‘Long ago, and not true anyway’
waterside contemporary, London
5 September - 26 October 2013
Review by Anya Harrison
Waterside Contemporary’s new group exhibition, ‘Long ago, and not true anyway’, riffs on that classic opening line of ‘Once upon a time’ and hints at fantastical tales of far-off places even before the threshold is crossed. With a strong focus on documentary evidence and historical events, what is true of this small but powerful show is that narrative abounds and flows freely through the gallery, touching upon questions of self-fashioning, national mythmaking and memory.
The works here are excerpts belonging to long-term explorations that exist far beyond the confines of the current exhibition. Libia Castro’s and Ólafur Ólafsson’s ‘Your Country Doesn’t Exist - Do It Yourself (UK)’ (2013) belongs to an ongoing campaign that has been active since 2003. Appearing in many guises - from sound pieces to installations, paintings to performances - and in different languages, the short statement that makes up the project is simultaneously abstract and capable of stirring personal vulnerabilities. There is no direct addressee. The words are indiscriminately released into the public domain. Yet, they speak volumes to anyone who has ever been displaced or simply moved. In the current iteration, which continues the format of two preceding pieces, Castro and Ólafsson invited the Icelandic Ambassador to the UK to complete a paint-by-numbers work where the eponymous title appears like a splash on the surface of the canvas. With agency transferred to third-party hands, the statement becomes instantaneously charged and makes visible the anachronism of assumed claims of nation-states.
The porosity of language and transnational relationships remain central themes in the neighbouring works. Green and red meet in a strange confluence of Poland’s Solidarity and Iran’s Green Movements. Nestling on top of each other and side by side, words and images mirror each other in Slavs and Tatars’ ‘Self-Management Body’ (2013), a fabric piece that continues the collective’s research into the unlikely heritage shared by the two nations. Offering brief quotations from the major narratives of Communism and Islam, the screen-print draws parallels in their struggle for self-determination. Mekhitar Garabedian’s ‘performance of memory’, which draws on his personal diasporic history, acts as a counterpoint to these geopolitical and historical convergences as in the video work ‘MG’ (2006) in which the artist performs his Armenian name and its Dutch translation. In a direct reference to François Truffaut’s ‘Baisers volés’ (1968), Garabedian pronounces his name with increasing fervour, standing in front of his reflection. The result hovers uncomfortably between self-assertion and self-effacement as the incessant repetition transforms the proper name into a stream of white noise.
A woven rug depicting a rocket claims a large portion of the gallery. Accompanied by documents that chart the history of a rug woven by Armenian orphans for President Coolidge as a sign of gratitude for the USA’s relief effort following the Armenian genocide, it is a glimpse into Joana Hadjithomas’ and Khalil Joreige’s painstaking research into the history and representations of Lebanon. Its origin the discovery of an old postage stamp attesting to the Lebanese space exploration programme of the 1960s, ‘On the Lebanese Rocket Society: A Carpet’ (2012) weaves a story across generations and continents. In restaging a history that has gone largely unnoticed and been swept under the, metaphorical, carpet, the artists open up the potentiality for a new imaginary.
For Rabih Mroué, the formation of narratives remains a central aspect of his practice. The slideshow cum performative video lecture, ‘Shooting Images’ (2013), continues the research undertaken by Mroué for projects presented at Documenta 13 and in Berlin’s Tempelhofer Freiheit last year, which deconstructs accounts of sniper shootings and violence in the Syrian conflict. Moving beyond geopolitical specificity, the work speaks of the ubiquity of amateur documentary footage and our own daily, disembodied engagement with it as the roles of viewer, protagonist and director flow into one another. Neither pure fact nor fiction, it is a reminder of the hundreds of narrative seeds to be found in the everyday.