Published: In the United Kingdom by the institute of international Visual Arts (inlVA) is with the Forum for Arts and the Prince Claus Fund of International Visual Arts.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition Fault Lines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes 15 June - 2 November 2003 Fault Lines is presented as part of the 50th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer.
The exhibition and publication have been produced by the Forum for African Arts and made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation.
Additional financial support has been provided by AFAA (Association Francaise d'Action Artistique), Arts Council England and the British Council.
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Published by the Institute of International Visual Arts in collaboration with the Forum for African Arts and the Prince Ctaus Fund on the occasion of the exhibition Fau/r Lines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes, presented as part of the the 50th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship cyf- ff» Viewer (15 June - 2 November 2003). The exhibition and publication are made possible by the generous financial support of the Ford Foundation.
In geological terms, fault lines reveal themselves as fractures in the earth's surface but they also mark a
in the continuity of the strata. Fautt lines may be a sign of significant shifts, or even of impending
but they also create new landscapes. Favtf Unes: Contemporary African Art and Shirting Landscapes brings together contemporary artists and writers from Africa and the African diaspora whose works trace the fault lines that are shaping contemporary experience locally and globally. These fault lines have been etched into the physical fabric of our world through the effects of colonialism and postoolonialism, of migration and globalisation. Ther reverberations echo through contemporary experience and in the work of these fifteen working across a range of media from
and sculpture through to architecture, ptiotography and installation. Their works span five decades, four continents and three generations, any notion of an authentic or one-
African experience. Tawadros, curator of Fault Lines
Gilane Tawadros is the founding Director of the institute of International Visual Arts (inlVA) in London, an organisation that has been at the forefront of developments in contemporary visual art, new technologies and cultural diversity in both national and international contexts. Responsible for the overall artistic direction of inlVA, Tawadros has curated and co-curated a large number of exhibitions and edited several publications on contemporary visual art and theory.
sertain characters, bringing them to the teefront to usurp the frame from the aset/set. The soundtrack remains faithful to the sounds of the street, altered only sightly to draw attention to an illuminated The candid and documentary-like ciiiality of the footage, its rawness, implies aalhenticity and legitimacy as a snap shot real time captured on film. Perhaps as a means of challenging this presumption, highlights the false movement of film Iby deconstructing it into its frames. Each is articulated, altering the raw footage to convey a narrative. Isolating each frame detailing, distinguishing it from the next that captures a moment 1 /25 of a second later, Nairn draws attention to the
mechanism that reproduces an event as film does. When Nairn deletes, illuminates, blurs and slashes bodies, the background, or buildings, she renders a wholly different meaning to the scene. Nairn does not look to reveal the space in its essence but identifies specific narratives from the whole.
Breaking the moving image into its components, identifying movement as it is set in motion by the mechanical action of projecting frame by frame to affect a moving image points to the falseness of film as a record or document, especially broadcast media, and by implication print media.
What happens in and to public space? Physical structures form the set providing
triggers and guides that direct movement and behaviour. People occupy space infusing the street with energies and also their physical presence. Larger, omnipresent, governmental and official forces enter the public sphere through the media. Nairn codifies these forces in her assemblages and film to express how space is constructed and choreographed not only for sight, but also as visual markers and symbols that reference other sensations and relationships between bodies and objects. Nairn interrogates the interrelatedness of people and place, the generative clash between figures and movement, building a visual vocabulary to describe the relationship between viewer and viewed. space culmnates with her use of film. Employing the same technique of altering .maoes using ink, pen, paint and also filters, \s»rr explores the frame that builds a film. of'urcated photograph and sculpture assemblages exhibited in a neighbouring scace. Nairn codifies personalities and ement and relationships. She touches common concerns and hegemonic ofces mat inform our perception of the we inhabit, how we should move "rough rt and our impact upon it Entering the space where the film is projected, the interloper finds four potential surfaces and one is used to screen the film. Na'm 's fifteen-minute, black and white film s orojected in an enclosed cube large erougn So engulf the viewer.
Anthropologist, Pascal Auge, formulated an intriguing idea - 'any space whatsoever' - in his effort to elucidate the effects of modern urban planning on the human psyche and interpersonal relationships. This term describes an anonymous public space that functions as a film or theatrical set, as a point of transit between places of importance. You are in a square; you are there only because you are passing through en route home, or to the doctor's office, or work. In these spaces individuals become depersonalised. These places become homogenous, desingularising spaces.
Giiles Deleuze looks at the flipside of Auge's 'any space whatsoever' to explore how philosophers, artists and scientists, for example, attempt to create a sense of order
and award value and meaning to 'anonymous' moments. In contrast to Auge, Deleuze - and in this vein also Nairn -creates a condition for the emergence of uniqueness and singularity. The conventional, all-pervasive gallery space of the white cube serves a similar function:
you enter to be taken to a conceptual space constructed by the artists and modified by the filter the viewer wears. Footage of a Cairo street during rush hour begins the art experiment that involves using pen and paint and filters to identify relationships and interactions. Paintings, drawings and decorative sketches are superimposed on to the images as a means of isolating individuals who enter the frame/set. Filters are used to highlight.
advertising. Such sentiments are revived in our globalising world of tele-trading and rapid commercialisation.
As a medium for disseminating information newspapers print images of people associated with events or personalities. Nairn's exhibited assemblages, however, challenge this assumption, as an array of the known and unknown appear alongside each other; one of the works includes the Brazilian super model Giselle, British actress Judi Dench, an African man and a soldier. By incorporating press images of people, some recognisable and others not, Nairn questions the validity of print media as a disseminator of information. Why are some portraits associated with personalities and histories, while others are completely anonymous? Has Nairn stripped personalities known to specific audiences and reduced them to faceless commentaries? Are the portraits of Judi Dench and Giselle nothing beyond archetypes to Nairn?
Nairn composes a gaze that calls into question the subject and its viewer. She examines how the media addresses the subject and what the subject means to its audience. Popular culture, militarism and random, foreign people are combined to formulate a gaze. Not all the included portraits engage every viewer. A strategic decision appears to have been made. Certain people, ideas and conventions are integrated to resonate with different audiences. Is Nairn asking the viewer to reflect on who we know and understand and why? Or is she using this imagery simply as an aesthetic tool? What are an iconic face from a fashion magazine and an African face a la National Geographic doing in the same sculpture? She presents a puzzle that can be reassembled in different ways. According to what values and hierarchies does Nairn assert and pattern the image? And does it strengthen or weaken her claim that the media is removed from living reality?
Move through Space and Time
Nairn's line of questioning about what informs social behavior and the impact individuals have on the formation of public.
more ambiguous divide between life and media. By mirroring representations of individuals in patterns made of print media, Nairn expresses an intimate and informative relationship between the press and the people. Moreover, historically, newspapers and journals have provided women with a voice in the public sphere. Writing and publishing allowed women who, for social reasons, were prohibited from participating in public meetings to contribute to social and political movements.
Contrasting the flatness of the photograph with the depth of the sculpture creates a dynamic gaze alluding to how print media's political and economic agendas might inform social behaviour as manifested in activity and movement.
The eye glances back and forth resting for a moment on the singularity of a person and then moving to the matrix of layers of newsprint. The viewer is asked to question how the interloper - be it person or press -enters a physical or conceptual space and reconfigures that environment.
Represented in the sculptural half of the assemblage are the main characters taken from the photograph. This schematic device emphasises specific interactions and personalities. In one assemblage, sculpted segments from newspapers - arranged vertically and resembling the spines of books along a shelf - annunciate a series of black slashes drawn over a male pedestrian in the photograph. In another assemblage, portraits from the newspaper, framed in balls made from newsprint and sat pattern of newspaper clippings. Iinoi Bar twin in the neighbouring photograw leaves parallel faces undecorated "asss exposed. Bidirectional, the gaze ca" potentially either gravitate from photograph to sculpture - as, viewers functioning in a Europsar might see, or from right to left - press he person - as Arabic readers might presser Tearing segments from print the tenacity and politicism of Nairn mid-twentieth century response to consumerism in the form of decoflage. which involved tearing from postere r public space. The movement went on inspire the Situationist Internationals, which questioned the relevance and agenda of the same bus; or the displaced. Each frame reveals a scenario from the populated and Iively, but also transient and abstract, shared street. We can dissect her images, considering each space portrayed and its location. We can examine the spatial order, how structures are illuminated. And most critically we can consider how the represented space is experienced through her responses in the decorative details. Nairn imbues the gaze with individuality and plays her chosen characters as part of a scene. In each rendered piece, the narrative is coded. This process of modification distils, through colour and shapes and action is articulated by a set of rules afforded by the moment and extracted from the place from which the photograph originates. With its altered veneer, the finished image presents an enlivened gaze. Gold circles and flowers - reminiscent of the idealised four-petal version that children often draw - allude to innocence. Meanwhile, the harsh black slashes through the (usually male) passers-by speak of stripping the steadfast, erect and moving body from the scene. Although Nairn resists a reading of her work through the filters of gender studies, in one piece it is difficult to ignore her aggressive response to the momentum exuded by a pack of men not overwhelm the frame - they are perhaps in transit, waiting for a friend or a bus - are articulated empathetically. Through each added detail, Nairn permeates the street with her gaze by selecting figures to either embellish or negate.
Coupling two-dimensional photographs and three-dimensional assemblages so that they work in tandem suggests the potential influences of print media on society. Newspaper stands prouferate in Cairo, positioned at every major intersection. projecting opinions and information ir,to the public domain. Nairn ciaims her works assert a distinction between individual experience and the business of econmomics and polititcs conveyed by the press. The gaze standing alone, however, discloses a Tarek Naga built an installation, Requiem (2000), at the American University in Cairo that positions the viewer on a partially covered, wooden ramp that is in the process of warping and leads to a video bop of dippings from broadcast media. on French philosopher Henri Qergson, Naga's questions resonate in Nairn's work that similarly interrogates the inherent instability and fragile equilibrium that permeate the behaviour of space. For Bergson, 'Form is essentially extended, Inseparable as it is from the extensity of the becoming which has materialized in the course of its flow. Every form thus occupies space as it occupies time. The process of building the assemblage begins with a photograph printed on a canvas. Nairn renders the photograph, adding detailing with pen, ink, or paint. And then she sets the articulated photograph beside a panel of sculpted print media in one frame. Photographs are analysed and mined for material to extract and recompose according to Nairn's intuitive reading of countless information bytes or perspectives captured in each image, rather than through an intellectual dissection of the scene. The gaze is formulated by Nairn selecting and elaborating one or two stories from the plethora of interactions in the shot To approach an understanding of these r assemblages becoming two intimately connected halves -as images representing experiences, emotional connections and
movement - demands individual attention Armed with a basic digital camera, Nairn collects raw material. The details added to the photographs are extracted from elements revealed within the frame. For instance, a pattern on a skirt, a decorative architectural detail, or a section of graceful geometric tile work, is abstracted and the form is then drawn on to the image.
These articulations conjure a gaze that isolates characters in a scene, illuminating relationships between these individuals and qualitatively commenting on the characters and their occupation of space in the public sphere. The people in these candid, randon" photographs are anonymous. Different sorts of relationships appear: the familial bond of father and child walking a familiar path; an assortment of strangers waiting for not, they also have independent financial support. However, artists such as Nairn diverge from both this archetype of the trans-national artist and from possible expectations of what a Muslim woman contemporary artist might be. With conviction and clarity, Nairn does not want to be discussed from the vantage point of feminist discourse.2
Reunion to Innovate the Gaze
Nairn's photographic representations of the street's inhabitants and spaces had until now been exhibited as physically and conceptually distinct and separate from her wall-hanging sculptures looking at the political underpinnings of the media. Her painted and drawn upon photographs
would be shown in the same space as her wall-hanging sculptures made of torn and reconstituted newspaper, but without a direct connection explicitly expressed. Relating the two art forms was the audience's prerogative rather than the artist's conception and creation. In this exhibition, Nairn physically joins her articulated photographs and sculptures.
Presented with a new work that connects the two halves, the viewer is supplied a key. In both pieces, the decorative details -those added to the photographs and the patterns made of print media - reinforce the narrative. The painted and drawn details on the photographs are mirrored and magnified by the balls or massing spines made of newsprint, the two components
juxtaposed to emphasise a decorative schema. The composition projects a gaze that, without hesitation, interrogates people's movement through the street and their relationships with those who share this space.
Alongside other Cairo-based artists "" (Hassan Khan, Heba Farid, Lara El Baladi, Moataz Nasr, Wael El Shawky for instance), Nairn has been contemplating the organisation of the city and how public space is occupied and territorialised.3 How does the passer-by negotiate their environment that forms and contorts in response and in reaction both to internalised social structures and modes of behaviour and to externalised physical obstacles and frameworks. For example, architect/artist
Sabah Nairn interrogates the possibilities of the gaze in this exhibition with her assemblages that are framed to relate two parts - an articulated photograph and a sculpture made from print media. Each piece suggests an entry to her evolving vocabulary of representations of city life. Signs are crafted with extrapolations from Cairo's street in order to posture the individual in their urban surroundings,^ The observations and ideas conveyed with dexterity and finesse in Nairn's assemblages are elaborated on at a conceptual level in her first film that is also shown at this year's Venice Biennale. For over two decades, art-historical discussion has rigorously engaged the concept of the gaze. Since the conversation began, the gaze has been subject to reconsideration vis-a-vis diversifying art audiences, art producers and art purveyors. Nairn scrutinises an aspect of the gaze described by Norman Bryson: In so far as a manual or executive structure, moulded by the pressure of novel perceptual demands, and constantly falsified against the visual field, the schema is that which distorts reflection, that which can never produce representations containing 'true' information... the schema is an agent of anamorphosis, warping the visual field through a constant and internally consistent principal of deviation.'
The perceptual structure or grid, the schema, as expressed in the gaze Nairn formulates, deconstructs outer realities and in the process of doing so purposefully disconnects from social formations. Nairn transmits a reconfigured scenario revealing a gaze conveying the value system and hierarchy she uses to interpret movements.
Nairn has been successfully negotiating the global art arena; she has entered it straddling a fault line, working at a time when artists appear to move around the globe, largely without apprehension or restriction. However, the majority of artists who participate on the international culture front arrive with a Western passport in hand. or a European language for communicatiring with key culture brokers. More often than.