The Multilingual Parrot is a character in a series of anecdotes and semi-fictions I Want to Be a Party byMounira Al Solh. The valuable bird, conversant in no fever than seven languages, was put up for sale by the artist's uncle in 1958, to help the family survive through the tensions which rocked Lebanon in the 1950s and '60s. Al Solh uses a collection of paraphernalia - heirlooms, cars, musical instruments - to gather subjective memories of a familial histories and the intertwined political events.
Al Solh's work, using video, painting, embroidery and performative gestures, brings together biography and history: the individual's experience becomes a key to speculating on wider social realities. An inherent tension plays itself out with humour, visible vulnerability, and self-knowing irony - an approach which allows the artist to take on complex and delicate issues such as nationalism or gender, putting the herself, her friends and family directly on the line.
Oreet Ashery's 12-episode video series Revisiting Genesis mixes fictional dialogues and real-life interviews with people who have life limiting conditions. It explores digital and and emerging technologies of dying, social networks, care, and feminist reincarnations of women artists. The films follow two nurses who assist people preparing for death in creating their posthumous digital legacy. The slideshows they create become a tool for reflection on cultural and social loss, friendships and memory as identity.
Unorthodox, multi-layered and eclectic, Ashery’s expansive body of work confronts ideological, social and gender constructions within the fabric of personal and broader contemporary realities. Ashery mines counter-culture aesthetics and traverses photography, video, mass-produced and unique artefacts, text, commissioned music, and performance.
To tell the History of Humanity, Iván Argote invited members of his family to collaborate on a script for a Super 8mm home film. They proposed that History consists of eight chapters, among them ‘The Emergence of Homo Sapiens’, ‘Love and Hate’, ‘Colonization and Post-Colonization’, and ‘Uncertain Future’, which the as actors they allegorise through games and gestures in a public park.
Spanning film, sculpture, and public action, Argote’s work encounters evolving social attitudes and norms as societies face daily challenges in historical, economic, political and moral realities. Making recourse to the history of his native Colombia and his own family, with disobedience a part of everyday culture, Argote links our contemporary realities with those of earlier generations. Argote is a proponent of the communicative role of artistic practice, and with irreverent humour and tactility, he exposes the subjectivity of prevailing norms, and creates the space for emotive and bodily participation in the way these are shaped.
Nick Hornby’s Masks point to a fabled meeting of 1907 between Matisse and Picasso in which a collection of African masks inspired the invention of Cubism only weeks later. This story encapsulates the familiar grand narratives of art history: the myth of genius, inspiration, otherness, but also reflects on the necessary subtleties and gaps between them. Hornby replicates these broad strokes with precision and control: starting with a Matisse gouache, he manipulates the inherited form to arrive at a plausible back-story.
Hornby’s work is the physical meeting of historical critique and digital technology; behind hand-crafted sculptures of marble, resin or bronze are computer-generated models, expanding shapes, silhouettes and shadows into manifest examples of the collusion between disparate ideas.With Good Intentions, Núria Güell and Levi Orta started acquiring historical artefacts from areas affected by war and conflict, undertaking to care for and preserve them until they can be safely returned to their place of origin. This operation – funded by donations - both mirrors and contradicts collecting narratives of great institutions of Western civilisation.
Güell’s practice exploits established systems of power and their effects on everyday realities. Her work, often originating from a personal or corporate action, materialises where subjectivity is artificially limited by institutions such as governments, and where moral and legal realms are not in alignment.
Nicoline van Harskamp uses varieties of internationally-spoken English to propose a future shaped by the ubiquity and constant evolution of the language, and its inevitable divergence from hegemonic norms. Portrait of an Englishes Collector sees a fictional amateur linguist conduct a methodical, though scientifically frivolous study of the lingua franca spoken in remote parts of the world. Through a series of fractured phone conversations, he uses
the International Phonetic Alphabet to collect fragments of pronunciation and language use.
Devised with actors, students, and sometimes linguist, van Harskamp’s performative actions, plays, documents and video works bring out the correspondence between content and the aesthetic framework in which it comes into force.
Marianna Christofides' Perennial Limbo is a portrait of the artist’s late father, consisting of some 400 cardboard sheets cut out by hand and held together with metal clamps. Each piece contains a manuscript fragment transferred from the subject’s diaries – here obscured and inaccessible lest the representation be disassembled.
Part of the cardboard head appears to be missing – repurposed by the artist in another work, where it serves as a topographical feature.
Working primarily in installation, film and text, Christofides studies the multiplicity of images that form consensus and collective memories, treating each as an imaginary document. Her collection of moments, objects, places and physical experiences – sometimes brought into gallery spaces wholesale, sometimes represented in poetic imagery - creates an illusion of traveling through a familiar yet fictitious world. Events can unravel at geological speeds, and whole lifetimes appear in singular objects.
The exhibition is supported by Arts Council England. With thanks to Laveronica Arte Contemporanea, ADN Galeria, Galerie Perrotin, Stanley Picker Gallery, Sfeier-Semler Gallery.