The Foreigner – Jon Rubin & Felipe Castelblanco


The Foreigner, a work by Jon Rubin and Felipe Castelblanco, is a participatory artwork that connects US citizens with Iranian ones in real-time via human proxies or avatars. The work confounds notions of geopolitical identity by confusing and reducing distances between the local ‘self’ and the foreign ‘other’. Using simple mobile technology the residents of Cleveland were able to talk to remote Iranians via a locally present avatar. In this way US citizens could converse with and be guided through public spaces by someone who was living in an entirely different cultural and political landscape. In order to shuffle the layers of conversations further, Iranian citizens and Cleveland proxies were selected from a wide demographic, from all ages, and from all social backgrounds. In The Foreigner it was possible for example for “a teenage local girl to be the proxy for an 80-year-old Iranian man”. The social engagement via remote interfacing allowed both Iranians and especially the US citizens to explore and question many of the stereotypical assumptions made about each other culture. The work also brought into question the role of different forms of cultural expression and communication in conveying ideas and feelings. By transferring one cultural communication system onto another it might be argued that American citizens felt more at ease and comfortable talking to Iranians in expressing their concerns, fears, and collective understandings of life in Iran. Central to the work is the question of how do we know what we know about a remote culture if we do not have real access to the people and culture themselves? Paul Prudence


The Foreigner, A project by Jon Rubin with Felipe Castelblanco