Nottingham Contemporary Gallery

As the mini-catalogue states in the introduction the exhibition ‘explores sound, music and listening’……’ ‘in places cross the Arab world’.

I found the exhibition interesting and , thought provoking and worthwhile. I have two problems with the exhibition , one problem with it is the implication that some how this exhibition is a comprehensive survey and the second is ( as ever) the video works.

A large proportion of the artists have connections to Beirut, and many are now based in Europe or the USA. There are two issues here. The Arab Word is not homogeneous, in culture, geography or experience. We can not make assumptions about other artistic parts of the Arab word from the products of one area.

Artists who reside outside of their home culture have a different view, possibly a more balanced view, of their originating culture than an artist who is singularly immersed in that culture. Their view has to be influenced by the norms and culture of the area where they reside.

A number of the works in this exhibition involved video works. I find video works particularly difficult to appreciate , for me they often seem to be badly made snippets of movies, or documentaries that lack form and shape to their story.

It is some weeks since my visit to this exhibition and four pieces stick in my mind.

EARSHOT by Lawrence Abu Hamden is an installation piece. In a darkened room hang clear panels the size of a standing human. Each panel is printed with a spectrogram produced from the sound of a bullet shot. A smal video is subtly inserted into the work that tells the story of the shots that the work analyses. The piece is visually impressive without any knowledge of the story that lead to its production and even more so once the story is known.

In Jumana Manna’s video , A MAGICAL SUBSTANCE FLOWS INTO ME, she follows in the footsteps of musicologist Robert Lachmann, visiting and recording the music of minority communities in Israel and Palestine. This piece is beautifully filmed and very slowly paced. Each image, each conversation, each musical ‘performance’ is given full attention. The effect is mesmeric and fascinating. This video piece has all hallmarks of a documentary but it is so much more.

A more obviously documentary piece THIS LEMON TASTE OF APPLE, by Hiwa K, is involving in a different way. A film of a protest , shot at eye level , appears to be the raw unedited footage. The length of this piece and the unwavering angle, drags the viewer into the protest and becomes more involving than brief glimpses we see in news footage.

Mounira Al Solh shows work that arises from her interactions with refugee and immigrant communities. “ ….for each person she creates specific patterns , which she co-embroiders with women refugees….”. These small embroideries are simple in design and execution. As textile works they fail to satisfy. Technically they seem to have no relationship to the rich decorative embroidery tradition of the participants, presenting what seemed to me to me patronising and superficial images. Having checked out her web presence I may be doing her a disservice, the best I can say is that this work shown here is a poor selection from her oeuvre.

Despite my problems with parts of this exhibition, a worthwhile experience.


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