An adventure into art in a digital time going online has been a trend for some time now, but it has never been as relevant and important as it has become during the covid-19 pandemic. Simply put, it has developed into a tool to connect the world virtually in order to continue business, with the aim of replacing the physical presence. In the art world, however, it has left many people perplexed as to how to continue having a ‘normal’ relationship with others through a screen. The challenge becomes even greater when it comes to experiencing artworks, particularly those that were not originally conceived to be experienced digitally. Can the representation of an image ever recreate or reflect the experience that would usually take place in a physical encounter? SELECTIONS set off on a quest to find out. We invited 10 guests to describe one artwork of their choice, first in an objective way, but then more subjectively and contextually. The results are as unique as our participants and form this issue’s experimental catalogue.
Sam Bardaouil And Till Fellrath describe:
Museum of Traces II, 2013
C-Type, 72 x 81 cm
Courtesy of the artist
Reflections on a Photograph by artist Zineb Sedira encountered on two different occasions, one physical and the other virtual
By Sam Bardaouil
In 2016, Till and I curated Zineb’s first solo exhibition in New York City at the Taymour Grahne Gallery. The exhibition catalogue’s curatorial essay opened with a response to one of the photographs that were included in the exhibition: a C-Type, 72cm in height and x 81cm in width from the Museum of Traces II series that Zineb had completed in 2013. We had been to Zineb’s gallery in Paris, her studio in London and had seen and discussed that work in person on several occasions. The agency of the work was in full swing, provoking imaginative historical narratives.
“Only he who can view his own past as an
abortion sprung from compulsion and
need can use it to full advantage in the
present. For what one has lived is at best
comparable to a beautiful statue which has
had all its limbs knocked off in transit, and
now yields nothing but the precious block
out of which the image of one’s future
must be hewn.”
In a staging that evokes all the recognisable means of
visual display of the ever-persevering 19th century natural
history museum, a corroded cogwheel that is covered in
dust stares at you while it lies, tired and redundant, within
a neatly orchestrated setting. This image comes from
Museum of Traces II, a photographic series that explores
a number of similar objects that belonged to several
lighthouses from when Algeria was still under French
colonial rule. Back then, the depicted cogwheel used to
engage another similarly toothed device, propelling into
motion a much larger contraption of which it only played
a small, yet indispensable part. Disjointed from the
mechanical apparatus to which it once proudly belonged,
it has become obsolete, providing neither speed nor
direction. Instead, it grapples, not without a certain
amount of suffering, with its new job description of
inanimate museological relic.
As we continue our journey through this image, we soon realise that the cogwheel is not the only object to have
met such an ill-fated destiny. To its right, the partial contours of a lamp can be identified. Equally coerced into this choir of signification, it has been forced to go against the natural order of things that has been eternally followed by all lamps, in all places, and at all times. Instead of emanating light from within, thus providing clarity of vision to everyone who falls within its enlightening reach, it now requires that light actually falls on its muted surface in order for you to discern its presence; the harsh irony of fate. Beyond the cogwheel and the lamp, the metaphor of inertia that permeates this image spills into another object. In the background, you can distinguish the lower right corner of a map. Perhaps the most unfortunate in its plight, it hangs lifelessly on the wall, a reminder of the cartographic document that it used to be in a previous life. During these long-gone days, it used to feel alive: rolled, unrolled, and positioned in various directions by navigators straddling north, south, east and west. Now it lies flat in the most counter-intuitive of ways, longing to be useful again.
THE VIRTUAL ENCOUNTER
As co-curators of the French National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022, where Zineb is the featured artist representing France, Till and I were asked by the Institut Français to give an online talk about Zineb’s practice. I remember opening my laptop and looking at an image of the same artwork, which we intended to use as an entry point to the presentation. Here’s some of what went through my mind while looking at the screen image of the same photograph:
Okay. Here’s what I will do first. I will begin by introducing the research context within which Zineb created this work… Perhaps show an image from the installation at Taymour’s gallery in New York…ideally with someon standing next to the hung photograph in order to give a better indication of scale. It would be important that the participants get a good idea of the actual size of the work. I wonder if I should just use the image without inserting it into a keynote so that I could zoom in on the differentobjects. A slide might be too static. This way I could have them focus on the details that I wish to highlight…. The colours look darker on the screen… Should I edit the image slightly so that the colours become a bit lighter matching more closely the colours in the printed photograph? I should ask Zineb for another file. Maybe she can adjust the colour grading since it is her work. I do not wish to change it… Maybe it doesn’t really matter that much. It’s never going to look the same anyway since everyone has a different laptop, screen, settings, etc.
(Long pause staring at the image on the screen… I notice a few white dots)
Hang on, is that a smudge on my screen or is it in the actual picture?
(I go next door, bring a screen cleaning tissue and wipe the surface of my screen.)
No, it’s not from the screen. These are little dots caused by the reflection of light on the metal cogs, or are they old
chips of paint? Hmmm… There is another dot to the left, but that is clearly a chip in the wooden frame that appears in the background. What is that wooden frame doing there? Is it lying on the marble wall or is it part of the display table on which the cogs lie? Interesting that I have not noticed it before… I should ask Zineb if she remembers. I should also ask her if she has some installation shots with the artwork. Oh, I must make sure that my laptop is connected to a power slot. And turn off all other applications. I do not want everyone to see who’s calling me on Skype or my incoming mail.
(At this point, I minimise the image and start checking my email… There is a reminder from the Institut Français to send our presentation by the end of the day for technical verification)
But I want to run the presentation or show the image from my laptop. It is easier this way, instead of having someone sitting in Paris clicking through the slides while we speak about a particular artwork in Munich to participants in Moscow and Jeddah. I will write to them and explain that we will run the presentation – well, or show the image – from my laptop… It is 11:00 am and we are supposed to be on a call with Lyon. I’ll keep the image open on my screen for now and continue looking at it later. I still think it is the right thing to start with, no doubt… Such a powerful image.
THE ARTIST – ZINEB SEDIRA
Zineb Sedira lives in London and works between Paris, Algiers and London. The artist has been shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021 and will be representing France at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. Sedira has exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Photographer’s Gallery (London, 2006); New Art Exchange (Nottingham, 2009); Pori Museum (Finland, 2009); Bildmuseet (Sweden, 2010); Kunsthalle Nikolaj (Denmark, 2010); Palais de Tokyo (France, 2010); [mac] musée d’Art contemporain (Marseille, 2010); Blaffer Art Museum, (Houston, 2013); Prefix – Institute of Contemporary Art (Toronto, 2010); Charles H. Scott Gallery (Canada); Art On the Underground, (London, 2016); Sharjah Art Foundation (2018); Beirut Art Center (Lebanon, 2018); Jeu de Paume, Paris and IVAM (Spain, 2019). Sedira showed her work in group shows at Tate Britain (London, 2002); Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2004, 2009); Mori Museum (Tokyo, 2005); Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead, 2005); Musée d’Art Moderne of (Algiers, 2007); Brooklyn Museum (New York, 2007); Gwangju Museum of Art (South Korea) and the Centre Pompidou-Metz, (France , 2013); MMK Museum für Mordern Kunst (Germany, 2014); Power Plant (Toronto); Smithsonian (Washington, 2015); Guggenheim and Studio Museum (NY); Museum Colecao Berardo, (Lisbon, 2016); MAC VAL (France , 2017) and Whitechapel Gallery (London, 2019). Also in biennials and triennials including the Venice Biennale (2001 and 2011); Limerick Biennial (Ireland 2001); ICP Triennial (New York, 2003); Sharjah Biennale (UAE, 2003 and 2007); Folkestone Triennial (2011); Thessaloniki Biennale (Greece, 2011), Prospect, New Orleans, (USA, 2016).
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath are Founders of Art Reoriented, a multidisciplinary curatorial platform, launched in New York and Munich. They are Curators of the 16th Lyon Biennale, the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022, and Affiliate Curators at Gropius Bau in Berlin. Bardaouil and Fellrath founded Art Reoriented in 2009 as a multidisciplinary curatorial platform to rethink traditional models of cultural engagement. They are internationally recognised independent curators and award-winning authors known for their rigorous inter-temporal, trans-cultural, and cross-disciplinary approach, and whose curatorial work is equally rooted in global contemporary artistic practices, as well as in the field of modernist studies. Bardaouil and Fellrath have taught at various universities and art schools including the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, HISK – Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Ghent, the American University of Beirut and the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts at Shanghai University. As an independent curatorial duo, they have collaborated with more than 70 institutions worldwide. Some of their exhibitions include I Put a Spell on You, Walking through Walls, Art et Liberté: rupture, war, and surrealism in Egypt (1938 – 1948), Ways of Seeing, Mona Hatoum: Turbulence, Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction, Staging Film, Tea with Nefertiti, and Told Untold Retold. Their exhibitions have been shown in institutions worldwide such as Centre Pompidou in Paris, Villa Empain in Brussels, Kunstsammlung NRW in Dusseldorf, State Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich, Moderna Must in Stockholm, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Reina Sofia in Madrid, IVAM in Valencia, Tate Liverpool, SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, the Gwangju and Busan Museums of Art in South Korea, Beirut Exhibition Centre, and ARTER in Istanbul. In 2016 they were part of the team of curatorial attachés of the 20th Biennale of Sydney. At the Venice Biennale, they were curators of the Lebanese Pavilion in 2013 and the Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #54