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.

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