Adel Abdessemed: Le Vase Abominable at the David Zwirner Gallery
Adel Abdessemed is not afraid to court controversy with his art. In his most recent show, Le Vase Abominable, the Algerian-born artist stays true to form, juxtaposing the fetish with the violent protest. However, it would be wrong to dismiss Abdessemed as purely an artist out to shock. As this exhibition shows, he is also a master of symbolism and provocation.
On entering the exhibition we are confronted by a giant, seemingly homemade bomb, complete with a digital display that menacingly counts down the seconds. Mounted on top is a copper pot two metres tall, the meaning of which we are left to guess at. Upstairs the juxtaposition of beauty and menace continues. Flanked by charcoal drawings of armed soldiers stands the fragile figure of a naked girl, running with arms outstretched.
The image seems to directly reference the iconic photograph from the Vietnam War of the young girl fleeing a napalm attack. She is so finely and meticulously sculptured that even the back teeth in her open mouth can be clearly seen. The delicacy of the classically white sculpture and choice of mammoth ivory for its construction makes the piece both valuable and desirable, a point that sits in absurd contrast with what it portrays. Abdessemed has turned us into voyeurs.
In the adjacent room, an animation entitled State flashes repetitively drawn mazes on all four walls rendered in a brown substance. The exhibition’s description references the Republican prison protests at HM Prison Maze in Northern Ireland during the late 1970s where the inmates used their own excrement to smear the walls in what became known as the “dirty protests.” It is not made clear, but we are left wondering whether Adel Abdessemed has also used excrement to create his animation.
In this exhibition Adel Abdessemed brings together themes of violence, terrorism and protest and juxtaposes them against rare and fragile materials. He forms a dichotomy that shocks and forces the viewer to take the position of voyeur and fetishist.
Abdessemed’s exhibition seems all the more poignant at a time when riots, protests and terrorism are filling the news. Referencing events from the 1970s it seems he is showing us that history is indeed repeating itself.
Adel Abdessemed: Le Vase Abominable is on at the David Zwirner Gallery until 30th March 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.