All life is a search for language
Mixed Media

I like to be nobody. You're free when you're nobody. I'm more touched by Pasolini's "Arabian Nights" than by my own life story. The author of these words, Babi Badalov, was born in a small mountain village in Azerbaijan, which he left to study at Baku. From there he moved to Petersburg without a residence permit, which back in Soviet times was prohibited. Later, in 1991, he moved to San Francisco and then to New York, from there he returned to Baku through Turkey. Having lived there for a while, Badalov went to England but later returned to St. Petersburg. Then, passing through Finland, Germany, and Belgium he found himself in Paris where he settled… His family spoke two languages — Azerbaijani, the language his father spoke, and Talysh, the language of an Iranian ethnic minority to which his mother belonged. However, Babi's favorite language was and remains Russian. Later, in the course of his nomadic life, he absorbed the languages of the places where he lived — most importantly, English and French.

Language or rather languages, their mixture, has become the main material of his work. Badalov rediscovered the ancient practice of dodaqdəyməz and made the basis of his work. Dodaqdəyməz is improvised vocal poetry, which is recited with lips never meeting each other. Its subject is the poet's life experience — the poet-narrator describes everything that is part of his daily life and all sorts of associations it evokes. Badalov's art reveals his personality as multifaceted and hybrid reflecting his life as the one lacking roots. However, the diversity or even the incongruence of the aspects of his personality is offset by the fact that he is constantly in a state of transition. Such characters, described by cultural theorists as tricksters, are neither here nor there, hovering between the roles defined by law, custom, convention and ritual. In Babi's life and work the trickster's essence is enacted quite literally — he is a vagabond, a refugee, and, as he moves from one country to another, his poetry incorporates new realities as well as new words and expressions from other languages.

Trickster's only sustainable element is his or her artistic role. The drama of one's life is justified and tolerable only if it acquires the status of an artwork. Mikhail Bakhtin, an outstanding theorist of carnival culture, wrote that trickster's alien status itself creates a special aesthetic aura around this character, "The rogue, the clown and the fool create around themselves their own special little world, their own chronotope. These deceivers simply do not exist beyond their function."

Both this role and this "world" are a prerequisite not only for Badalov's doodle-like dodagdeymez but also for his visual practice, which consists in convulsive spontaneous drawing on materials at hand (notebooks, restaurant menus, official forms, etc.) and collecting everyday objects that he buys at markets or picks up at waste disposals. Being carefully collected by Badalov during his wanderings and accompanying him during his journeys, this material is what he creates his works with. Babi generously gives away his souvenirs by including them in his installations; he also presents listeners with his poetic improvisations as though giving away the time of his life. Georges Bataille considered this ritual of liberation from self-interest and attachment to things as the key to resuming an intimate connection with the world and the sacred, "Giving means acquiring power… The subject enriches himself with a contempt for wealth."

artistic director of the project: Viktor Misiano
National Center for Contemporary Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
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