Critics’ Picks

Bani Abidi, An Unforeseen Situation, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes 52 seconds.

Bani Abidi, An Unforeseen Situation, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes 52 seconds.


Bani Abidi

Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)
Chausseestrasse 128-129
March 7–April 30, 2017

In 2014, the Pakistan Sports Board organized a series of competitions in the Punjab region with the intention of winning more world records for the nation. In her video An Unforeseen Situation, 2015, Bani Abidi muses on her country’s efforts by imagining new concepts for such feats, including setting a record for the largest number of people singing Pakistan’s national anthem, and the most walnuts broken with a man’s forehead in one minute. As to whether these events happened, the video seems to question if that matters.

The work is slick and witty in its simplicity; 150,000 green plastic chairs slowly fill up the frame as we learn about the ostensibly history-making recital. A plan to gift all attendees an apple-shaped polished rock with a small clock mounted on it and a gold leaf on top is expected to guarantee success. But the perfect kitsch objects are boxed away as the many chairs are restacked, and the event is canceled: People are not tempted by the reward and the state is in trouble. In a parallel narrative, a young man practices for the walnut challenge by laying the nuts on a wooden table and doing push-ups before collecting them again. This series of senseless repetitions, with their minimal aesthetic, humorously conveys the delusions of nationalist ideology.

As India and Pakistan both continue to grapple with the trauma of the 1947 Partition, the artist comments on the symbolic production of state power and national identity. An Unforeseen Situation makes a clever satire of these benign-seeming strategies and their dark underpinnings.