Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (2018)
Statues also die
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (2018)
Statues also die (Anche le statue muoiono)
Conflict and heritage from the ancient world to the modern day
Organized by Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in collaboration with the Egyptian Museum and Musei Reali of Turin.
The exhibition has been curated by Irene Calderoni, Paolo Del Vesco, Stefano de Martino, Christian Greco, Carlo Lippolis, Enrica Pagella, Elisa Panero and Gabriella Pantò.
The exhibition, which will be spread over three different venues – Museo Egizio, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and Musei Reali – has borrowed its title from a documentary made in 1953 by the French film director Alain Resnais (Les Statues Meurent Aussi) and uses a detail from a black and white photograph by Mimmo Jodice (taken from his Anamnesi) as its visual symbol, which features the face of a stone statue that has fallen victim to time and history. The scientific project – developed by curators Irene Calderoni, Stefano de Martino, Paolo Del Vesco, Christian Greco, Enrica Pagella and Elisa Panero – focuses on three main themes. The theme of destruction and plundering diachronically analyses the reasons that have led people to destroy artistic and archaeological heritage in an attempt to falsify the identity of others and to disperse and annihilate the collective memory of communities. The second theme is the power of images, which are never merely visual signs but rather the vessels of an infinite number of meanings and, often, instruments of power. The third and final theme is the role of museums: considered to be institutions whose purpose lies halfway between the principle of conservation/protection and appropriating activities, both ‘predators’ of heritage and custodians of artefacts that are otherwise exposed to the risk of destruction and oblivion. Symbols of Europe’s colonial past, museums today are asked to review and reconstruct their role as narrators of culture, shedding light on the biographical background of the objects they put on display.
The exhibition demands that we consider the following questions as a matter of urgency: What role does artistic/historical heritage play within the process of constructing the cultural identity of a community? What are the repercussions of such widespread destruction on our sense of belonging, on the concept of tradition and communion, on the possibility of considering ourselves as individuals within a group? On what bases can we build a future if the traces of our past have been systematically obliterated? How can we formulate a concept of compensation, of reconciliation?
The exhibition attempts to answer these questions by allowing ancient artefacts to interact with the works of contemporary artists, many of whom come from countries where war has put heritage at risk, and sometimes destroyed it, such as Iraq, Iran and Syria. With Statues Also Die, Museo Egizio has opened up to contemporary art for the first time in its history, displaying the exhibition in its room dedicated to Khaled al-Asaad, who was barbarously murdered by IS forces whilst attempting to defend the archaeological site of Palmyra, of which he had been the director for over 30 years. Nine contemporary artists conduct a dialogue through their works – installations, videos and photographs – with thousand-year-old artefacts. The exhibition begins with a striking collection of gazes: those of the nine faces photographed by Mimmo Jodice and the broken countenances of the governors of Qaw el-Kebir (1900–1850 BC).
The approach adopted at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo is to investigate the present, reflecting on the museum’s themes, on archaeology, colonialism, national identity and the relations between cultures. The exhibition revolves around Kader Attia’s 16 empty display cabinets with their shattered glass, inviting the viewer to reflect on the various different ways in which museum artefacts have been ill-treated. The same themes are tackled in different ways by the artists Mark Manders, Simon Wachsmuth and Lamia Joreige. Two artefacts hailing from Museo Egizio’s collections still bear the signs of the violence to which they were subjected in the distant past.
Under-Writing Beirut—Mathaf (2013)
Evoking the idea of a palimpsest, the multi-chaptered project Under-Writing Beirut, sheds light on layers of temporal deposits that are enmeshed in an open-ended process of absorption, erasure and reconfiguration. It looks at historically and personally significant locations within Beirut’s present, investigating their sociological, political and economic history. The project incorporates various layers of time and existence, creating links between the traces that record such places’ previous realities and the fictions that reinvent them.
Mathaf, the Arabic word for museum, is the first chapter and focuses on the area where I live in Beirut, known as Mathaf, home to the National Museum of Beirut, and located along what was once the Green Line, which divided east and west Beirut throughout the Lebanese Wars. During the wars, and despite preservation efforts made by the museum conservator to protect the collection (with concrete), the museum building was destroyed and part of its small yet impressive collection was severely damaged, looted, or lost.
Under-Writing Beirut—Mathaf responds to the impossibility I faced while attempting to access artefacts in the museum’s storage as well as its archives, and to the only objects made available from them—the damaged Good Shepherd mosaic and a photograph documenting it from the time of the wars, when a sniper made a hole in it to gain a strategic view onto the museum square. By re-enacting the sniper’s line of sight, the video 180 Degree Garden View puts us in a position to imagine what the sniper saw and whom he may have killed through the hole. Based on photographs and measurements of the sniper hole, Object of War, on the other hand, is the negative of that hole, cast as a concrete sculpture. Its initial impetus rests on the practice of the imprint as a trace of contact with a body or void.
Objects from the National Museum of Beirut is partly inspired by the inaccessibility of the museum’s stored collection. It dwells by default on the only part of it that is visible, the entirety of the display on December 15, 2012. By reproducing every caption identifying the objects on show, the work ironically and vainly attempts to represent the museum’s holdings in one image, uncovering the politics of historiography and questioning the museum as a foundation for national identity. The leather-bound book Objects Missing from the National Museum of Beirut emphasizes the secrecy surrounding objects that vanished from the museum and suggests an archive that may or may not have existed.
Haunted by an unresolved past, Views of Museum Square (shot from my window) and Museum Crossing suggest how the museum site, meant to represent national union, became a symbol of the country’s division and the backdrop for sectarian violence.