Mariana Telleria, Before Our Birth, 2016, car wreckage and mixed media. Installation view. From “Répétition.” Photo: Asad Raza.

Mariana Telleria, Before Our Birth, 2016, car wreckage and mixed media. Installation view. From “Répétition.” Photo: Asad Raza.


Mariana Telleria, Before Our Birth, 2016, car wreckage and mixed media. Installation view. From “Répétition.” Photo: Asad Raza.

Some exhibitions of contemporary art aspire to abstraction in their location, such that what is presented in New York might be seen without sensible alteration in Paris or Mexico City. Other shows speak more immediately of their times and to their places, and this category includes Nicola Lees and Asad Raza’s “Répétition.” It could hardly be otherwise, given that it was hosted by an institution—the Fondation Boghossian–Villa Empain—dedicated to fostering a dialogue between the Middle East and the West through art, and that the show opened in Brussels a mere two months after the attacks on the city.

To the ear of its Francophone audience the show’s title meant two things: repetition, in the general sense shared with English, as well as rehearsal. But what was being repeated and rehearsed? At least to begin with, accidents. Repetition, for many artists in the show, is a way of inviting accident. The show’s inspiration, and its most iconic work, was Accident, 1963, a lithograph by Robert Rauschenberg. It was given this name because the stone with which the artist was working cracked in the process of its making. Yet the first work encountered by visitors to the foundation’s elegant home in the Villa Empain was an even more visceral expression of this theme: Mariana Telleria’s Before Our Birth, 2016, is made from the twisted wreckage of countless automobile accidents, gathered and transformed by the artist into a work that occupies the space heavily, like a frozen catastrophe. Beyond was a stack of newspapers prepared by Rirkrit Tiravanija in which the news is not good. Against the backdrop of the Belgian daily Le Soir is printed in bold letters: THE DAYS OF THIS SOCIETY IS NUMBERED. The message seems clear enough, until one notices its grammatical error. Is this to say that those who announce the end of things, those who see imminent collapse, are ignorant? And why printed over Le Soir? Because of its collaboration with the Nazis (when it was they who lived and worked in the Villa Empain)? The notification tends to confuse, if only because the point of getting it wrong is so hard to get right. Perhaps it was an accident.

The most intensely rehearsed repetition in the show was a hugely engaging dance piece by Andros Zins-Browne titled Already Unmade, 2016. Its notion is to reverse the flow of creation. In a dance of varying (but significant) duration, the choreographer literally deconstructs earlier pieces, moving from completed pieces to their halting and uncertain first movements. Each repetition is different, breaking apart different dances from the choreographer’s repertoire and recombining them with one another, each time in interaction with visitors. The word accident once meant “happening” (its literal sense in Latin) and, it would seem, still can.

The open, iterative, and relational elements for which Raza is best known are not, however, limited to dance. As the show went on it changed, permuted by the exhibition’s hosts. Elements from the Ljubljana International Center of Graphic Arts and Moderna Galerija—such as Rauschenberg’s lithograph and works by such figures as Max Bill—were placed alongside newer works including those by Sophia Al-Maria, Becky Beasley, Will Benedict, Andrea Büttner, Shannon Ebner, Konstantin Grcic, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Deanna Havas, Sanya Kantarovsky, Heinz Peter Knes, David Maljkovic, Radenko Milak, Anna Ostoya, and Roman Uranjek. Their positions, however, were not fixed, and over the course of the exhibition works were periodically reinstalled amid the static sculptural and cinematic contributions by Abbas Akhavan, Nairy Baghramian, castillo/corrales, Mike Cooter, Dexter Sinister, Latifa Echakhch, Ištvan Išt Huzjan, Hilary Lloyd, Jumana Manna, Otobong Nkanga, Lydia Ourahmane, Giles Round, Zin Taylor, and Erika Vogt.

So many artists, works, accidents, rehearsals, and repetitions made for a rich—and evolving—experience, an admirable effort on the part of the curators. One way of fostering international dialogue is to present a collision or collaboration of cultures in a didactic manner, telling you what you are to see and think about what you see, with all the historical, social, and political dots already connected. The strength of this show, however, lay in how far it was from the parochial notion that this interaction must follow set talking points and play to (stereo)type, leaving, instead, the question with the visitor, as in a real dialogue.

Leland de la Durantaye