Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, co-founders of multi-disciplinary curatorial platform art reoriented, share a selection of artworks that have inspired their curatorial approach
Going beyond conventional art historical and geographical classifications is one of the core concerns of our curatorial practice. As independent curators, we are at liberty to choose our projects, which range from curating exhibitions at large institutions such as Centre Pompidou in Paris, international biennales including Venice and Sydney, small art centres such as the Mosaic Rooms in London and serving on the jury of Videobrazil, to being the chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation. Over the past 10 years, we have curated exhibitions in museums and art institutions in Korea, Australia, the United States, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Belgium. What all these projects have in common is our deepening conviction in the central role that artists play in enabling us to re-imagine, and therefore re-invent, our reality. The context in which a particular artwork is shown fundamentally changes its perception by the public. Firstly, the geographic location plays a major role in how a viewer would relate to an artwork, such as Rateb Seddik’s seminal surrealist work being shown in Paris – the birthplace of Surrealism – or Raed Yassin’s work being shown in Korea. Secondly, the exhibition format may contribute to the impact of a particular artwork, an example of which is Akram Zaatari’s film being shown as part of a National Pavilion in what is arguably the most global Biennale. Wafaa Bilal’s interactive performance, which was commissioned for the opening of Mathaf in Doha, is another such example. Thirdly, solo exhibitions and retrospectives, such as we curated for Paul Guiragossian or Mona Hatoum, provide the broader context for the artistic oeuvre of an artist at large. Finally, group exhibitions can examine the formalistic aspects of an artwork, such as Lee Ufan’s paintings within the context of the Korean monochrome movement Dansaekhwa, or Wu Tsang’s installation being presented within a survey of spatial concerns in video art. Group exhibitions can equally highlight thematic contexts, such as with Markus Schinwald’s paintings, or with Hans-Peter Feldmann’s version of the famous bust of Nerfertiti. For our contribution to the “Curated by…” series, we have chosen artworks from some of our previous exhibitions, which have inspired our curatorial approach. These artworks tell manifold stories of how an artist has chosen to break existing boundaries. They are united in their ability to convey their subject matter’s formalistic appeal – irrespective of when, how and by whom they were created. Last but not least, with all the theoretical discussion around an artwork, we should always remember to be seduced by its magical capability to communicate those things that simply cannot be expressed in words.
Raed Yassin, Ruins in Space, 2014. Ruins in Space is a work that was specifically commissioned for the exhibition Songs of Loss and Songs of Love. The premise of the exhibition was a fictitious encounter in Paris in 1967 between two seminal singers, Oum Kulthoum from Egypt and Lee Nan-Young from Korea. While the two singers never actually met, they share an iconic status in their respective homelands. Raed Yassin created this project about re-writing musical history, whereby cultural crossovers and impossible meetings become the basis of connecting people wherever they are. The components of his installation include a speaker inserted into the cover of a fictional record with Oum Kulthoum’s face and Korean lettering, while a rerendered sound of her voice permeates the exhibition space.
Lee Ufan, From Line, 1979. One of Lee Ufan’s most iconic series from the 70s is entitled From Line. While the medium resembles a traditional painting, the artwork is rather the record of a performative act. The artist applied paint on a thick brush, and painted a blue stripe from the top of the canvas all the way to the bottom until the paint almost disappeared. This movement is repeated along the entire canvas, and the viewer can distinctly trace the artist’s gestures. The artwork becomes at once an abstract painting and the recording of the artist’s performance. This process-driven approach is the core characteristic of the artists working at that time in a style that is now described as Dansaekhwa.
Rateb Seddik, Untitled, c. 1940. Rateb Seddik completed his formal artistic education both in Cairo and in London. His seminal oil-onwood painting from 1940 combines his passions for opera and ancient Egyptian art. The artwork depicts a group of diversely featured human beings who are all equally united by a white cloth symbolising death or suffering. While the scene resembles a Turkish bathhouse, it also references Stravinsky’s opera of the tragedy of Oedipus Rex. This surrealist masterpiece is a prime example of an artwork that is at once locally rooted and universally informed.
Hans-Peter Feldmann, The Bust of Nefertiti. 2012, Plaster and paint, Height 50 cm. Collection of Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. From the exhibition: Tea with Nefertiti: The making of the artwork by the artist, the museum, and the public, May 7 – September 7, 2014, State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich / Germany
Mona Hatoum, Impenetrable, 2009. Mona Hatoum’s seminal installation Impenetrable confronts the viewer with a delicate and precariously suspended cube; a light and airy structure that physically possesses the gallery space. It hovers about 10cm above the floor, as if levitating. On closer inspection, however, this minimal form, which appears so delicate from a distance, reveals its materials: rods of sharp barbed wire, a material that is heavy with connotations. The title of the work refers to Jesús-Rafael Soto’s Penetrables, but this threatening avalanche of pointed metal stems is closed off to the viewer and impossible to enter. Typical of Mona Hatoum’s oeuvre, this artwork challenges traditional classifications of art history and explores contradictory sentiments such as lightness and harshness (cited from the catalogue accompanying the exhibition).
Wafaa Bilal, 3rdi, 2010. The 3rdi was commissioned for the opening exhibition of Mathaf in Doha, and is perhaps one of the most radical performance pieces of our times. The artist had a camera surgically inserted onto the back of his head to record everything that was happening around him for an entire year. This “third eye” was taking one picture every minute, broadcasting and archiving them onto a dedicated internet website. The controversy that was sparked around this performance reached a global dimension, raising questions of ethics and the boundaries of what art is. With societies readily endorsing plastic surgery, the artist was continuously prompted to defend his personal choice. The performance and interactive installation successfully raised questions of privacy in the age of social media, the transience of memory and created a valuable discourse that was an integral part of the artwork itself.
Akram Zaatari, Letter to a Refusing Pilot, 2013. Akram Zaatari’s film Letter to a Refusing Pilot was specifically commissioned for Lebanon’s representation at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. The film is an autobiographical take on the artist’s childhood memory of the bombing of a school in Sidon by the Israeli army. Formalistically, the film is a sequence of various scenes, showing, for example, the artist’s hands going through the pages of the novel The Little Prince, a sculpture in the garden of the school and an adolescent boy walking to play with his friends. By giving a human face to the story, Zaatari allows viewers to connect with the main character, wondering what might have been. The film goes far beyond a simple projection, and was presented in a stagelike setting with floor-lit walls and an empty movie chair turned away from the film, facing a looping 16mm film showing the bombing of Sidon in 1982. This staging is an invitation for the real protagonists to take a seat and contemplate the scene.
Paul Guiragossian, Deir-Ezzor, 1963-1964. Paul Guiragossian’s epic 1963-1964 painting Deir-Ezzor depicts the massacres of the Armenian genocides in the Syrian Desert in 1915. The artist himself was born into a family of genocide survivors. Formalistically, the painting is one of the artist’s rare thematic and figurative works, forestalling his later more abstract style. The figures in the front are worked with much detail, and make reference to Christian allegories and motifs. The horrors of the murders are personified by depicting the victims in bright colours. In the background, vertical bundles of abstract figures, huddled together and sheltering one another, can be seen. These bear no faces or distinct features, reminding us that all human beings are ultimately united.
Wu Tsang, The Looks, 2015. Wu Tsang’s practice as a video artist and filmmaker is characterised by a distinct and current visual language. Central to his artworks is the consideration of space, which constitutes an integral part of his installations. His two-channel work The Looks is about Bliss, a pop star by day and underground performer by night, and employs a vertical orientation. Upon entering the space, we are confronted by a first screen, placed at the centre of the room, showing Bliss off-stage in her personal space. Crossing from either side to the remaining part of the gallery, we are engulfed in a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling projection of Bliss in one of her performances. This presentation reinforces both the dichotomy and interdependence between the private and the staged, the intimate and the overt.
Markus Schinwald, Abby, 2015. Oil on canvas, 61 × 50 cm (24,02 × 19,69 in); 70 × 59 cm. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac,London € Paris € Salzburg, ©Markus Schinwald[/caption
Markus Schinwald, Abby, 2015. Markus Schinwald uses paintings that mostly date back to the Austrian Biedermeier style. He then paints on them incongruous elements that resemble prostheses, medical instruments or tools of confinement onto the paintings. In doing so, he subtly evokes the stern 19th-century context in which they were originally created, and the correlation between Vienna and the discipline of psychology and Freudian psychoanalysis. Schinwald’s formalistic interventions, which imbue his paintings with an anachronistic ambiguity, propel the viewers to thoroughly look at the artwork before them as they try to locate them within a clearly defined period or genre.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Biennial and Museum Acquisitions issue #41, pages 147 – 162 and limited edition #50, pages 90 – 99.