Dan Munn – 20 October, 2013
The exhibition title, like the works in the exhibition, moves abruptly between beginning to tell a story and reflecting on its own form and character. Selecting works that problematise the relationship between advocacy and documentary, the curator investigates the way that an individual can speak for the situation of a collective through the aesthetics of the archive.
Slavs and Tatars, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson, Rabih Mroué, Mekhitar Garabedian.
Long ago, and not true anyway
Curated by Pierre d’Alancaisez and Jaime Marie Davis
5 September -16 November 2013
Molla Nasreddin is a wise Islamic folk character who often appears as an elderly man with a turban riding backwards on a donkey. In Long ago, and not true anyway Pierre d’Alancaisez, the founder of this gallery, takes up Nasreddin‘s anti-modernist position, assembling what he refers to as “historical narratives affected by migrations, invasions, economic interactions, time and memory.” The exhibition title, like the works in the exhibition, moves abruptly between beginning to tell a story and reflecting on its own form and character. Selecting works that problematise the relationship between advocacy and documentary, the curator investigates the way that an individual can speak for the situation of a collective through the aesthetics of the archive. In their use of archival material these works also highlight the precarity of personal and collective records produced in the wake of neoliberalism’s erosion of the nation-state.
Mekhitar Garabedian‘s photographic series Gentbrugge, taken at his childhood home in Belgium, features images and objects that constitute a personal archive of his family’s exile from Syria and their adaptation to a new home. Printed on cream paper stock, the prints yellowness mimics the slow analog ageing process of photography’s yesteryear, signifying a currency or image predating the rise of social media, when fewer images held greater weight. Projected alongside these images, Garabedian’s film MG (2006) is the artist’s take on a scene from Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (1968). In this scene the protagonist stands in front of a bathroom mirror and repeats firstly the names of the two women he loves, and then his own name. Starting off slowly and articulately he pronounces the words with growing speed and volume until he is tripping over his tongue.
In Garabedian’s version the artist alternates between the Armenian and Dutch versions of his own name, his repetition echoing his practice as a child in adapting to the linguistic rhythms of his new home. French philosopher Bernard Steigler wrote last year in Die Aufklärung [The Enlightenment] in the Age of Philosophical Engineering that the “hypermateriality” of the web may prevent the re-interiorizing of materialized memory, and it is against this tendency that Garabedian’s rephotographing and recitations act.
Rabih Mroue‘s Shooting Images also involves a restaging, this time based on Youtube videos of Syrian protestors recording their own deaths. Footage of a friend holding a fake gun recorded by Mroue on a mobile phone is interspersed with text in a film essay focusing on the mirroring of gun and camera shots. One of its key texts is a statement that when the complicity between gunman and cameraman is broken, “picture-taking becomes a weapon against war-making and vice versa”. Mroue has worked previously with Hito Steyerl and their works share both formal and political qualities; Shooting Images takes a stand in Syria’s data-heavy conflicts by adding the artist’s personal signature to a potent online trend.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige present a carpet with a woven image of a Lebanese postage stamp issued in 1964 to honour the work of the Lebanese Rocket Society, Lebanon’s short-lived space program that Joreige says has been “clouded by decades of conflict.” The piece is part of a wider project titled The Lebanese Rocket Society; the duo’s film of the same name has received awards at a number of international film festivals. A series of reprinted archival material hangs beside the carpet, an offshoot of research from the same project. The images tell the story of another carpet, this one was made by Lebanese orphans for U.S. President Coolridge in the 1920s, recently repatriated by Armenia ending a period in which it languished undisplayed in the White House collection.
The duo works with textured archival material, however their standardized production maintains a clean line between their references and their own work, bringing into play longstanding problems of documentary image making. The works also neglect to describe the reasons these histories have been forgotten (I.e. The inadequacies of collective memory are an interest oft repeated in the duo’s interviews and press releases) and also the artists’ positions in unearthing them.
Most of the works in this show are part of much larger bodies of work, and when I asked d’Alancaisez about this he aligned this quality with the fluid, non-exhaustive nature of migrant identity. This is nowhere more present than in the works of the collective Slavs and Tatars. Their textile Self Management Body links the Polish trade union (that emerged in 1980) with the Islamic revolution in Iran (that culminated in 1979) by sewing a Polish Solidarnosc (Solidarity movement) phrase and its English translation onto an Iranian pattern. Aligning concepts of national and collective autonomy the artists make a peculiar comparison between Western labour struggles and Middle Eastern political and religious conflicts. Triangulation (Not Kaliningrad Not Kerbala) evokes a negative space with the same catchy use of language as the “Hot or Not” of their Monobrow Manifesto a few years ago in the Frieze Sculpture Park.
In Hito Steryl’s In Defense of the Poor Image she locates the origins of the poor image within both the “neoliberal restructuring of media production and digital technology” and also the “post-socialist and postcolonial restructuring of nation states, their cultures, and their archives.” Long ago, and not true anyway points to narratives left out of, or hidden away within, official national record, mining archives to give form to neglected histories.