Jaime Gili (1972 - )

Transnational Anthem 2 (1998)

Customised car plates
height: 77cm
width: 52cm

Donated by Jaime Gili 2003


The medium of Jaime Gili’s object Transnational Anthem 2 is catalogued as “customised car plates”. It is indeed made of license plate plastic and reflective material in white and yellow, the UK colours for front and rear plates. Gili added narrow, horizontal strips of colour to suggest the national flags of three South American countries. Further ‘customisation’, however, is done in a different and less tangible material: the medium of language.

Gili plucked famous words from the Brazilian flag and from Argentinian and Venezuelan anthems, translated them into what looks like txt-speak and had them put onto the plates. These words are composed of letters and numbers, but are recognisable as Portuguese and Spanish, with a hint of English (P8O6RES instead of P8O6RESSO). They follow a long tradition of vanity-plate eloquence that started in the US in the 1930s and became also widespread in the UK. The adaptation of an English-language practice whilst maintaining foreignness through Spanish and Portuguese, shows the work as a product of cultural translation. Tomislav Longinovic advocates such products as “open[ing] up a space of the international in-between, the gold of hybrid and mobile identities”(1).

The work consists of loose parts and there are many possible ways for its exhibition. Gili emphasises mobility by his proposed installation of the plates on two sides of a concrete column. You have to move and walk around the corner to see the whole work, but you can still read/translate the plates according to your own order of vision. You get a chance to physically connect with the ideas of transportation, migration and change.

With Transnational Anthem 2 Gili performs a double act of cultural translation. First, he has grouped iconic words designating specific Latin American identities into an overarching, ‘transnational anthem’. Second, he has chosen a practice associated with British identity to be the vehicle of this anthem. Through this act, we are made to consider Jaime Gili as an itinerant artist. Gili was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1972, of Spanish parents. He came to London for his studies in 1993, lived in Barcelona afterwards but returned to both the UK and Venezuela. He currently lives in London. Transnational Anthem 2 is a non-permanent balance of elements from various languages and cultures. Using these signs from different backgrounds, the artist successfully creates the ‘in-between’ that is his work.

Additional meanings of the work hover between irony and nostalgia. A comment on government rules as well as on people’s creativity regarding their identity, the work shows that individuality is buyable within the parameters of established power and its revenue offices. An ironic note on the prestige of car ownership itself —which spans continents— may also be included, as if the value of possessing a motor vehicle is on a par with the high-flown ideals expressed in the words from the flag and anthems. Those same words, however, may still hold traces of melancholy for the migrant artist or observer.

1. Longinovic, Tomislav. “Fearful asymmetries: a manifesto of cultural translation.” Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association Vol. 35 No. 2 (2002): 5.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Marian de Vooght, 2014

In Britain, Jaime Gili had become interested in the popular practice of choosing what is displayed on one's car number plates. Although they originate in a governmental imperative (to number each individual car) plates are used, conversely, as an emblem of individuality.
The artist commissions the plates that make up the Transnational Anthem from a standard plate making shop; the owners of these plates however are not individuals but rather individual countries. From flags and national anthems Gili selects the most resonantly patriotic words, using the language of car plates to transform them into ironic, text-like expressions. Thus, for example, we find ORDEM - PROGRESSO (ORD3M - P8O6RES in car plate speak), which is taken from the Brazilian national flag's emblematic phrase 'Ordem e Progresso' (Order and Progress). Another set of plates feature ALT4 - CIE7O arranged as a diptych, that is 'Alta' and 'Cielo', taken from 'Alta en el Cielo' (high in the sky) a famous line from an Argentine anthem that hails the country's sky-blue and white flag.

Transnational Anthem is an ongoing work, an expanding taxonomy of anthems which began in 1998 with a series of number plates created for a group exhibition of Latin American artists in London. Given the irony inherent in the idea of the personalised car plate as something that can never truly be 'personal', this work suggests that similar contradictions - between individuality and standardisation, difference and sameness, free choice and duty - are inherent to the concept of nationalism and national identity. Meanwhile the 'transnational' language that Gili uses reflects his own aim to refer, beyond Latin American nationalism, to any country and to any person: to examine the widespread need to assert private identity via public rules of display.

Christiana Diamesi, 2008

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