the overhead lamps. The curved wall opens up to a lobby, two sides of which give way to the corridor. On the right, there is a red velveteen couch and a table above which rests an illustration of Saturn. Like the rest of the planetarium, the room’s décor has clearly not changed since the 60’s when the planetarium was made operational. As you feel the effects of time travel, a set of speakers play Chu on a loop:


 …they are duplicates of original identities…

Discuss these campaigns on ABC, BBC, Soviet media, with courtesies at 110 galaxies

…Also the perverted slanders…

…Perverted treasons were committed against the first a…Soviet President

They’re very perverted slanders

In 12 galaxies Bill Clinton laughing about it too…

A concise description explains to the visitors that Frank Chu believes himself to have been the star of a reality feature and television series called “The Richest Family.” He claims that unbeknownst to them, him and his family were filmed through the use of top-secret invisible cameras. According to Chu, “The Richest Family” gained major success in other galaxies generating large sums of money for its producers, a large portion of which according to Chu is clearly owed him and his family. Chu claims he was only made aware of this in the mid-90s through telepathic messages sent to him by supportive former KGB agents and Soviet Presidents. Ever since Chu has been protesting, committed to informing the world of the injustice he and his family were made to endure. Chu holds Bill Clinton, Grover Cleveland, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and other former US Presidents responsible for working with the populations of the 12 Galaxies and directing the CIA, FBI, and Universal Studios to embezzle. Chu’s tactic for creating awareness about the embezzlement is to protest daily, either independently or by parasitically joining unrelated protests. Since the 90s when he was first made aware of his situation, he’s been using protest signs he himself designs. Chu originally made them himself and later started outsourcing their production to Signographics in San Francisco. Initially comprised of text in black marker, the signs evolved into a rigorous coded system: 5 (or 6) lines in alternating vinyl colours: blue – white – red – white – green. The different colours represent their own taxonomic category: name of complicit politician – a quantity of populations outside our galaxy – a news source – billionaire cosmopolitans of other galaxies – aspects of intergalactic societies. A small collection of these signs is featured in the exhibition. The unsuspicious visitor encounters them before reading the text thus while still unfamiliar with their context. The meeting is definitely bewildering. The signs have obvious linguistic allure, which their yet unresolved enigma accentuates.







One can see traces of Chu’s business administration degree in the terms, but they’re really far more labyrinthine than they initially appear. They have an abstract poetic resonance and an unfamiliar militancy. They induce a strange feeling of vertigo. The words are seemingly familiar yet unrecognizable. This type of uncanny inversion one also finds in the creations of another “pathological citizen”((Frank Chu was awarded Best Pathological Citizen Award by SF weekly)): writer Thomas Pynchon, albeit in Pynchon’s works, uncanny inversions pertain to larger historical categories.

PART II: A leap to Pynchon

To bring Pynchon into the discussion might seem like an unwarranted move but there are fruitful parallels between Pynchon and Chu most especially in their use of historical narrative. For those of you who have read Pynchon’s novels: The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason and Dixon, or maybe the most recent Bleeding Edge, might have recognized in his writing a kind of historical vertigo similar to that induced by Chu’s linguistic usage of terms. Historical fact and fiction are interwoven, mixed and reassembled. In addition to all other minor distortions, large chunks of the past are transported across time; their position in history entirely obscured while their internal content remains meticulously intact and rigorous in detail. The driving force behind these new narratives or historical fictionalising is paranoia. Paranoia is a key aspect in the methodology and content of Pynchon’s novels. It is what drives his protagonists, usually the principle paranoiacs, to discover “visible tracks” in history, as Tony Tanner said about Pynchon’s earlier work. This paranoia manifests itself in a conception of history as fiction, as a construct one must challenge in establishing the self. As history attempts to delineate public and private arenas for the collective, the individual renegotiates their distinction in order to reclaim himself as a private entity. Ultimately, the paranoiac is transformed into a designer. His projected pattern of coincidence enacts the pattern of typological historical method. Modern theorists of historical methodology argue that the historian is driven by a desire to impose meaning upon the past through fictional narration. This renders historical meaning a human construct characteristic of a very similar urge to that of the paranoiac. The fundamental difference between the historian and the paranoiac is a difference of scope: the historian aligns himself to a collective narrative whereas the paranoiac remains decidedly self-driven and self-serving. This amounts to a difference in effect: the historian aims to determine a division between public and private spheres to be shared by all while the paranoiac uses historical narrative to favour the establishment of himself as a private entity. The paranoiac’s method: the paranoiac envisions himself as the sole keeper of some important truth, actively kept hidden from the public by a select few who benefit from the conceit. This structure grants the paranoiac a special function that ties the establishment of his private self to that of the public. Granted an expanded self, which, can possibly be seen as the paranoiac’s fundamental motivation, the paranoiac manages to make himself non-expendable. He only has to convince others of this truth in order to actually inhabit this role socially. Thus it is crucial to the paranoiac that he involves an increasing amount of people into his quest, with each addition empowering his stronghold over the private/public competing arenas.  This involvement is not limited to the present, but it extends to history, so as to validate itself further by entrenching itself in a part of shared consciousness; thus is the juncture between the paranoiac’s decidedly isolated state and his longing for the collective.

PART III: Back to Frank Chu

Now, this is not a way for me to absolve a naive vision of Chu as a paranoiac or a pathological subject, as he was characterised by SF Weekly.  My reason for introducing a discussion on paranoia is to elucidate the ways in which Chu’s theory of a conspiracy bounces off traditional historical narrative. It is an important aspect of how Chu’s beliefs are met by the wider public and how they function within it. And importantly, this is not done in the scope of determining Frank Chu the person, but in understanding the context of his work. The protest banners and recordings serve a function and thus can only be fully experienced in consideration of these terms as well as all other aesthetic, formal and other terms that are also of interest. What remains intriguing is not a question of truth versus delusion, it is the way in which Chu’s beliefs and quest comes to manifest itself through actions and objects. Chris Fitzpatrick, who has shown Frank Chu’s banners internationally, characterises Chu’s use of language as prepossessing. I think this feeling of being prepossessed is not limited to Chu’s eloquence and linguistic alignment to his cause but extends to the uncertainty and reluctance with which their pretext is met by the public. The answer of whether Chu’s beliefs are true or not might be – on an artistic level – irrelevant, but the fact that the question of truth and historical fact, are unavoidably present in the encounter of his work, seems to be crucial to the work’s linguistic potency. The meeting of a language that appears precise (as much as it is not entirely understandable), systematic, evocative, persistent and far-reaching with a pretext that is widely seen as suspicious, creates a wonderful opportunity for critically engaging with history, its making and the language in which it articulates itself: presupposition and the prepossessing. IMG_0651 IMG_0647 IMG_0642 IMG_0634 Photographs by Maya Tounta