Are remnants – residue, waste, the forgotten – consequences of socio-political power plays, or part of a collective movement of ‘ignorance equals bliss’? Remnants, currently showing at Green Art Gallery, tackles an issue that has long plagued curator Sara Alonso Gómez’s mind. “It departs from the idea of waste we’ve produced through modernity and goes beyond the classical idea of accumulation of objects,” she explains. Honing in on the human position and condition, Remnants strives to redefine the term’s meaning today. “We are facing many moments of discrimination – an idea, or a person, could be a remnant,” continues Gómez. “What we are looking at is not waste, but how we filter ideas and place humans at the edge of this global contemporary problematic.”
Universality is central to understanding the eight artists on show. Despite a Cuban edge – five compared to three Middle Eastern artists – Remnants proves geographical categorisation to be outdated and reductionist. The exhibition reveals parallels between Cuban artists and those working in Damascus, Istanbul or Tehran, and how their artworks address contemporary life. “The work resonates very acutely with what’s happening in our part of the world, both on a social and aesthetic level,” shares gallery director Yasmin Atassi. “We are interested in cross-pollination – bringing artists from diverse parts of the world that normally would not come together, especially not in the region. Country specifics are only interesting for us in as much as they make sense in joining together the artists that are sensitive to such approaches.”
Gómez echoes this, noting that the last decade has seen many false approaches by ways of territories, which she asserts are closed and detrimental to creativity. “I try to distance myself from bringing art into an ivory tower – it leads to misunderstanding contexts,” she says. But as much as Remnants steps away from national identity, it is inevitably binding, if only for the fact that Latin American and Middle Eastern artist production is stereotyped by the rest of the world through a lens of “otherness”.
The artists display unique approaches but share commonalities nurtured by their backgrounds. Further connected by conceptual frameworks, a mood of concern and a minimalist aesthetic, the artists on show produce an overall sobering tone. The works embody a poetic cohesiveness that creates a political dialogue that sidesteps cliché and appeals to a more delicate, if latent, element: human awareness.
Remnants, which runs until October 26, addresses an urgent need for redefinition, but it also reinforces the complexity of ‘awareness’: nuanced circumstances cloud clear-cut understandings of active acknowledgement versus being forced to forget and overlook. It reflects as heavily on those enforcing a status quo as those accepting it. Ghaith Mofeed’s Citizen of my world sees the artist cut and re-stitch a map that places his home country of Syria at the centre of it, uncomfortably highlighting in green the few countries that would welcome him following fleeing the war on foot.
Iranian Nazgol Ansarinia builds on the blind eye turned towards exclusion and displacement – Mattress from her Mendings series depicts externalised interior trauma through an unsettlingly “wounded” pink mattress. Similarly abstract, Cuban Elizabet Cerviño’s Sigh in a niche, made in situ, repurposes paraffin into fragile, life-scale monochromatic blocks. “They are alive, they move, they breathe,” says Gómez. “These totems reactivate the candle remains by bringing them back to the proportions of a human.” Meanwhile, Cuban Jenny Feal’s The Weight that counts likewise reignites ‘nothingness’ into identifiable form by covering a functional, barely audible found clock in mud that slowly cracks off to expose a disturbing tension between weight and time.
Cuban Yornel Martínez’s Atlas – painting rags repurposed into a book-object – adds a lighter dimension to the weighty subject, but it is the larger works by Turkish Fatma Bucak and Cuban Reynier Leyva Novo and Wilfredo Prieto that are most profound. Prieto’s site-specific Anti-pigeon lines, anti-personnel lines offers insight into the arbitrary and damaging effect of exclusion incurred by barbed wire. “It is very present, very oppressive, creating a danger zone that people cannot cross, creating a remainder for those who are outside or beyond the borders,” remarks Gómez. “It looks like a drawing on the space, very subtle, very elegant, but very dangerous, speaking to this experience we have in life of combined situations of beauty and destruction.”
Breaking down materials to create new forms is further achieved by Bucak’s Scouring the Press: a video depicting three women – poignant for the female role in Turkish society as well as Bucak’s interest in conditions of repression, migration and violence in minority populations – washing Turkish newspapers of their text. “She is searching for how we write history and how to rethink rewriting it so that the remainders become active parts of it again,” adds Gómez.
However, it is Novo’s series of archival photographs of Mao, Castro and Franco paired with the same images blown-up with the dictators removed that underline the intricate push-and-pull of Remnants. “It creates a different temporality, almost atemporal or in transition, because we don’t know if the person has just left or is still coming,” explains Gómez. “It’s perturbing. We don’t know what we, or they, are looking at and waiting for. The situation becomes banal, compared to the historical significance of the original photos, and raises questions on how to read histories.” Underscoring the true trace of most situations – those who are overlooked and passively subjected to imposed narratives – Gómez highlights how the remnants are not who or what is omitted from the photos, rather, the participants within them.
(Reynier Leyva Novo. A Happy Day MT II No. 7. 2016. Ultrachrome imprint, Baryta paper 300 g. 58 x 109 cm and 10 x 18 cm. Edition 1 of 3 + 2 A/P. Courtesy of the artist, El Apartamento, Havana and Green Art Gallery, Dubai)
The disquieting works indicate the legions of ideas, objects and people that fall between the cracks, placing blame on power play interpretations and subjective recollections of history and classification. But in an age of inescapable awareness – a symptom of modernity – it begs the question of whether remnants are less a consequence of cognizance and more the blind eye turned to it.
The intricate circumstances surrounding exclusion and omission are rife with varying degrees of force and choice, and the artists are left to act as archeologists for the discarded ‘what ifs’ and ‘could bes’. The viewer? Oscillating between questioning if the works suggest it is too late, or if there is one more layer, a hidden remnant, in the wash of artworks that outline the trauma of discarded thoughts, people and objects: the hopeful proposition that perhaps one day, these remains won’t be remains at all.
Remnants runs at Green Art Gallery until October 26, 2018