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The MIT List Visual Arts Center opens Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: I Must First Apologize...
Geometry of Space, 2014. Sculptures, stretched oxidized steel; scam atlas, 3 publications; murals chronologic drawings of 2005 & 2010.

Image courtesy the artists and In Situ/Fabienne Leclerc (Paris), CRG Gallery (New York), The Third Line (Dubai).

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The MIT List Visual Arts Center is presenting the culmination of a major project by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, I Must First Apologize…, an exhibit featuring an extensive body of work in film, sculpture, photography, and installation looking at the history of online spam and scamming. The artists have collected and archived more than 4,000 scams, a certain kind of spam e-mail since 1999. Written in the first person and structured like monologues, the scam messages often usurp famous individuals' identities, with the writers posing as the children or wives of politicians, or as notorious dictators claiming to possess a large sum of money they need to transfer urgently. These scams are based on a plausible reality, rooted in news or real events, often referring to present-time conflicts and with the aim to exploit people's gullibility.

Based on historical confidence tricks such as The Jerusalem Letter, which dates back to the eighteenth century, these frauds have been surprisingly efficient; thousands of people are conned every year, and victims of scams have committed suicide or murder in revenge. Collectively these e-mail scams delineate a map of recent geopolitical conflict, social unrest, and economic upheaval. The exhibition charts a kind of narrative itinerary ranging from various works that present intimate correspondence between scammers and victims and several video works that feature real or fictional protagonists of scams.

Among the works included in the exhibition, the video installation The Rumor of the World, 2014, presents an immersive environment where non-professional actors of various ages and origins recite email scams and stories directly to the viewer from thirteen video screens and over thirty-seven loudspeakers. Their chorus of voices evokes the saturation of the online world while blurring the distinction between truth and fiction. Geometry of Space, 2014, is a series of sculptures and drawings that track the virtual network and geographic circulation of hundreds of scam emails creating an alternative history of the contemporary world. The Trophy Room, 2014, evokes a strange virtual museum highlighting the intimate correspondence between scammers and so-called scam-baiters, whose objective is to scam the scammers themselves, by tricking them into performing bizarre and humiliating acts. The resulting collection of “trophies” (videos, photographs, paintings, sculptures, performances) fades the distinction between victim and scammer. The multi-channel video installation, It’s all Real, 2014 gives a voice to some of the non-professional actors appearing in The Rumor of the World. Most of them are immigrants, whose personal accounts reflect the tales of economic woe and exile, often appearing as incredible as those described in the scams.

I Must First Apologize… acts as a narrative itinerary and a cinematographic exhibition. Throughout this body of work, Hadjithomas and Joreige probe into the structures of belief and storytelling: they unfold a complex set of relationships marked by intimacy, trust, faith, greed, and desire, all in relation to the internet and technology.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (both b. 1969, Beirut, Lebanon) live and work in Beirut and Paris. They have collaborated as filmmakers and artists since 1997. They have made award-winning films such as A Perfect Day, Je Veux Voir (I Want to See), and The Lebanese Rocket Society, which have been shown all over the world. Their photographs and installations have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; the New Museum, NY; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; as well as numerous biennal exhibitions including the Venice Biennale in 2015.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: I Must First Apologize… is organized in collaboration with Villa Arson, Nice, France; and HOME, Manchester, UK; and is curated by Éric Mangion for Nice, Omar Kholeif and Sarah Perks for Manchester, and Henriette Huldisch, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center, for Cambridge, MA.

The exhibition is accompanied by The Rumors of the World: Rethinking Trust in the Age of the Internet, a publication edited by Omar Kholeif and published by Sternberg Press, in association with Villa Arson, Nice, France: HOME, Manchester, UK; and MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, USA. The publication features contributions from the artists and Nicolas Auray, Finn Brunton, Norman M. Klein, Franck Leibovici, Éric Mangion, Laura U. Marks, Sarah Perks, Jacques Rancière, Uzma Z. Rizvi, and Rasha Salti.

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