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Art as Cultural Diplomacy events, Europe, Galeries and Museums, Middle East

Structural Violence – When Art meets Politics at Art Laboratory Berlin

by Letizia Binda-Partensky (ICD News Program Director)

During the June Academy Session, the ICD gathered with artist Christian de Lutz at Arts Laboratory Berlin to speak with visual artist, curator and co-founder Christian de Lutz. Artists in Dialog: My Dreams Have Destroyed My Life. Some Thoughts on Pain, held from April 29th to June 26th, brings together the neon sculptures, photographs, texts and videos of Al Fadhil and Aissa Deebi. Looking beyond the boundaries of image, language and description, the Palestinian-American and Iraqi-Swiss artists connect arts and politics by sharing the grief surrounding the loss of a brother to national unrest.  Christian de Lutz brings us more insight on the interaction between these two fields.

Art Laboratory Berlin bridges the academic and artistic fields. How has contemporary art moved from the ‘arts for arts’ sake’ towards multidisciplinarity?

We have moved away from conceptual art of the sixties. There remains a lag between art and its reception, but contemporary art practices are now more accessible to a public exposed to a much more connected world. Therefore, we invite the public to further delve into the content of the shows through discussions with artists, anthropologists and curators, film screenings and workshops. For instance, we have covered questions linked to the environment, for example the complex  difference between nature in Berlin and the countryside or  the relationship immigrant and local communities.

The connection between arts and politics is intrinsic to Al Fadhil’s life, and hence to his work. A large scale photograph displayed at the exhibition depicts the encounter of Al Fadhil’s father and one of his sons. They were granted an audience with Saddam Hussein as father and brother of a “martyr” of the Iran-Iraq war. Several years after the US invasion, another of Al Fadhil’s brothers died in a bus blown up by a suicide bomber.  The exhibition title comes from an email exchange between Fadhil and his brother several years earlier.

Fadhil expresses the connection between arts and politics through works transcending biographical boundaries. He had for instance suggested a pavilion based on an oil tanker in the Venice Laguna as the Iraqi pavilion of the Biennale, but the idea was rejected by the Biennale’s director Rob Storr.

How do Al Fadhil and Aissa Deebi experiences go beyond personal experience, into cultural aspects of mourning?

Aissa Debbi, currently professor at the American University of Cairo, is Palestinian and lived in New York City. His younger brother Nasim died in Israeli police custody in 1999. Fadhil comes from a Shiite Iraqi family, while Deebi is Greek Orthodox. After deciding against several possible options Deebi re-enacts his memory of the past by taking the viewer through a path him and his brother used to travel when skipping school, and travelling over a moarge hill to the beach close to their hometown, north of Haifa, near the Israel-Lebanon border.

How do new technologies challenge our perception of reality?

The way different cultures utilize new technologies of the Eighties and Nineties allow us to better understand them. For instance, through internet based micro-funding in Africa have helped poor residents in Nairobi to purchase scooters, which, are then used by the locals as taxis, or the use of mobile phones for micro-banking and money transferring in the third world. Amongst other examples, WikiLeaks, facebook and twitter show the impact new technologies can have on authoritarian states.

Going back to artistic practices, Aissa Debbi’s choice of lenticular photography in itself allows for a changing perception of reality. The image can be viewed differently according to our position relation to it, shifting attention onto the public’s agency in the surrounding space. Deebi came upon the technique while walking the streets of Cairo, where he now lives and teaches. Its seems to be in fashion there for wedding photography, but he uses it in a very different and innovative format.

Both artists, living in exile, have a very innovative approach towards using found or archived materials and media, something I find very symptomatic of the exile’ situation. As Vilem Flusser put it, the exiled must be creative to survive, and a great part of this creativity is transforming the data at hand.

Arts Laboratory Berlin website: http://www.artlaboratory-berlin.org/

On the Iraq Pavilion: http://www.iraqpavilion.com/


One thought on “Structural Violence – When Art meets Politics at Art Laboratory Berlin

  1. I am writing a thesis with the hope that it will be applied to better the world we live in. This thesis is on Public Trust in the Media, WikiLeaks, and the Government and need to know what your opinions are. The online survey is anonymous, multiple choice and will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Please follow the link: http://www.kwiksurveys.com/?s=​ILLLML_9669e09d. Would be great if you would encourage others to do the survey also.

    Posted by mediatriage | July 27, 2011, 9:50 am

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