Ikon, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2HS

ZouZou Group: – door open –

Ikon Gallery

4 December 2019 - 23 February 2020

Review by Betsy Porritt

‘– door open ’ (2014 - 2019) is a new video artwork of a long standing and ongoing dialogue between two artists, one in Damascus, the other based in England. Toward the end of the twenty-five minute video the English voice-over talks through the technical difficulties the artists encountered over the course of the project. For the safety of the Syrian artist their communications were carried through the ether “by proxy”. Proxy, as in substitution or deputy, is an elusive third space that simultaneously connects as it separates two bodies. The word suggests an approximate ‘coming close to’, a way of enabling proximity, closeness, kinship. Connected to advocacy as well as warmongering, ‘proxy’ is a word that also perfectly describes the way two artists working simultaneously but separately can approach such massive topics as war, freedom and oppression.

ZouZou Group’s anonymity protects one artist as it muffles another. We never fully encounter the women, but they show us everything they see, their presence is didactic, though decentred. They question the contemporary art world and global, female solidarity; all through the proxies of playgrounds and plane rides.

‘– door open –’ consists of three screens; one with photos and video footage taken on a phone of the street-level and domestic interiors of current Damascus; another with footage recording the everyday landscapes surrounding an English artist as she travels for work; the third an exposition screen with flashes of text imposed over a blue sea cut across by the wake of a boat filmed from an aeroplane window. A sound-track plays a fractured dialogue between the two women underscored by a low, harmonic drone; music that is less music and more aural environment, lifting the two artists and their respective contexts out from the bounds of the screens and into the small dark circular room that is the Ikon Gallery Tower. It is intimate and monumental, the personal as fundamental to the political.

The dialogue spins a narrative from out of a tangled body of communication. The threads of thought and enquiry that emerge from the artists, both build on one another, and are curtailed by the totally separate and incompatible material conditions of each artist’s everyday life. There are many ‘impediments’ to this dialogue – starting from the war in Syria, right down to each artist’s stifling sense of shame – but somehow these barriers and borders have become structures and scaffolds, ways each woman has tested the trust of the other, as a climber stress tests a rope.

At some point in the film, in an effort to clarify a communication, the voice representing the English artist says, “I’m getting so finicky about language”. She is clearly inhibited by the weight of responsibility, by a desire not to falsely represent or endanger. The Syrian artist answers the request for clarification with a memory, the original quotation or observation unimportant; it was a proxy anyway, for something she was seeking, something she may already have lost.

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