PRINT December 2016

Christine Tohme

Aristophanes’s The Birds, 414 BC, in a production directed by Nikos Karanthanos, 2016. Rehearsal view, Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens, September 16, 2016. Photo: Stavros Habakis.

1 THE BIRDS (ONASSIS CULTURAL CENTRE, ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 17–23; DIRECTED BY NIKOS KARATHANOS) Aristophanes’s simple story about man’s desire to fly, to migrate to new worlds, is enduringly witty and perverse. Karathanos’s production gave poetic urgency to the play’s theme of fluidity among the categories of man, animal, and god, embracing our inherent need to dream and offering hope for decadence.

2 FC BERGMAN, HET LAND NOD (THE LAND OF NOD; ZÜRCHER THEATER SPEKTAKEL, ZURICH, AUGUST 18–21) The set—a stripped-down replica of the Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp’s Rubens room, with a facsimile of Le coup de lance presiding in majestic isolation—becomes a performer in its own right in this powerful production. Within the grand, austere gallery, museological narratives of preservation and national identity crumble as visitor, invigilator, technicians, curator, and miscellaneous staff struggle to hold on to the meaning of their roles. Subtle moments of silence shake and devour the notion of spectatorship and expose the fraility of its authority, and a hall of high culture becomes a stage for the absurd.

3 “ONE AND THE MANY” (SALT GALATA, ISTANBUL; CONCEIVED BY MERIÇ ÖNER) An essay in objects, “One and the Many” investigated modern Turkey’s socioeconomic transformations via a nonhierarchical display of clothes, food, furniture, toiletries, and other products from a pivotal decade, the 1980s. Elucidated by the research of scholars and experts in a variety of fields, this parliament of things (my favorite: the Ülker chocolates) had a great deal to say about production and distribution, prototype and mass-market replica, and the paradoxical existence of the genuine copy.

4 NATASCHA SADR HAGHIGHIAN, PSSST LEOPARD 2A7+, 2013– (66TH BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, 11TH FORUM EXPANDED: “TRAVERSING THE PHANTASM”; CURATED BY STEFANIE SCHULTE STRATHAUS, ANSELM FRANKE, NANNA HEIDENREICH, BETTINA STEINBRÜGGE, AND ULRICH ZIEMONS) The Leopard 2A7+ is a German military tank optimized for the pacification of urban unrest. Sadr Haghighian’s deconstructed copy—a listening platform that visually alludes to the Leopard’s rectilinear camouflage, bristling with headphone jacks for eavesdropping on the “open secrets” the artist compiled in a dossier of “sound documents”—powerfully resonated with the forum’s phantasmal theme. An abstracted representation of how realities and virtualities are constructed through militarization, the piece also creates a public space where people can sit, lie down, and socialize: a physical antithesis of the tank.

5 JONATHAS DE ANDRADE, O PEIXE (THE FISH) De Andrade’s disturbingly seductive film follows fishermen in the Brazilian state of Alagoas, juxtaposing documentation of their traditional techniques with scenes of the anglers affectionately holding and caressing their dying catch. His densely colorful portraits of labor, compassion, and death eloquently tamper with the ethnographic gaze.

El Anatsui, Kindred Viewpoints, 2016, aluminum, copper wire. Installation view, Marrakech. Photo: Jens Martin.

6 ROBERT BREER (SHARJAH ART FOUNDATION; CURATED BY HOOR AL QASIMI) Bringing together paintings, films, and kinetic sculptures, this retrospective sheds light on the artist’s versatility and the depth of his practice. Breer would have enjoyed the venue—a former fast-food restaurant in a building called the Flying Saucer. His humorous presence infuses the show’s playful explorations of movement, composition, and space.

On view through January 9, 2017.

7 MARRAKECH BIENNALE 6: “NOT NEW NOW” (VARIOUS VENUES; CURATED BY REEM FADDA) Conceived across many locations, each imaginatively yet precisely selected with sensitivity to both artwork and context, the biennial allowed for a tracing of the city while making optimal use of its artisanal resources. Fadda’s curation started from within Marrakech, engaging with its histories, communities, and iconic sites to produce a celebration of contemporary art from the region rather than about it.

8 URIEL ORLOW (THE SHOWROOM, LONDON) Orlow’s two-channel video The Crown Against Mafavuke, 2016, traces the colonial and indigenous histories of medicine lucidly, but its real forte is the actors, who seem possessed by the medicinal plants they defend. I strongly related to Orlow’s activation of flora as body politics, and to the way he invited other artists (e.g., Kapwani Kwanga) to enrich his research and contribute to the resulting show. The exhibition was accompanied by the informative and beautifully compiled guide Communal Herbal Knowledge.

9 CÉLINE CONDORELLI, THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS (BOOK WORKS, CHISENHALE GALLERY, AND VAN ABBEMUSEUM, 2014) When reading this book this year, I felt a great deal of affinity with the way I have been thinking about my own practice. Introducing postcolonial and feminist readings on the notion of friendship, the publication addresses how we create things and ideas through collaboration, and the different relationships that constitute it. In Candorelli’s words, “work in friendship, and friendship in work.”

10 BIDAYYAT FOR AUDIOVISUAL ARTS The nonprofit organization Bidayyat emerged from a need to provide young Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian filmmakers with an opportunity to document and express the many conflicting realities of the Arab region. Especially given the constantly unfolding complexities of the Syrian war, I find this initiative—launched by Syrian documentary filmmaker Mohammad Ali Atassi in Beirut in 2013—an invaluable platform and a strongly relevant critique of the problematics of visual representation of the war in Syria and of war in general.

Christine Tohme is the founding director of Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. The recipient of the Prince Claus Award (2006) and the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence (2015), she is the curator of Sharjah Biennial 13, which runs through October 2017.