Performa 11 Hub. Photo by Bradley Jones.
Performa 11 Hub. Photo by Bradley Jones.
December 8th, 2011 · Barrak Alzaid

Anti-Artist talks curated by ArteEast

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In the series Anti-Artist Talks curated by ArteEast for Performa, I invited artists to explore a theme tangential to their own work in an attempt to dismantle the predominance and formulaic structure of the conventional artist talk.

Set in a classroom of the Performa Hub, each performance-lecture relied on the immediacy of the audience, and our presence in a space of learning to reflect on the relationship between art and pedagogy. How can art be taught, and subsequently, how does art teach?

In Going Over, an illustrated meditation on the global marketing of masculinity through hair, hair products and signature hairstyles, Fatima Al Qadiri and Khalid Al Gharaballi focus on the microcosm of Kuwait and the 'exiting of trends' by Kuwati youth. Commissioned by DIS magazine and Bidoun Projects, and originally presented at Art Dubai in 2011, the performance acquires a very different valence outside a traditional art fair. Set within the classroom of a performance biennial, we are privy to an ethnographic survey of masculinity and the linear format, introduced by Al Qadiri’s punitive presence as a Kuwaiti public school marm, who opens with a recitation of a hadeeth by prophet Muhammed on personal care and hygiene. This rigid structure is further compounded by Al Gharaballi’s careful and report-like reading of their analysis of hair culture in Kuwait.

Abbas Akhavan’s Phantom Head unhinges this top-down educational paradigm, and implicates the body as a crucial component in storytelling. By turns alienating and inviting, Abbas Akhavan weaves a deeply personal story, as he meticulously lays gold leaf over a square. As Akhavan relays Saddam Hussein’s incarceration and execution against his family’s history, he starts to lick the gold leaf off the wall, leaving behind a square onto which an abject projection of an inverted organ remains. This careful sequence collapses the space between “the rectum and the head, the enemy with the parent, the mad and the genius... and so on.”

Youmna Chlala’s X cannot exist without Y by contrast extends the pedagogical model beyond the classroom. After a brief introduction, Chlala asked the class to leave behind an object dear to them, and excused them from the classroom. The audience circled the Performa Hub and encountered a screen that projected a live feed of the interior of the classroom space. In this moment, we were rendered witnesses to a silent interview between artist and participant. As each person made her way back into the class and to reclaim her object, the audience outside viewed a projection of the interview that showed only facial expressions and gestures, without sound or language. Uncoupled from our dear objects, we negotiated their value with Chlala and returned to the classroom. As a denouement, Chlala raised the stakes to yet another level as she recounted two stories of embodied and material sacrifice during intense conflict; a meaningful critique of our own efforts to negotiate our possessions and reclaim them for our quotidian existence.

The value of staging these works as performance–lectures lies within the interpretive work that audience members do when they are hailed by live art. Within each performance-lecture, the artist demands the audience renegotiate their relationship to the artist as the source and producer of knowledge.

Barrak Alzaid is the Artistic Director of ArteEast.

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