Kölnischer Kunstverein is pleased to present Dala Nasser’s first institutional solo exhibition Red in Tooth, featuring her multi-media installation of the same title. Comprising a video work, patchwork paintings, and a commissioned sound installation in collaboration with sound artist Mhamad Safa, Red in Tooth is the point of origination for her ongoing examination of decolonial ecologies and human and non-human entanglement. It’s a grounding proposal of how to listen, smell, see and sense what has been tuned down/out and made invisible by the ongoing practices of extraction and protracted colonial erasure.
Building on her practice as a material and process-based artist, through abstraction and alternative forms of image making, she cultivates a necessary discomfort through a renewed trust in the land, its rivers, and its more-than-human inhabitants. The works trace the Al Wazzani River, which flows through southern Lebanon into Occupied Palestine. Along this splintered journey, Nasser is forced to abandon state road infrastructures that are built to keep us in their lanes, and follow the soil and its color and smell, the burble of water, and other inhabitants of these lands; the animals; through vast wild ‘virgin’ terrains of southern Lebanon leading us to the border defying Wazzani. This frontier, which breeds life in its natural resources and wildlife is only partially accessible to a few families who live in the immediate area – and under difficult conditions. The trial to bear witness to ongoing slow violence, dispossession, and other colonial practices under constantly shifting, changing, and morphing conditions is (nearly) impossible. Nasser’s insistence to be guided by other environmental signifiers in her ongoing exercise to consider other possible social and political imaginaries, begs the question of how we listen to more-than-human ecological knowledges around us. How do we re-calibrate our relationship to the land and its wildlife and other beings, to find a way to listen to their unuttered testimonies? How can we learn from them to navigate the cracks of rigid colonial structures; both material and those of collective memory(s), history(s), and archives?
Reverting to a seemingly ritualistic intuition, the paintings have been dug into the earth around the Wazzani, washed with collected rainwater and/or boiled in salt water, they smell of the wretched soil and carry accumulated matter within it. They are imprinted with an-other memory, reality, and futurity; years of erosion, degradation, loss of water, pollution, and increased salinity imbued with a history of natural life, extraction, death, blood, violence, and land grabs. It’s an attempt to listen to the soil, its ailments and hopes, through that which has truly witnessed and continues to survive there. The large patchwork piece has been reassembled for the lecture hall (Riphahnsaal), the paintings are suspended and cascaded down from the stage to the center where they disharmoniously meet the accompanying site-specific sound installation. The sound work, a collaboration with sound artist and architect Mhamad Safa, manipulates the temporality of the environment through time-based effects. It brings our attention to the crackles of the field recordings from the river and its surrounding area, the birds, the crickets, the wind. The result is an immersive abstracted visual, sonic, and olfactory conditioning that urges us towards a slower, more focused reading and sensing.
In the second space, the video work negotiates and reveals other possibilities of being and relating through learning from the intricate nuances and complexities of the genuinely decolonial species, terrain, and wildlife of the area. Narrated by the wildlife as witnesses whose testimonies have no words, the film transitions between moving shots of a road most traveled, human produced waste, constructed borders, political signage, existing topographical markers animated as imaginary lines, the inhabitant’s voices, dead and living animals, and long, beautiful, desolate imagery of landscapes of southern Lebanon and northern Occupied Palestine. Through a studied use of imagery and sound, Nasser, at times, paints an impressionist-like painting that transports us to and from an-other possible way of life and lived reality.
The exhibition demands a multisensorial presence and engagement as colonial practices and landscape are abstracted within the spaces on a material, olfactory, sonic, and visual level. Red in Tooth is a reminder that we have made the wrong decisions, we have trusted the wrong materials, we have been listening to the testimonies of those who have not witnessed for too long. It reveals to us an entrapped power dynamic between colonial structures, people, animals, plants, the river, and the soil, and invites us through Nasser’s subtle but radical language of abstraction to consider different forms of mobility and relationship to the land.
Text: Reem Shadid
Dala Nasser (*1990 in Tyre, lives in Beirut, Lebanon) recently had solo exhibitions at VO Curations in London and Deborah Schamoni in Munich (2022, and 2021). She participated in a number of group exhibitions, including Centre Pompidou in Paris (2022), Villa Emplain in Brussels (2021), Beirut Art Center (2019); Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche in Paris (2019); Victoria Miro in London (2018); François Ghebaly Gallery in Los Angeles (2018); and ACT2 of the Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017).
Loretta Fahrenholz – Gap Years
19.3. – 26.6.2022
Opening of the exhibition: Friday, 18.03.2022, 7 pm
Gap year: a reprieve from work and responsibility, time off before time starts again – or a chunk of time that lands in your lap when society unexpectedly stops.
A vast and relatively unregulated space, Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld is built on ruptures reflected in its various historical incarnations, among other functions Germany’s first football training ground, a 19th century Sunday destination, NS parade site, a concentration camp, and, of course, Berlin’s airport during the Cold War Airlift. Fahrenholz’ photo series Gap Years depicts the flourishing of leisure activities and new hobbies during the pandemic, when the Feld became everyone’s cafe, gym, bar, club, pick-up spot and music venue. Recorded with strobe-like time-lapse photography that registers movement like in a frozen jelly, the works in the series show people in self-defence classes, playing ping-pong, roller-skating, or engaging in impromptu raves and remote-controlled car driving, open-air bondage and snacking. There is also a blurry close-up of tahini poured on one of the unpopular e-scooters (we are among irritable Berliners all right).
The contemporaneity of the activities cannot hide the belle-époque quaintness of the motif of leisure, or what Fahrenholz identifies as its ‘kitsch’ aspect. We have no illusions about leisure activities. As carefully measured breaks in the regime of work they can be the next best thing to being stuck in a rut. And in an urban context the display of street skill and everyday virtuosity is already inscribed in a layered visual economy: Fahrenholz’ photos trail instagrammable styles of social-media self-consumption but also the heroics of sports photography. Still, the social collapse of the pandemic provided an opportunity for other rhythms, for social reorganization on a micro-level, thus creating a space in which it was possible to get in touch with both dystopia and utopia.
The film Happy Birthday (2022) emulates the perspective of a first-person shooter video game through a sole protagonist who wanders aimlessly across the Tempelhofer Feld. Little windows appear with snippets of mobile-phone-recorded birthday greetings. As the film progresses, darkness falls on the lonely social choreography, a non-celebration with long-distance missives from friends and family who should have been present. The birthday boy’s blank expression and the absence of action build up emotional pressure and expectation, as the air around him is perforated with songs, encouragements or scolding, shared memories, saucy messages, and existential musings.
What is left, where are we now? Where do we go from here? – These questions emerge from the darkness surrounding the figures in Fahrenholz’ two works. To Henri Lefebvre, the ‘rhythmanalyst’ is someone who studies rhythms as a structure for the experience of space and time – someone who listens to “all sorts of already known practices” but first of all “to his body; he learns rhythm from it, in order consequently to appreciate external rhythms. His body serves him as a metronome.” What would Lefebvre’s rhythmanalyst make of a pandemic time out of whack? Lefebvre’s notion of the body as a metronome takes on other signification, both when held against the digitally scripted movements of the Happy Birthday protagonist and Gjon Mili’s photographic experiments from the mid-20th century that inspired Fahrenholz for her Gap Years series. New strobe technology enabled Mili to capture movement by arresting the human body in sequences in a single photographic image: Picasso making a drawing with light, a ballet dancer’s stride across the stage. Mili’s is a kind of portraiture in which psychology is reduced, or even effaced, in favour of speed.
In 1960s counterculture the spasmodic gestation of the strobe was employed to chop up time and dissolve the body. Tom Wolfe describes the dance floor of a 1960s ‘acid test’:
Ecstatic dancers – their hands flew off their arms, frozen in the air – a gleaming ellipse of teeth here, a pair of buffered highlit cheekbones there – all flacking and fragmenting into images as in an old flicker movie – a man in slices! – all of history pinned up on a butterfly board; the experience, of course.
The psychedelic sensibility for the non-human side of technology inspired the filmmaker Jonas Mekas to say that “since there is nothing but the white light in [the strobe], it represents…the point of death, or nothingness.” But it is not only visual shrapnel; there is a theoretical bent in the strobe, too, a crystalline ur-cinematic logic: “One could even say that it dramatizes the light itself.” On the thin line between emancipation and control, stimulus and trauma, the strobe summarizes the modern onslaught on the nervous system with instantly changing signals. In the 1950s, flicker technologies were used for electroencephalographic research documenting how changes in the electrical rhythms of the brain have diagnostic value. In the nerve-brain click-regime of our digital era such stimuli have plenty of exchange value, too.
“Writing in strobe” can invent “crazy speeds…where different themes connect up, and words form various figures according to the precipitous speeds of reading and association,” as Gilles Deleuze said about Hélène Cixous’ way of writing her way out of patriarchal regimes. In Fahrenholz, the icy strobe is no less of a poetics, a suitable aesthetic for our dreamless time. Departing from acceleration and Cixous’ call for “more body”, Fahrenholz instead presents meditations on the dissolution of normality and on caesuras in social time and space. Known rhythms of life begin to limp and falter as we are served up a new diet of (dis)embodiment, separation and togetherness, in the affective interstices between bodies and technologies. Maybe somewhere here, in a big blank space-time like the Tempelhofer Feld during the pandemic, we can find a way to acknowledge what happens – or what does not happen – as an event to be handed over to the future, so time can branch out into something new.
Lars Bang Larsen
reboot: responsivenessis the first cycle of reboot: – a collaborative, multi-cycle, anti-racist and queer-feminist dialogue encompassing performance and research based practices, jointly presented by Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne and Ludwig Forum für internationale Kunst, Aachen.
reboot: Conceived by Eva Birkenstock, Nikola Dietrich, and Viktor Neumann Core Collective: Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Gürsoy Doğtaş, Klara Lidén, Ewa Majewska, Rory Pilgrim, Cally Spooner, and Mariana Valencia Graphic design by Sean Yendrys
Further information under the following link. All previous events can be viewed in the archive. Upcoming dates will be announced via our calendar.
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A catalogue of the project Project Migration (2002 – 2006). It accompanies the exhibition of the same name, which took place from 30.09.2005 to 15.06.2006 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein and at two other locations. Numerous illustrations in colour and b/w, texts in German, English and other languages, 869 pages, published by DuMont Literatur und Kunstverlag Köln.
Authors: Ulrich Beck, Diedrich Diederichsen, Helmut Dietrich, Murat Güngör, Tom Holert, Regina Römhild, Saskia Sassen and many others. Publisher: Kölnischer Kunstverein; DOMIT, Documentation Centre and Museum on Migration in Germany; Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at the University of Frankfurt/Main; Institute for Theory of Design and Art; HGK Zurich