Critics’ Picks

View of “Positions,” 2014.

View of “Positions,” 2014.



Van Abbemuseum
Bilderdijklaan 10
July 5–October 12, 2014

For the inaugural presentation of “Positions”—a newly launched exhibition model that continues the museum’s focus on radical, socially engaged art—Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Céline Condorelli, Bouchra Khalili, Koki Tanaka, and Charles van Otterdijk have been invited to display a substantial body of work investigating how we take a stance and position ourselves in the world. In dialogue with one another, these practices address the viability of political agency—that is, the capability of a person to act free of oppression or coercion—in the twenty-first century.

Dutch artist van Otterdijk’s cryptic installation Double Centre, 2009-2014, for instance, consists of a series of stark, fluorescent-lit rooms populated by deceptively familiar, quotidian-looking objects, which at first glance resemble functional desks, chairs, or bookcases, but upon closer inspection are eerily unidentifiable. Based on two enigmatic, undisclosed buildings that the artist discovered on the German-Polish border, the installation is chilling and unsettling; its bunker-like atmosphere recalls covert detention centers, the likes of which proliferated during the War on Terror.

Similarly concerned with how sites and nation-states are surveilled and controlled, Jordanian artist Abu Hamdan’s cacophonous Tape Echo, 2013–14, reflects on the “ethical soundscape” of Cairo (a city notorious for its unnerving din), which has, in the past few years, come under tighter military command. To record and, by extension, intervene in the city’s highly politicized audio space, the artist has recycled the cassette sermon, a media formerly used to broadcast Islamic prayer that has recently been replaced by government-sanctioned, digitally-distributed speeches. Because magnetic tape never deletes its content, only realigns it, Abu Hamdam poignantly ensures that the sermons of a not so distant, more liberated past survive as a foundation of those of a more suppressed present.