Fareed Armaly

Galerie Sylvana Lorenz

Paris is the hometown of movie director Jean-Luc Godard, the city where photography was invented, the capital of French colonialism, and the site of the Louvre, one of the world’s most famous museums. The selection of these data is not random; it corresponds to the various stations in Fareed Armaly’s installation, The (re)Orient, 1989. The relationships between these data require a path that is provided by the installation architecture and by Armaly’s accompanying text: “The (re)Orient occurs within the space of a type of architecture whose important contribution to the discourse of ‘the Orient’ cannot actually be pictured, but, rather, re-pictured. The camera (Greek: vaulted room): the kind of place we find ourselves lost in; a box-like construction, where interior walls are placed in order to throw light on a subject through focusing on an objective.”

This commentary guides the visitor through the installation. A screen shows the nonstop loop of a Godard film about three young people running through the Louvre. Identification leads to reflection. Armaly outlines a further path: “Description. Something like a narrative. Napoleon commissions a description of the ‘Orient’ from Denon. Denon’s work is a grid into which everything fits. His work, and that of Napoleon, become the index of works on the Orient. . . . Denon becomes director of ‘the first museum’—the Louvre, which becomes a museum through being made a storehouse for loot gathered by the French army.” A photograph shows a cannon with a genuine cartridge case underneath. Says Armaly, “. . . there are subjects on the other side of the camera, pictured backwards and motionless. The contracts that set up ‘the museum’ include: the military, the social, the legal, the political."

The artist presents a 26-part set of cards, some showing images of bombed and blasted landscapes. Their random order is interchangeable. Two more screens show the three people endlessly running through the Louvre. A final room contains a large, round table (resembling a movie reel) holding book jackets without books in them. All are about the Orient, starting with Denon’s publication; the same theme is endlessly reiterated by various authors, who always wind up where Denon started, with his picture of the Orient. Again, Armaly: “When the narratives simply repeat each other . . . what does that signify about ‘truth’?”

The cross connections, the endless loop, the various cultural, historical, and architectural levels of this exhibition can hardly be described without a total loss of orientation. For example, the gallery walls are barely used, the real walls are installation parts which are set up, the gallery itself has become a sign. The installation, and not the gallery, is the place of the event, of the discourse. Often, installations of this sort, which unleash questions and break through the narrow confines of art, provoke a criticism: why can’t those contents simply be written, rather than visualized? Yet an exact description of the installation, of its various aspects and relationships, would be impossible; it would, intentionally, approach the very limits of language.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Joachim Negroschel.