Critics’ Picks

Kiluanji Kia Henda, Rusty Mirage, 2015, inkjet print mounted on Sintra, 40 x 59".

New York

Kiluanji Kia Henda

International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)
1040 Metropolitan Avenue
June 27 - October 6

A metal sign reading Miragem—the Portuguese word for “mirage”—once sat in the restaurant of a small desert community, rusted through from the billowing sands of southern Angola. A photograph of the peculiar sign, Rusty Mirage, 2015, is the centerpiece of Kiluanji Kia Henda’s current exhibition, a meditation on the failures of the modern city. In the main room, a four-channel video installation, Paradise Metalic [sic], 2014, outlines the birth of a mythological country. The Man with the Shovel, the hero of the story, seeks to answer the question, How do you build that which is God’s and not man’s? He lays claim to a small patch of land in the desert by driving a circle of stakes into the ground, then celebrating this simple success with his trusty assistant. In the subsequent chapters, however, the black-clad spirits of nature show their might: They push the stakes deeper into the earth, making them invisible, and obliterate a newly made concrete wall. This drama, with its focus on the assembly and destruction of simple geometric forms and architectures, plays out like a Minimalist soap opera.

Nonetheless, the Man with the Shovel manages to succeed, fabricating a skeletal steel utopia whose shape is derived from traditional Angolan sona sand drawings (other iterations of the structure are seen in photographs in the next room). But these bones cannot last. Henda illustrates humankind’s attempt at civilizing wilderness as an act of hubris. The artist’s tongue-in-cheek Instructions to Create Your Personal Dubai at Home, 2013, underscores this idea through a DIY Dubai construction manual, which tells us how to build a mini–Burj Khalifa with beer cans, or your own Palm Islands using carefully arranged matchsticks in a toilet. Magisterial cityscapes for cheap—no shovel required.