Meschac Gaba - Latifa Echakhch
Museum of Contemporary African Art
Meschac Gaba (born in Cotonou, Benin in 1961) worked on his Museum of Contemporary African Art from 1997 (with an exhibition at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam) to 2002 (with an exhibition at documenta 11). This large installation encompasses 12 rooms, which are now being presented in their entirety for the first time. The Kunsthalle Fridericianum is the initiator of this touring exhibition, which will first be on view at the Museum de Paviljoens in Almere, Netherlands.
In his art, Meschac Gaba focuses on issues around intercultural balance and imbalance. In his Museum of Contemporary African Art he presents 12 different rooms which were produced separately for different institutions in several countries: for example, the Library for the Witte de With in Rotterdam, the Game Room for the SMAK in Ghent, the Wedding Room for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Humanist Space for the documenta 11 in Kassel, the Salon for the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the Museum Restaurant for the W139 in Amsterdam.
At the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, “more” of Gaba’s work will be shown, as the title of the exhibition suggests. Among other works, the artist is producing a new installation especially for the show entitled Lake of Wisdom. This work consists of 12 aquariums with mirrored floors. Floating in the aquarium are the brains of 12 ‘grandes maîtres’, as Meschac Gaba calls them: Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi, Desiderius Erasmus, Abraham Lincoln, Karl Marx, Louis Pasteur, Marcel Broodthaers, Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King, Miriam Makeba, Harald Szeemann and King Ghezo from Benin. Lake of Wisdom is a work about memory, history and appreciation.
In addition, Gaba is planning a new production of his ‘Banknote’ series. While he once presented a portrait of himself rather than a head of state, in this series he shows portraits of the curators from the places and institutions at which individual rooms of the Museum of Contemporary African Art have been shown on poster-sized banknotes of the respective country’s currency. In Gaba’s art, money is a bearer of cultural identity and in its various manifestations a metaphor for interculturalism.
Les sanglots longs
In her installations and video works, Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch (born in 1974 in Khnansa) critically examines socio-political issues brought about by globalisation, the way national symbols are used, as well as cultural differences and social phenomena, without however assuming a cautionary or rhetorical stance.
At once poetic and political, gentle and yet critical, intimate but public, Latifa Echakhch removes articles of daily use, culturally defined objects and national symbols from their original context to put them in a different light. Moroccan tea glasses and carpets, airmail envelopes, sugar, worthless carbon paper, as well as legal and political documents take on a new and broader significance under the artist’s gaze.
She deconstructs the material she selects, but does not destroy it completely, so that viewers can distinguish more precisely the social codes and stereotypes resonating within it. In fact, it is this very act of de- and recontextualisation that enables us to decipher and get beyond the social encoding.
This is the case, for example, in Erratum (2008), which features fragments of broken Moroccan tea glasses scattered on the floor in front of a gallery wall. The motif that once adorned these glasses is no longer distinguishable, and the glasses themselves have lost their usefulness. The effect is to reveal semiotic systems that lie outside our everyday perception of relationships, inviting viewers to come up with their own, farther-reaching, interpretations.
A similar approach can be readily traced in Echakhch’s installation Fifty Fifty Fantasia. In this work she installed numerous identical flagpoles in a labyrinthine structure. Unlike the clearly arranged rows of flagpoles we are accustomed to seeing, these ones were mounted on the walls, crossing and intersecting one another. The flags themselves were missing and, with them, the “messages of hopeful optimism in international cooperation” that national flags are capable of suggesting when flying before the relevant buildings.
Echakhch’s more intimate, but nevertheless public, explorations of the cultural differences that have shaped her own existence as a Moroccan immigrant in France are sensitively realised and yet possess an imposing presence. In her self-portrait French Touch (2004), for example, she half-ironically, half-critically displays her fingernails as a symbol of what she defines as “natural integration”. Referencing here the French aesthetic code of the French Manicure, she shows that she has no need for this cosmetic assistance: the tips of her fingernails are naturally white!
In Principe d´Economie 1 (2005), several sugar loaves imported from Morocco are arranged on the floor. The phallic shapes of the cones into which the luxury foodstuff has been moulded have the character of aesthetic sculpture in this exhibition context, while in Principe d´Economie 2 (2005) sugar cubes randomly scattered across the floor contravene the former neat arrangement. With these two different ways of industrially processing sugar, Echakhch is alluding to two contrasting social structures.
Echakhch’s multimedia installation Les sanglots longs, conceived expressly for the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, presents the artist—and indirectly us, the viewers—with a new challenge. Variations/Résolutions is a further development of the work Résolution, the artist’s contribution to the 1st Thessaloniki Biennale in 2007. There, she painted the words “Décide de demeurer saisi de la question” in large letters on the wall of the exhibition space.
In English this phrase can be roughly translated as “Decides to remain seized of the matter”, words that are appended at the end of many undecided UN resolutions. Decontextualised in this form, the sentence sounds like a “poor translation”, the artist thus referring also to Deleuze’s interpretation of Herman Melville’s character “Bartleby” and his constant repetition of the phrase “I would prefer not to”. Here Echakhch calls into question not only the role of international organisations in dealing with global crises, but also the role of the artists who must “remain seized of” these events.
In Les sanglots longs at the Fridericianum she tackles the Israel-Palestine conflict. The years and numbers of the corresponding UN resolutions are displayed on the walls, and they are then in turn converted into a musical score for piano, which can be heard playing in the background. This musical interpretation of a political document, as one possibility for translating it into another sensory realm, serves at the same time to expand the artist’s own understanding to a different level. The installation is completed by tapered-wise sculptures made of insulation foam that form islands commanding the entire space.
Together with several partners of future exhibitions with Latifa Echakhch (GAMeC Bergamo, FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Bielefelder Kunstverein, MACBA a.o.) a publication is scheduled for 2010.
Lectures in September
Wednesday 16 September, 6 p.m.
Bassam Tibi, professor of political science and international relations at Göttingen, Cornell, and Yale universities, is holding a lecture in which he will address the topic of culturally pluralistic societies as well as the cultural diversity of Islamic civilization.
Wednesday 30 September, 6 p.m.
Chris Dercon and Rein Wolfs will discuss Meschac Gaba's art and their curatorial approach in working with Gaba's art. Dercon is the director of Haus der Kunst in Munich and, like Rein Wolfs, has worked with Meschac Gaba before.
Image: Meschac Gaba
Christine Messerschmidt Communication
Tel. +49 561 7072786 Fax +49 561 7072775 email@example.com
Opening august 28th, 2009
Friedrichsplatz 18 - Kassel
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Admission: normal: 5 euro, reduced: 3 euro