Before we get to the truth…
How true are images that lie? This inquiry lies at the heart of the group exhibition The Liar’s Cloth, which aims to renegotiate our troubled relationship with truthfulness, in the midst of the so-called “post-truth” regime. Not by posing statements about the falseness or faithfulness of images, but rather by probing the difficulty of getting at the truth. Instead of embarking on a hopeless quest for truth, the artists in exhibition The Liar’s Cloth create space for the lie.
The exhibition departs from the piece Liar’s Cloth (2017) by Gwenneth Boelens, which is inspired by a West African pattern of the same name –nkontompo ntama. The liar’s cloth originated in the 19th century during the Ashanti Empire. The shifting lines in the original blue and white pattern may be understood as reflecting ‘the liar’s speech’, changing course, telling one thing, than the other. It is said that the king of the Ashanti wore the textile when holding court, ‘to confute people of doubtful veracity’. This implies that there is a truth to be told and, furthermore, that there is an authority that decides on what is true.
In her essay Truth and Politics (1967) philosopher Hannah Arendt notes that claims about the truth are, by their very nature, authoritarian and exclusionary. The lie on the other hand denotes the ability to imagine the world the way we would (or would not) like it to be. Arendt states that ‘truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings’. The power, or rather political force of the lie, does not depend on the status quo of this or that reality, but in the imagining of another reality, a potentiality for the transgression of the boundaries of ‘truth’.
Following these lines of thought, the artists in The Liar’s Cloth propose images as sites where truth and lie neither deconstruct one another, nor unite, but are inextricably interwoven. They operate at the border between language (what can be said) and image (what can be shown) and disrupt conventional, one-dimensional truth production, questioning the use, power and efficacy of images. The images in The Liar’s Cloth appear as uncertain truths, reminding us of the distance between the viewer and what he sees, between the actor and what he does.
… we must examine the lie
About the works
Employing material native to Mali, namely woven and dyed cloths, Abdoulaye Konaté creates large-scale abstract and figurative compositions, in which he balances his exploration of formal color coordination with reflections on the history and current challenges of the artist’s homeland in relation to global sociopolitical and environmental concerns. Reminiscent of the Ashanti’s liar’s cloth, Konaté refers to the West-African tradition of using textiles as a means of commemoration and communication. His compositions are influenced by the colors of the garments of different ethnical groups in Mali. For example, the colors in his Composition Blue P.M. (2015) derive from the deep blue clothes of the Tuareg in the north of Mali to the white attire that the Arabs in Mali wear.
Mahmoud Bakhshi balances between text and image, words and visualization with his project Night, Blackness and other stories (2017), which consists of a publication of stories without words and a series of black granite tablets. Bakhshi draws inspiration from poetic tendencies in Persian literature, where complex similes, semantics and fable-like storytelling are understood as devices that allow artists to encode their opinions in complex cultural and political circumstances. The works title refers to often used metaphors for oppression. A method that appeared in early modern literature during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (early 1900s) and reappeared during the Islamic Revolution (1978-79). However, today the once powerful metaphors seem to have become a commonplace in contemporary popular literature, depriving them of their multi-layered shades and semantic potential.
Having grown up in post-revolutionary Iran, Bakhshi turns to an older generation of writers, such as the Persian-Dutch novelist Kader Abdolah, who were active in the student resistance movement, organizing first against the Shah and later in opposition to Ruhollah Khomeini and his administration. They employed fiction as a form of activism, allowing them to resist through the illumination of the horrors hidden by the shadows of power, censorship and propaganda. In the context of the exhibition The Liar’s Cloth Abdolah has been invited to respond to Bakhshi’s Night, Blackness and other stories during a public performance, as part of an inter generational and interdisciplinary conversation about the use of metaphors and fables, without falling back into clichés and unreliable symbolism.
With his Pixel-Collage series (2015-2017) Thomas Hirschhorn opposes the common use by the media and governmental institutions to hide the inconvenient truth of war and extreme violence: the image of death and mutilated human bodies. Thus, to pixelate can be understood as a protective gesture as well as an authoritarian act, because it decides what is revealed and what remains hidden. Furthermore, pixelating is currently understood as a guarantee of authenticity of the image. Hirschhorn: “What interests me is that pixelating - as an aesthetic gesture - meets the demand for authority, for protection, for de-responsibilization and for de-emancipation. What interests me about these aesthetics, is that through pixels, abstraction can engage me in today’s world, time and reality.”
In defiance of this, the artist appropriates images of destroyed bodies from the Internet, all of vague provenance and origin, and thus cannot be considered verifiable or factual. He combines them with fashion imagery, which is blurred by pixels. The horror is left uncovered. Hirschhorn interrogates the decision-making about truth, because “nothing is un-showable. What cannot be shown is what has no form.”
Her research into the history of textiles and in particular into the Ashanti liar’s cloth has led Gwenneth Boelens to try and figure out how a lie is produced, and perhaps enact this lie. In a sense, the weaving of the liar’s cloth itself is ‘lying’, since the movement of the three grey lines is, for all its deceptive simplicity, a technical impossibility. She eventually chose to hand-weave her Liar’s Cloth (2017) with reflective, conductive and aramid threads. Common applications of these include Faraday and electromagnetic shielding, radio frequency antennas, impenetrable fabrics and safety wear. The work thus literalizes the communicative application the cloth’s title suggests, but also articulates her ambivalence towards appropriative strategies.
Dirk Braeckman’s large-scale photographs in shades of grey do not tell elaborate stories, but rather reveal ambiguous images: desolate spaces, the texture of furniture, curtains and wallpaper, fragments of nudes. These glimpses into Braeckman’s immediate surroundings convey a sense of quietness that is charged with a suggestive, narrative force. However, codes instead of titles deprive us from any allusion to a specific narrative, place, time or reality. Although every detail is very precisely composed, the images are disconnected from their original source. Meaning and truth remain out of reach in Braeckman’s secluded world. All we can do is fill in his ‘negative space’ with our own absence.
Moshe Ninio interrogates the capacity of the image, treating them as “places of passage” as “images that one traverses, as if they had a false back (…) in front of which one passes and which vary their visual effects with our movements.” He uses a limited range of photographic images, which have substantial meaning potential, however are presented on the brink of illegibility. Ninio operates in the void between object and representation, language and image, at the instant that the image looses all representation. His diptych Hole/Patch (1991/2009) presents an Oriental carpet with a typical map-like Garden of Eden pattern. The left unit ‘amends’ the image of the damaged carpet (the damaged unity) in the right unit. Ninio: “the cut and subsequent unification of the image is an actual ‘act’ before the word, falsifying and continuity of the main pattern of the rug, but at the same time distorting the unity.” Like a carpet, that is indifferent, even subversive to the hierarchy between image and ground, in the left unit of Ninio’s diptych “the frame, the back becomes the main thing”, reminding us of the fragility, of the uncertainty of images.
Moshe Ninio’s Glass II (2010 – 2011) sequence nullifies the divide between image and (historical) event. What we see is the historic glass booth where Adolf Eichmann sat during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961, photographed for the first time from the inside. In an ordered sequence composed of three pieces, each a stage in a process of transition from photography to image, simple manipulations (duplication, superimposition) conjure the apparition of a ghostlike “stain” – a Gestalt – in the middle of the image. Ninio’s photographs are taken from a viewpoint that is literally opposite of an historical, documentary point of view. Glass dissatisfies the mediums intrinsic proposition of ‘making visible’ of ‘evidence’. The image withdraws from exercising potentiality for ‘documenting’ or illustrating historical narrative. Or as Gérard Wajcman accurately writes in Ninio’s catalogue ‘lapse’: “When we look at Eichmann’s famous glass cage in Glass, what strikes us is that, apart from a few details, blurred lines, the identifiable desktop and bizarre shadow beneath, we see nothing. Because there is nothing to see: no Eichmann, no court, no witness, no judges, nothing. Exactly: history, the crime, justice, death, there is none of all that left to see. In Glass, the glass cage seems to have been snatched from history, time and space. Empty, silent, as if it had itself been engulfed in the void. In silence.”
Think of Joan of Arc and you think of an androgynous heroine, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s and Robert Bresson’s marvellous films, a perverse question-and-answer game, a tormented body, a fraught symbol… What happens when an artist with all this at the back of her minds takes a look at the historical sources? What images do they conjure up? The title of Ana Torfs’ slide installation Du mentir-faux (2000) – which translates as “About lying falsehood” – alludes to idolatry, a belief in “false” images. The projected images alternate between close-up portraits of a young woman and text slides containing questions from the inquisition trial (1431) carried out against Joan of Arc’s – a highly fictionalized heroin who was, amongst others, condemned for having worshipped false images. Du mentir-faux deals with the inevitable fictional character of historical narratives and can be understood as a reference to the difficulty of access to truth, in spite of all the testimonials and documents, or in a broader sense to the insoluble tension between fiction (constructing, narrating, lying) and genuine reality.
Like Du mentir-faux Ana Torfs’ photograph Toast (2003) alludes to the complex relation between text and image, reading and visualizing in relation to the search for truth. We see a man with his back to the camera, raising a toast to an empty projection on the wall. On the photograph, in the empty projection, we read the word ‘verité’ (truth). Torfs’ image reminds us that ‘truth’ is but a projection, an illusive image.
Fabric has played an important role throughout Louise Bourgeois’ life. She grew up surrounded by the textiles of her parents’ tapestry restoration workshop in France, where from the age of twelve she helped the business by drawing in the sections of the missing parts that were to be repaired. Although Bourgeois worked with fiber medium from the 60-ies onwards, mainly in sculpture, fabric ‘drawings’ – assembled from discarded clothes, sheets, towels and similar material from her personal collection – became her central focus in the last decade of her life. Stitching together a life-long hoarder of garments and household items into abstract, geometric grids, Bourgeois transformed her lived materials into art, into an image, trying to reconstruct the past. Her wardrobe and linen closet became representative of elusive, yet highly personal memory.
With her video The Digital Face (2012), Liz Magic Laser explores the political implication of an image in relation to language. She isolates and examines the studied body language of two politicians: the former American presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush senior. Two dancers replicate the wordless movement from their State of the Union addresses (2012 and 1990 respectively). The performative dialogue between the two dancers reveals how gestures have been embraced and codified by politicians and their handlers over the past two decades. The gestural images persuade the public, masking the content of their speeches with movements designed to induce empathy through well-rehearsed and often subliminal cues. Laser traces the origin of these techniques to the ideas of François Delsarte who developed oratorical theories and exercises in the early 19th century.
Liz Magic Laser’s other work on display, The Invisible Cube (2013), also refers to Delsarte. The crystal cube serves as a tool to teach the precise meaning of Delsarte’s oratorical hand gestures. His work focused on declamation, which became the basis for melodramatic acting in silent film: a technique that is used today by politicians to convince their public.
About the curator
Nathanja van Dijk (1984 NL) is cofounder and director of A Tale of a Tub in Rotterdam, which provides a testing ground for artists and other professionals to explore new ideas. Throughout her activities she seeks to create connections between the arts and timely sociopolitical issues based on her academic background in art history and philosophy. She previously worked as director of Frankendael Foundation, the 18th century manor for contemporary art in Amsterdam (2012-2015) and as the artistic director of 21rozendaal, Enschede (2010-2012). Recent projects include the interdisciplinary research project Acts of Orientation in collaboration the Schering Stiftung & Humboldt Universität (Berlin), the publication Navigating Noise with Verlag Walther König, the travelling film program The Migrant (Moving) Image and A User Guide Towards 2024 at Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kiev. Van Dijk also works as advisor. In collaboration with Carolyn H. Drake she established the Robeco Art Collection and the Pereira Collection.
About the artists
Kader Abdolah (1954 Arak, IR) is a Persian-Dutch writer, poet and columnist, known for using Persian literary themes in his Dutch works. He fled to the Netherlands as a political refugee in 1988. Today he lives in Delft, writing under a pseudonym composed of the names of two executed friends. Book titles include De adelaars (1993), Spijkerschrift (My Father’s Notebook, 2000), Karavaan (2003), Het huis van de moskee (The House of the Mosque, 2005), De boodschapper en de Koran (2008) and Salam Europa! (2016). Abdolah was awarded numerous Dutch prizes for his writings, and was bestowed Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2000 and Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France in 2008. He holds position as Honorary doctor at the University of Groningen since 2009.
Mahmoud Bakhshi (1977 Tehran, IR) graduated with a BA in Sculpture from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran. He was awarded the Honor Plaque from the second Tehran Sculpture Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran, and the Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize in 2009. Bakhshi has exhibited at Art Gwangju (KR); Saatchi Gallery, London (UK); Tate Modern, London (UK); Museum of New Art, Freiburg (DE); Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran (IR); Barbican Centre, London (UK); Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris (FR) and at the 55th Biennale di Venezia (IT).
Gwenneth Boelens (1980 Soest, NL) currently lives and works in Amsterdam (NL) and Berlin (DE). She studied at the KABK Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague (NL) and the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam (NL). Her work has been exhibited at MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (US); Christine König Galerie, Vienna (AT); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (DE); Ludwig Forum, Aachen (DE); Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (NL); Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne (AU); La Casa Encendida, Madrid (ES); De Vleeshal, Middelburg (NL) and Sprengel Museum, Hannover (DE).
Louise Bourgeois (1911 Paris, FR – 2010 New York, US) is one of the most important female artists of the 20th century. She studied mathematics at the University of Sorbonne in Paris and later turned to art, frequenting various Paris ateliers and art history classes at the École du Louvre. Bourgeois moved to New York in 1938 upon her marriage to the American art historian, Robert Goldwater. She continued her artistic practice in America. The Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective of her work in 1982, when she was seventy, marked a turning point. Since then, her work is widely exhibited on the international stage and continues to inspire a rich body of academic and critical commentary. Recent solo exhibitions were organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (US); Tel Aviv Museum of Art (IL); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (US); Tate Modern, London (UK); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (DK); Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (SP) among many others.
Dirk Braeckman (1958 Eeklo, BE) is a Belgian photographer who lives and works in Ghent. He represented Belgium at the 57th Biennale di Venezia in 2017. Other solo exhibitions were shown at S.M.A.K., Ghent (BE); LE BAL, Paris (FR); Museum De Pont, Tilburg (NL); De Appel, Amsterdam (NL); BOZAR, Brussels (BE). Braeckman’s work is part of important international private and public collections, including in FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais, Dunkirk (BR); Sammlung Goetz, Munich (DE); Museum Voorlinden (NL) and Fondation Nationale d’Art Contemporain, Paris (FR).
Thomas Hirschhorn (1957 Bern, CH) lives and works in Paris. He was awarded the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2000), the Joseph Beuys Preis für Forschung (2004) and the Kurt Schwitters Prize (2011), and he represented Switzerland at the 54th Bienale di Venezia in 2011. Hirschhorn has had solo exhibitions at Kunsthal Aarhus, Aarhus (DK); Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (DE); Palais De Tokyo, Paris (FR); Dia Art Foundation, New York (US); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (US); Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, Brisbane (AU); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (FR) and many more.
Abdoulaye Konaté (1953 Diré, ML) first studied painting at the Institut National des Arts in Bamako and then at the Instituto Superior des Arte, Havana, Cuba, where he lived for seven years before returning to Mali. He has received several awards, including the prestigious Officier de l’Ordre National du Mali (2009) as well as the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France (2002) and the Léopold Sédar Senghor Prize at the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar (1996). Konaté’s work has featured in numerous international exhibitions, at among others documenta 12, Kassel (DE); Hayward Gallery, London (UK); the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (FR); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (JP); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (US) and National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington (US).
Liz Magic Laser (1981 New York, US) works primarily in video and performance and is based in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Wesleyan University, CT and received her BA in 2003, and an MFA from Columbia University, NY (US) in 2008. Her work has been presented at MOMA PS1, New York (US); The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (US), Performa 11, New York (US) and Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster (DE).
Moshe Ninio (1953 Tel Aviv, IL) lives and works in Tel Aviv (IL) and Paris (FR). Although his artistic production is relatively small, he plays an important part in the development of the Israeli art scene – as a intellectual and curator, too. His work had been exhibited at Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris (FR); Santa Monica Museum of Art (US); Tel Aviv Museum of Art (IL); S.M.A.K., Ghent (BE); The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (IL) and the Museum of 20th Century Art, Vienna (AT).
Ana Torfs (1963 Mortsel, BE) received her Academic Master’s degree in Communication at the University of Leuven (BE) and studied Film & Video at the St Lukas School of Arts in Brussels (BE). Among other solo exhibitions, Torfs has shown her work at Pori Art Museum (SF); Centro de Arte Moderna, Lisbon (PT); WIELS, Brussels (BE); Generali Foundation, Vienna (AT); K21, Düsseldorf (DE); Sprengel Museum, Hannover (DE) and Palais des Beaux-Arts (Bozar), Brussels (BE). She has developed a web project for Dia Art Foundation in New York (US). Torfs has participated in various international biennials including the 2017 Contour Biennial 8, Mechelen (BE); the 2015 Parasophia in Kyoto (JP); the 1st International Biennial of Cartagena de Indias in 2014 (IN), 11th Sharjah Biennial in 2013 (UAE); Manifesta 9 in 2012 Genk (BE); the 2nd Montreal Biennial (CA) and the 1995 Lyon Biennal 3 (FR).