Field Work gathers the work of eight contemporary artists who have anchored their practice in a deep examination of the mechanics of history. Through their work, they find themselves looking back, both at their own past and at 'the past' in general, engaging in storytelling, or perhaps more specifically, in history-telling. The works selected for this exhibition often rely on retrospective, historiographical strategies, acts of excavation, collection or preservation, and a manifest interest in archaeological methodologies. Through the recovery and analysis of material effects such as the archive and the document, and immaterial effects such as the testimony, Field Work will present a chronicle of the artists' own readings.
Theo Eshetu's The Mystery of History and My Story in His Story (2015) takes as its starting point the photographic archive of former President of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito, found in the Museum of Yugoslav History. Eshetu's grandfather was the Ethiopian Ambassador in Belgrade between 1966 and 1970, and so Eshetu's exploration of this museum archive is also a personal endeavour. As he looks for biographical clues and fragments of forgotten family history, Eshetu offers an oblique look at Cold War politics and the history of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Katia Kameli's L’Oeil Se Noie (2016) also invites unexpected connections through the personal appropriation of the photographic archive. The viewer is immersed in the history of Algeria through the photographic collection of a street stall in Algiers, where Mr Azzoug and his son have been selling postcards and reproductions of archival photographs for the last 30 years. Their eclectic archive, which includes images dating from the 1800s to the 1980s, proposes a chaotic iconography of the colonial and post-colonial period in Algeria and throws established historical narratives into question.
Speculation opened up by the re-appropriation of official documents is a source of inspiration for Robel Temesgen. In his ongoing work Another Old News, Temesgen gathers subjective accounts of old news stories before compiling them into hand-drawn newspapers. The work comments on the role of the written archive in formalising recent history, and the epistemic gaps between interpretations, personal recollections and official narratives.
Questions around the object as a repository for memory are present throughout the exhibition. Abraham Oghobase's Ken's Smoking Pipe (2016) is drawn from scans of the Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa's collection of smoking pipes found in his office in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The work addresses the (im-)materiality of photography, and questions the role of the object as a repository for memory.
Rita Alaoui's Objets Trouvés is an ongoing excavation project that the artist embarked on in 2014 and has since led to multiple works. Mimicking anthropological methods, Alaoui collects specimens such as fragments of decaying bones, wood, and organic and mineral residues that she finds while foraging in the beaches and forests surrounding Casablanca. Drawn after magnification, these remnants of bygone eras become small worlds in themselves, bearing testimony to the passage of time.
The notion of vestige, and of what is left behind, is also central to the work of Thierry Oussou. Oussou is currently working on a mock archaeological field-study realised in collaboration with students from the Department of Archaeology of the University of Allada, Benin. Set against a black paper background, Oussou's calligraphic and loosely gestural drawings borrow signs inspired by proto-languages and pre-historical symbols, lifted from history books and the internet, in an act of preservation of the written form.
Youssef Limoud's series of sculptures Ruins speaks of the material continuity between past and present through the relationship between time, architecture and landscape. The sculptures engage with a long tradition, dating back to the 18th century, of artists exploring themes of history and decay through the ruin. Yet it is the pervasiveness of contemporary representations of demolished structures, in particular in relation to the current conflict in the Middle East, that compelled the artist to produce the works. The sculptures evoke a compounded notion of time, in which the past (representing destruction) and the future (what will remain) collide.
A non-linear notion of time is also at play in Kitso Lynn Lelliott's video I was her and she was me and those we might become (2016). The work, which engages with socio-cultural formations that took shape over the Atlantic during the African slave trade, resonates with a conception of deep time: several timelines that overlap and contest but are ultimately intertwined in multiple histories. Lelliott highlights the impossibility of combining multiple accounts and experiences into one single and fixed story, and instead follows the meanderings of plural, layered narratives: in harmony, in dissonance, in growing apart and coming together.
In a global culture of acceleration, the work of these artists stands against the forward march of monolithic Hegelian master narratives. Crucial to the investigative acts of reconstructing and recovering, they delve into archives and historical collections to seek out the facts and fictions of the past that have mostly been discarded by the canon. Collectively, these artists address the current crises of both historiography as an intellectual discipline and history as an academic field of enquiry.
About the Artists
Rita Alaoui (b. 1972, Rabat, Morocco) disrupts traditional codes of representation by challenging the limits of the possible. In her incessant quest for innovation, Rita borrows methods of anthropology to collect elements and objects from nature that she places at the heart of her artistic process. These objects, though appearing insignificant, witness the world's fragility before becoming works of art. As fragments of decontextualised life, the objects Rita collects question the role of the dream in an increasingly robotic society. Rita Alaoui graduated from the Parsons School of Design in 1996, and founded the Ultra Laboratory, a space for artistic research, experimentation and residencies in 2013. Alaoui's current research project, Minefields, is a collaboration with the Edinburgh-based writer and academic Edward Hollis, developed by Arts Cabinet. Recent exhibitions include the Marrakech Biennale, Marrakech, Morocco (2016), Artists and Others, National Library of the Netherlands (2016); Do It in Arabic, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hoor Al Qasimi, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE (2016); Maroc Contemporain, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France (2014); 100 ans, 100 artistes, 100 oeuvres, Fondation Société Générale, Casablanca, Morocco (2013); and Woman and Art, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE (2010). Her work is held in the collections of The Prince Claus Fund, Netherlands, and Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France.
Theo Eshetu (b. 1958, London) grew up in Addis Ababa, Dakar and London before establishing himself in Rome. He currently lives and works in Berlin. His works have been shown at major video art festivals, receiving awards in Berlin, Milan and Locarno. Solo shows include: Brave New World at the Museum of African Art, The Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (2010) and the Baltimore Museum of Art (2006), and the multiscreen video installation The Return of the Axum Obelisk at the Unesco Headquarters, Paris (2009), Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (2010), DAADGalerie, Berlin (2014) and the American Academy in Rome (2015). Eshetu's works have also been presented at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle (2015), Göteborg Biennial (2015), Kochi Biennale (2014), the 54th Venice Biennal (2011), the Sharjah Biennial (2011), The Tropics (2009, curated by Alfons Hug) and Snap Judgements (2006, curated by Okwui Enwezor). Eshetu is currently exhibiting at The Studio Museum in Harlem (VideoStudio, until March 2017). His work will be presented as part of Documenta 14 in 2017.
Katia Kameli (b. 1973, France) is a French-Algerian artist. Through video, photography, installation and drawing, Kameli investigates intercultural spaces, intersecting identities and their construction. Following her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, under Michelangelo Pistoletto, she graduated from the École nationale supérieure d'art in Bourges in 2000. She received a postgraduate degree in New Media in 2003 from the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Marseille. Recent solo exhibitions include: What Language Do You Speak Stranger?, Mosaic Rooms, London (2016); Futur, Artconnexion, Lille (2016); Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York (2014); 7 Acts of Love in 7 Days of Boredom, Transpalette, Bourges (2012); and Duty Free, Videochroniques, Marseille (2012). She has also participated in numerous groups shows, including: Cher(e)s Ami(e)s, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2016); Made in Algeria, MuCEM, Marseille (2016); Entry Prohibited to Foreigners, Havre Magasinet, Boden, Sweden (2015); ‘WHERE WE'RE AT!, Bozar, Brussels (2014); Lubumbashi Biennale, Congo (2013); Pour un Monde Durable, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal (2013); Le Pont, Museum of Marseille (2013); Dak'art, the Dakar Biennale (2012); Higher Atlas, Marrakech Biennale, Morocco (2012); and the Rencontres de Bamako Photography Biennale, Mali (2011).
Youssef Limoud (b.1964, Giza, Egypt) is an artist and a writer. He graduated from the College of Fine Arts, Helwan University, Cairo in 1987. Limoud also studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, 1991-1992. His paintings and installations have been shown in a number of exhibitions in Egypt and abroad. He writes, mainly about art, in Arabic newspapers and magazines including Annahar, Jasad and Al-Doha. He has published a number of books and papers about art, art history and poetry. Limoud lives and works between Basel and Cairo.
Kitso Lynn Lelliott (b.1984, Molepolole, Botswana) has an MFA in Art and is a PhD Candidate at Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa. She is preoccupied with enunciations from spaces beyond epistemic power and the crisis such disobedient articulations cause to hegemony. Her current work and doctorate engage socio-cultural formations that took shape over the Atlantic during the African slave trade, a project initiated during her residency with the Sacatar Foundation in Brazil. Her work has shown at film festivals, art galleries and museums around the world. She is alumna of the Berlinale Talents in Durban and Berlin. Recent exhibitions include the Rencontres de Bamako Photography Biennale, Mali (2015) and the Kampala Biennale (2016).
Abraham Oghobase (b.1979, Lagos, Nigeria) was a finalist in the Prix Pictet Consumption (2014) and in the same year was exhibited at venues including the Victoria and Albert Museum, UK; Westbau, Switzerland; Dublin Gallery of Photography, Ireland; and Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico. Other recent exhibitions include: Savvy Contemporary, Berlin (2016); Boys' Quarters Project Space (2016); CCA, Lagos (2016); Manchester Art Gallery (2012); and KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland (2011). He lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.
Thierry Oussou (b.1988, Allada, Benin) is a visual artist and current resident at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam. In Benin, he founded the Yè art studio and was an assistant to Ernesto Houngbo, Meschac Gaba, and Barthélémy Toguo. This year, he was awarded the inaugural Jacqueline van Tongeren Fellowship 2016 at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten and was nominated for the Dutch Royal Award for Modern Painting 2016 at the Amsterdam Royal Palace. Recent exhibitions include: Nine Artists, Stevenson, Cape Town, South Africa (2015); Aqui Africa, SESC, Belenzhino, São Paulo, Brazil (2015); and Dokoutin, Mosso, Brussels (2014).
Robel Temesgen (b. 1987, Ethiopia) received an MFA from Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, University of Tromsø, Norway in 2015, and a BFA in Fine Art (Painting) from Addis Ababa University in 2010. He is currently taking part in the Junge Akademie programme with the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, and is a resident artist at IASPIS, Stockholm, the Swedish Art Grants Committee's International Programme for Visual and Applied Arts. Temesgen's work has been exhibited at: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany (2016); Kurant Visningsrom, Tromsø, Norway (2015); Addis International Video Art Festival, Addis Abab, Ethiopia (2015); Art Future/Future Signs, Riga, Latvia (2015); RomeAfrica Film Festival, Rome, Italy (2015); Lumen Festival, New York, USA (2015); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany (2014); and Modern Art Museum/Gebre Kristos Desta Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2013). He currently lives and works in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.