Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Adel Abdessemed - Situation and Practice

Growing up watching Tom and Jerry, the conflict was always the crux of the cartoon,
but the underdog would always win. Jerry would always get away and Tom would always get hurt. There was never murder, just self-defense. The violence that we were cheering in the cartoon was justifiable. Jerry was out witting Tom for survival. Adel Abdessemed is not afraid to show what happens when the Cat eats a Rat. The food chain in action, an animal eating another. Isn't it just survival of the fittest? Is his piece Birth of Love (1'30" sec. loop, 2006) art or straight up controversy?

An exhibition of his work entitled Dont Trust Me was to open last March at the San Francisco Art Institute but instead it was canceled due to protest from animal rights activists. The exhibition consisted of 6 looped videos of animals - a sheep, a horse, an ox, a pig a goat and a doe - getting their heads bashed by a sledgehammer. The image lasts seconds, so quick its difficult to fully comprehend what is happening, are we witnesses to slaughter or sacrifice? Abdessemed is pushing the limits of moral, social, religious constructs to demonstrate a sort of beauty in violence. This type of violence is something humans inflict on each other daily and yet there is little outcry. The social critic is simple; Trust blindly and we as humans are just as easily subject to a similar fate.

Axe On (2007) is an installation using 154 kebab knives arranged in clusters of 12-15. Through a open advertisement at Appartement 22 in Rabat, Morocco, People were invited to donate their used knives to the project. The knives were then placed in clusters, point side down, as if they were odd bouquets growing out of the floor.

At the 52nd Venice Bienniale, Abdessemed replaced several exit signs with the word exil in neon light. An obvious word play, Exil also brings to mind feelings of isolation and exclusion that the word often becomes associated with. It is one of the examples of the wit employed by the artist to engage the viewer.

The Rue Lemercier was the setting for a more complex street action. With the help an animal trainer, Abdessemed unleashes animals once native to North Africa; a horse (Jump and Jolt,2006), a lion (Seperation,2006), an adder (Zero Tolerence,2006) and wild boars(Sept Freres-2006)onto the empty street of the residential "Haussman" 17th arrondissement of Paris. These animals are placed in a context far from their native habitat. The banal, wild animals, are made dramatic by putting them in an urban context. Mirroring the large number of North Africans assimilating to life in Paris, there are direct parallels between the human experience and that of the animals. The street action or Act, a term Abdessemed prefers to use because of political implications the word connotes.

His work is a direct critic of violence that extends beyond the east/west divide. He experiments with a variety of media from sculptural installation to video and photography, from animation to street interventions. Abdessemed plays with subjects that touch a more global interest in human relations, morality, social and religious taboos. Yet he is direct, and to the point. In a recent interview with Brian Sholis published in ArtForum, Abdessemed explains, "Art today should be about building something new, not only destroying what is unjust or what you do not like. To destroy is easy, to build is quite hard."

Practice Zero Tolerence is a life size terra cotta sculpture of an over turned car from the riots that swept through the Paris Banlieu into the heart of the city in 2005. The car as an object has become a symbol of wide spread violence from car bombs that have affected civilians from Afghanistan to Algeria to street violence in urban centers.

The exhibition Situation and Practice is a collection of new and recent works by Adel Abdessemed currently at the List Visual Arts Center at MIT in Boston.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Emily Jacir - Hugo Boss Prize 2008

Installation view of Material for a Film (2005 to present) Venice Biennale 2007

Emily Jacir has won this year's Hugo Boss Prize. The $100,000 award, established in 1996 by the Guggenheim Museum and named for the German men's wear company that sponsors it, is given every two years for significant achievement in contemporary art.

Jacir was given the award for her work that ``bears witness to a culture torn by war and displacement,'' the prize's jury said, in a statement. ``Emily is a visionary,'' Hugo Boss spokesman Philipp Wolff said in an interview yesterday evening, after the announcement. ``What's so special about her is that her work is subtle and embracing at the same time.''

In a recent interview Emily mentioned that so many foreigner "experts" feel they can speak on behalf of Palestinians. Who better to explain what she sees, hears and feels in her own words.

Congratulations Emily!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Khosrow Hassanzadeh - Ya Ali Madad

Blending images of the past with contemporary aesthetics, the recent work of Khosrow Hazzanzadeh honors traditions while pushing forward.

This series concentrates on the Pahlavan wrestlers, heros from the turn of the century Qajar period (1794- 1925) . These men would pray to Ali using the words Ya Ali Madad. Calling on Ali, the first Imam in the Shi'a tradition is considered to bring strength and luck because he is a protector of the poor or the underdog. People continue to call on Ali, Ya Ali Madad.

In order to highlight the importance of the prayer, the letters that spell out Ya Ali Madad cover the canvas. The movement of the letters creates pattern and texture. The repetition of script in turn echos the words until they become seemingly uttered without pauses for breath.

The imagery repeats itself multiple times becoming a continuous investigation into form and color. The technique remains the same, silkscreen and acrylic on canvas. The colors are vivid, deep and sumptuous. Azur blue, oranges, Gold, turqoise and deep reds all vie for the eye's attention. Placing images from the series Ya Ali Madad next to Persian illuminated manuscripts there is a familiar blending of script, pattern and form.

The Pahlavan are the central figures in the series. The two men hold hands as a court intellectual, a dervish, a General and a mullah are seated on either side of them. These individuals came together to pray before the wrestlers would begin. For Khosrow the Pahlavan represent a past that is he fears is disappearing from contemporary Iran's cultural memory.
By returning to the imagery and lore of the Pahlavan, the artist aims to remind the viewer of the strength, beauty and honor that these men possessed. He is interested in recalling the memory of a period in time. The figures haunt this series as their images become reduced as in one canvas to simply gold outlines on black canvas.

Pieces of this series are currently on view at B21 Gallery in Dubai. This is his second solo exhibition in Dubai.

Concurrently, pieces are also included in the exhibition Living Traditions: Contemporary Art from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jean Marc Nahas - Douces Violences 2005-2008

The work of Jean Marc Nahas is striking and perhaps somewhat abrasive. In his brush strokes there is determination. His signature strong, thick lines can be mistaken for rapid, even reckless haphazardness. Yet upon a further inspection his images feel as if they have been part of an on going visual improvisational piece. There is constant feeling of movement and evolution. He is able to capture a moment, a pause, a break in the daily routine before the subject continues to the next.

Nahas captures the briefness of a moment, the quickness of a single movement. The strength of his work lies in his ability to analysis the overall form of the body and what can be expressed through the simple brush stroke. Strong line is able to convey emotion and form. Of that, Jean Marc Nahas is master.

In his stroke there is an element of sadness, melancholy or solitude. We feel pain in his figures. Their inner struggles are made evident through the artist's brush. His use of color is equally as direct as his use of line. Bold reds, blues and yellows serve as a strong contrast to his use of blacks and grays. Nahas speaks with minimal line and equally minimal color.

Catastrophe, a alrge scale installation, was originally set to take place at the UMAM in Beirut but due to the destruction of some of the roof of the building, the installation was actually exhibited at Zico House in the winter of 2006.

His most recent exhibition Douces Violences 2005-2008 is currently on view at the Gefinor Center in Beirut from October 17th to the 29th of November.

His work can also be seen from November 17th to the 21st at Artparis - AbuDhabi in the Young Talents exhibition curtesy of the Epreuve d'Artiste Gallery.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sabhan Adam - Red October

Autodidact artist Sabhan Adam (1972) has emerged as one of the more internationally known young painters in Syrian contemporary art. His work is confrontational, haunting, fanciful, humorus and intensly curious. In an interview between Diala Jumail and the artist, he states "Behind every beautiful thing lies ugliness: that thought pleased me and scared me at the same time. I don’t think like everyone else.”

From those few words Sabhan Adam summarizes the dichotomy between ugliness and beauty that plays out on his canvases. Perhaps so much so that the viewer is made uncomfortable or even made to feel a slight repulsion. Yet that spark of emotion is what draws one to his work. Because his faces are flawed and imperfect, their ugliness becomes fascinating. The initial shock over, and one becomes intrigued and even enamored with his figures.

This leads to the following philosophical questions: what constitutes ugly? Is beauty its natural opposite? What do we as the viewers learn about the artist as we become familiar with his personal aversions? Perhaps it is through an intimate connection between the viewer and the works themselves that what was initially unapproachable becomes endearing, beautiful. They become more and more aesthetically pleasing the deeper the emotional connection.

The figures that populate Sabhan's canvases are reflections of the artist himself. They share similar facial features, they are filled with the anger and sadness that resides within their creator. These figures are witness to isolation and human suffering. Through them Sabhan is able to render the psyche visible in its most pure state.

Looking at his paintings one can see parallels in his work and that of other painters before him. He captures a childlike brilliance like that of Jean Michel Basquiat. He also achieves a monstrous raw honesty like that of Francis Bacon. Yet Sabhan's characters are rarely grounded in a fix space. Instead figures occupy a nondescript isolated and often monochromatic environment. By doing so Sabhan leaves no other option for the viewer but to confront his figures. There is no escape.

Red October is currently at Art Lounge from the 17th of October until the 9th of November.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Laleh Khorramian : Zenith and Nadir

Relationships. Love affairs. sexual encounters. The emotional spectrum that they embody at times can make one feel as if they have reached the Heavens while at other times, its opposite. The highest of heights vs. the lowest of lows. The Zenith by definition is a vertical direction that points away from the force of gravity. Its opposite, Nadir, goes with the force of gravity. Given the meanings of these two words the significance of this opposition gives way to a better understanding of the most recent work of Iranian artist Laleh Khorramian.

Exhibited in New York at Salon 94 Freemans and currently at Third Line Gallery in Dubai I Without End (6:20) is a time lapse animation featuring figures carved from orange peels. As these two figures intertwine, they become life-like. As the piece continues, the figures begin to loose their suppleness, freshness, only to slowly being to dry out and rot. These organic forms undergo a natural cycle of decay.

It is a visual metaphor for the human life cycle. What comes from the earth returns to earth. However, life itself is filled with moments of ecstasy and sublime interaction with man, god, and one's inner self. During the course of the piece, these personifications act out a passionate encounter. As they move through a variety of positions their forms eventually begin to curl inward. With the evolution of time, the once verile bodies become impotent and frigid. The initial intimate ecstasy of their sexual encounter gives way to lost love and pain.

The setting for this romance is rendered sacred. Windows of various sizes and shapes let light into their intimate space.
The light is soft, and dramatic reminiscent of that of renaissance masters. The figures are lit in such way that the details of their skin becomes tantalizing. The shine of the skin becomes visually appealing,sensual and perhaps even erotic. The orange color of the peels and the softness of the the yellowish white blend beautifully, the skin and its inner layer. We are voyeurs to the absurd; sexual tension and arousal between two peels.

I Without End is one in a series of animation pieces that represent the elements; earth, water, space, air and fire. This being fire, the burning desire of human passions.

Images are stills from I Without End. 2008 time lapse animation. 6.20 min.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Abraaj Captial Prize Winners

The winners of the 2009 Abraaj Captial Art Prize have been announced by the selection commity. After reviewing close to 100 applications from international curators and artists from the MENASA region 3 Curator/Artist teams were selected.

The Abraaj Capital Art Prize is designed to raise awareness of innovative and experimental work being created by artists working in the MENASA Region.“The spectacular reception that this inaugural Abraaj Capital Art Prize received within the art community exceeded our most ambitious expectations,” said Savita Apte, Chair of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize. “The 97 applications received from artists from the MENASA region in collaboration with curators from such diverse locations as Santa Barbara and Japan and almost every country in between, reflected a truly global world of innovation, inspiration and creativity. . We are thrilled that the main aim of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize – offering a platform which reinforces creative collaboration – has been so wholeheartedly embraced by the artistic community and it is with enormous anticipation that we await the unveiling of the works in March of next year."

Three curator/ artist teams have been chosen to exhibit the winning projects during Art Dubai in March 19th to 21st 2009.
The works will then be included in the Abraaj Capital corporate collection.

*Cristiana Perrella & Kutlug Ataman
Cristiana Perrella (Rome) is curator of the Contemporary Arts Programme at the British School in Rome where she has developed a series of events focused on the dialogue between the British and Italian art scenes. She curated several one-man shows and published a number of monographs.

Kutluğ Ataman ( Istanbul), who studied at UCLA in Los Angeles and has pursued successful careers in both feature film-making and contemporary art. His works primarily document the lives of the marginalized individual, examining the way in which people create and recreate their identities. In 2003 the London Observer named him ‘artist of the year’ and in 2004 he was short-listed for the prestigious Turner prize.

Carol Solomon & Zoulikha Bouabdellah
Carol Solomon (Pennsylvania) is currently Visiting Associate Professor of Art History at Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania. She was Curator of European Art at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College in Massachusetts, worked at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and has taught at several prestigious universities in the US and Canada.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah (Moscow) who was raised in Algeria and who studied in Paris is a video and installation arist. Since finishing her studies in 2002, Zoulikha has been widely exhibited and major shows include L’art au fémin (2008) in Algiers and Airs de Paris (2007) in Paris. In 2007 her work was featured in the African Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale.

Leyla Fakhr & Nzagol Ansarinia
Leyla Fakhr (Isfahan) studied in London and Tehran and is assistant curator at Tate Britain and independent curator in Tehran. In 2006 she curated Untitled (do not give your opinion), an exhibition of works by Nazgol Ansarinia.

Nazgol Ansarinia (Tehran) studied graphic design in London, followed by an MFA in San Francisco. After having worked in the US and Europe, she returned to Tehran where her work focuses on everyday objects and their relationship to a larger social context. Dissecting the daily and piecing it back together to make other structures and patterns apparent often forms the core of her work.

Congratulations to the winners... one more reason to look forward to spring 2009...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Toys, Packaging and the Household Product

Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Aliabadi, Jackie Salloum, Liza Lou
Beyond the Brillo Box
Making a product sexy sells, the strategy of desire. Marketing 101. But things are not what they seem. The work of artists Farhad Moshiri, Shirin Aliabadi, Jackie Salloum, and Liza Lou, each alter how products are perceived forcing the viewer to look beyond face value. These artists manipulate products that can be immediately identified by the packaging and the shape of the containers to question our socio-politco-economical relationships with these products. These are brands that have become over time international symbols of consumerism, social status, or in some cases even oppression. These artists have gone beyond the Brillo box and the simple questioning mass production and its affect on the homogenization of the consumer, instead they are looking at the politics of consumption, advertising, and how we relate to what we consume.

Image seduction
Farhad Moshiriand Shirin Aliabadi in their series Operation Supermarket currently at on view at the Singapore Biennale alters the labels of well known, identifiable products available in local grocery stores. Popular brands are given new life as the labels are transformed into poetic and often ironic slogans. The products are then placed in advertisement settings as if they were being marketed to the viewer, a potential buyer. The luxury image of a Toblerone is placed in another context as the image suggests, "Tolerate Intolerance".These images alter the myth of the product itself by re-contextualizing the viewer’s association of the packaging. Thus the series questions how products are sold, who they are marketed to and implicitly challenging ideas of politics and consumption.

Get’em hooked young
Toy size versions of actual products allow for pretending, acting out real life scenarios. By putting miniature versions of cars, planes and trucks in young hands so they become familiarized with the brand. However children are not always aware of the ramifications of what the real versions are capable of doing. Children simulate war, destruction and create their own battles. Caterrorpillar by Jackie Salloum currently at White Box Gallery gives packaging that informs the buyer of the damage a Catepillar bulldozer or an Apache helicopter cause when used against civilians. She blurs the line between reality and simulation, the world of make believe and the reality of warfare.

Reclaiming the craft
Liza Lou reclaims products traditionally associated with the domestic sphere, products used for cleaning by recreating them using glass beads. Through beads, in her piece Windex, Liza Lou readopts a mass produced package and makes it her own. The product becomes hand made, crafted with skill and technique. It is no longer a mass produced plastic bottle, but an object that evokes wonder and awe. A simple household product such as Windex becomes precious through the process of human toil.

Questioning the myth of product
Mass production has made goods manufactured for consumption by families the world over. Trademark brand names such as Kleenex, Windex, Hoover, Bic are all products that have become integrated into the vernacular. Produced in a factory and shipped directly to our grocery stores, malls and bodegas, the larger implications these products have on our daily life are often forgotten. By re-appropriating the household object, these artists are able to question its social, political and economic implication in contemporary society.