Monday, 12 November 2012

The Unexpected Guest: Liverpool Biennial - Mona Hatoum and Nadia Kaabi-Linke

Nadia Kaabi-Linke
Two channel HD video installation 

I went back to Liverpool in the week to explore the parts of the Biennial I missed on my first visit, top of my list was the Cunard Building partly because I knew Mona Hatoum had work in there, the theme of the biennial is 'hospitality' and the title of the exhibition the 'Unexpected Guest'; migration, immigration and globalization were prominent themes within the work on show.

Hatoum's work was as usual beautifully understated, aesthetically simplistic, yet packed a powerful punch. 'Present Tense' consists of vast rows of soap with tiny glass beads embedded in them, the beads mapping out territories which were meant to be returned to Palestinian control under the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, acting as a visual impurity in the pure cleansing soap, symbolizing the new borders enforced on the Palestinian people. The soap, then in turn acts as a metaphor for the transient nature of borders and land-control, as it dissolves and breaks down over time.

Mona Hatoum 
'Present Tense' 
soap and glass beads

Nadia Kaabi-Linke
Metal spikes and found bench

Nadia Kaabi-Linke's work also caught my eye during my visit to the beautiful Cunard Building. Her metal spiked park bench is reminiscent of Hatoum's work, fusing comfort and discomfort together with familiar objects. Throughout my time spent observing the bench I had to fight the overriding urge to sit down! 
The spikes are traditionally used to discourage birds [usually pigeons] from settling/roosting, and of course park benches are places upon which roosting in humans is encouraged, combining the two raises very interesting issues - I only actually considered the human's standpoint initially - its a conflict of freedom and control, and the issues this raises, especially within cities and other urban environments were both objects are common sights. Freedom is considered a promised right, and leisure and down-time an end goal for many daily tasks [with vast chunks of society living for the weekend] yet unfortunately that's not always the case as daily life takes over and dictates our schedule - the fine spikes and harsh lighting mean the danger and repression of the piece is unclear until you approach it, you at first consider it an inviting chance to rest yet as you get closer you see the unwelcoming rows of hard metal spikes.

The use of bird spikes is also interesting when you consider the artists heritage, as she states on her website:

"In the Tunisian─and in the Arab imagery in general─doves are considered as a symbol for freedom and peace. For this reason the anti-roosting-appliance appeared strange to my eyes after I saw it for the first time when I came to Europe. Western democratic countries claim for human-rights and freedom to secure peace but they seem to neglect this natural right for urban doves, although the dove was already mentioned in the Old Testament where Noah released it to discover land after the Great Flood (Book of Genesis 8;11). It seemed to me unscrupulous to invent a tool that dictates pigeons or “peace doves” where to sit and to shit to stop and where not."

Kaabi-Linke's second piece 'No' was also incredibly provocative, consisting of two facing video projections: a crowd of people stood united opposite a lone voice [represented by a mouth]. The piece dealt with the rigorous visa application process facing those wishing to enter the UK, with a floating mouthpiece asking endless questions and the crowd replying with a unanimous 'NO', at first glance the piece seemed also comical and satirical, but there is a strong undercurrent of prejudice, persecution and inquisition, at times it felt very much like a witch-trail or the Holy Inquisition, there is a frightening feeling of the mass of people - who in numbers are great and powerful, being at the mercy of a single faceless bureaucratic voice.

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