Scars Remind Us that Our Past is Real
15 June– 30 September 2018 Exhibition organized by the Fundació Joan Miró and Obra Social ”la Caixa”
article by Anne Murray
French-Algerian artist, Kader Attia, winner of the 70,000 euro Fundació Joan Miró Prize 2017, has made a triumphant return to Spain with his current exhibition, Scars Remind Us that Our Past is Real. Having studied at the Escola Massana, Centre d’Art i Disseny in Barcelona in the past, this exhibition is his first solo show in Spain and it is awarded to him as a part of this prize.
The works selected by the artist, span across his recent career from 2009-18. There is a pedagogic undertone to the exhibition, with images and themes teaching the viewer from the perspective of Attia, how he thinks and continually follows a path of dedicated research in his work. Attia incites synaptic connections, guiding us through the pathway of his acquired knowledge and interpretation of how different cultures view scars both literal and metaphoric, through our bodies, architecture, and politics, with definite links to colonization and its aftermath.
He connects the links in his work by showing us Open Your Eyes (2009), and J’accuse (2016) in the same exhibition.
In Open Your Eyes, he uses slide projections to display images of scarification in Africa and disfigured soldiers of World War I as well as African sculptures next to each other.
There is a clear connection between the intentionally scarred faces and sculptures of Africa and the torn and repaired faces of soldiers of Europe. The theme of repair leads him to recreate scarred and disfigured faces by carving into one hundred year old trees that become the gigantic heads in J’accuse. He has taught us how he researched and found images and references for this later work, J’accuse, through showing Open Your Eyes, in the same exhibition, demonstrating how one work leads to the outcome of another.
These scarred and disfigured faces of soldiers of World War I from the archives of the Historisches Museum in Frankfurt, the Musée du Service de Santé des Armées in Paris, and the Wellcome Collection in London, alongside images of scarification practices in Africa and sculptures in this work Open Your Eyes, bring a dramatic context for the viewing of his later work, J’accuse. In this later work, he includes over a dozen monumental carved wooden heads on metal plinths, grouped together as if in a forest, with the faces looking towards a wall with a video projection on display. These faces become sculptural references to the faces one sees in Open Your Eyes, now transformed and elegantly displayed above us as iconic representations in wood, and of disfigurement transformed into an ineffable presentation, they transcend our human experience into the realm of the sublime. Attia explains, ‘For me, the idea of repair is no more than a continuum. Repair is neither a beginning nor an end; it is the space in between. I often use the most tangible aspects (such as damaged flesh or broken objects) to clearly explain the issues at stake in processes of repair, whether abstract or concrete, since they operate with the same principles.
The works in the show, range in materials from couscous, mirrors, videos, wood, metal, photography, and slide projections. They represent forms of disintegration and repair, emotion, and connectedness to the human struggle, politics, architecture, colonization, and abandonment. In his Untitled (Couscous), one can imagine an ancient city with its foundations existing only as a black geometry left behind in a desert climate. The visitor yearns to play and experiment with it, to participate and take the part of the artist, entering the circular field of couscous, as if it is sand at the beach.
In Chaos + Repair = Universe, jagged edges of colored glass mirror fragments are fitted in a puzzle form and laced together with copper wire. It is as if one could lovingly form a new world from the mirrored fragments of narcissism in society by reconnecting them with the conductive medium of copper wire. Once again, one is drawn to approach the work and looking through the small cracks, to see the light inside, a reflection of the mirrors, which are colored with paint on the outside, but brilliant and sparkling on the inside.
‘What fascinates me is that the poetic strength of art has the power to make a profound, unique impression on each human being. Art has that cathartic ability to bring people from all political leanings together, even if we disagree or precisely because we disagree.’ Kader Attia
With these words, Attia shows us the tremendous potential of art and also explains his approach to assembling this exhibition with such care as a cultural advocate who wishes to be inclusive, to allow for the presence of myriad perspectives and viewers perhaps not as initiated into the world of art, he creates an exhibition accessible to everyone, allowing art to heal and communicate.