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March 2010, Mounir Fatmi @ Galerie Hussenot


Mounir Fatmi,
Les Assassins, 2010
Installation View; Courstesy of the artist and Galerie Hussenot

Mounir Fatmi: Seeing is Believing
Galerie Hussenot
5 bis, rue Haudriettes
75003 Paris
16 January - 20 February, 2010

The Armory Show
Galerie Hussenot
Pier 94, booth 1411
New York, NY
4 March - 7 March, 2010


Mounir Fatmi's Seeing is believing opened on January 16th at the Galerie Hussenot in Paris. This exhibition is Fatmi's first show with the gallery, and his first Paris solo show in nearly two years. Seeing is believing continues Fatmi's exploration of the connectivity between large social structures such as architecture, religion, politics and art history and the minute relationships found in everyday existence. This is perhaps most evident in a series of prints that line the wall with statements reading, "Minimalism is Capitalist," or "Futurism is Fascist." They are semi-comical, but at the same time imply alternative readings of classic art historical movements. Russian Constructivist Malevich’s iconic Black Square, for example, is referenced in a large square set high up on the wall built from black VHS cassettes, and also in a video piece in which the censored text of FBI interviews with Black Panthers flashes onto the screen, here reduced to essential forms of black (markings of censored text) and white background.

VHS tapes are a recurring medium for the artist. The installation Ghosting, most recently seen at the Lyon Biennial, consists of a huge wall covered in tapes, their film pulled out along the floor and covering several photocopy machines with which viewers were encouraged make copies of the extracted celluloid. The resulting images range from near-black abstractions to weird reflections and transparencies, spectral imagery from both the exhibition and the empty stretches of film. A large, glossy photograph titled, “Noir sur Noir” (Black on Black), depicting the bands of tape streaming outwards is on view at Hussenot. The image is close-up and tightly cropped, giving the impression of a stack of hanging seaweed. It conveys a feeling of claustrophobia - if we entered into it, we’d be lost in a maze of never-ending images.

In a new piece, Les Assassins, roughly 80 hookahs are placed in the center of the room, their coils for smoking laid out offering viewers a puff. The title comes from the etymology of the word assassin, believed by many to come from the word hasish or Haschichiyoun, the name of people who smoked Hashish - frequently with hookahs. This translation of the name was made popular in the West during the time of Marco Polo, although other readings exist, including a link to the term 'Assassiyoun', or those loyal to Assas - the foundation of law. Whatever may be the case, the work is both beautiful and haunting. Even more so because it is purposely placed in view of a photograph from Fatmi's latest (still in-progress) project, Sleep, a spin on Andy Warhol's film of John Giorno sleeping for 6 hours, that shows author Salman Rushdie, famous for once having a fatwa against him, in vulnerable repose.


Mounir Fatmi, Cut, 2010
Installation View; Courstesy of the artist and Galerie Hussenot


In all of Fatmi's artwork and installations we are at first attracted by the graphic, aesthetic quality, but are soon drawn into a deeper understanding of his intentions and the subversive nature of the work, which always presents various layers of interpretation. On the second floor of the gallery is a series of five waist-high pedestals, each with Plexiglas cases that cover metal-band saw blades embedded upright, several inches deep, as if caught in action. The piece is called, simply, Cut. Various lines, either from the Prophet about beauty, or from the Koran about war and the law, are painted on the blades in Arab calligraphy. The pedestals and cases are of museum quality, the type usually guarding some ancient artifact or delicate object, but here we see a utilitarian object - a machine tool that can also be a dangerous weapon. Spaced alternately, the visual effect of these blades stopped in motion is arresting. We imagine them in movement, with the calligraphy spinning, spewing its lines out like some ancient torture machine. But at the same time we can look at this piece as a thing of beauty. The black calligraphy gleams from the shiny metal surface like a contemporary jewel or 21st century icon of the machine age.

Fatmi has an uncanny ability to transform the simplest of everyday objects into something completely different. A suite of five photographs from the series, Casse-tete pour un musulman modéré (Brain teaser for a moderate Muslim), shows a Rubik’s cube painted black with a thin band of white along the side, a reference to the Ka’ba in Mecca. In each photograph the cube has been manipulated so that the white line is no longer straight but zigzags around the square. It’s sacrilegious to play with the image of the Ka’ba, but this work is more than an attempt to anger Muslim conservatives - it’s about the subversion of imagery. Here, the cube reflects a religious symbol but also, in certain turns, looks like a minimal design object, and suggests the idea that religion or belief, should be in the hands of the people, not controlled by unknown others.

Throughout this exhibition, Mounir Fatmi wants us to question what we see and the systems of power that surround us, whether religion, politics, or the media. Seeing is Believing, demonstrates that in fact believing requires more than just what we see.


Mounir Fatmi, Seeing is believing, 2010
Installation View; Courstesy of the artist and Galerie Hussenot

 

Mounir Fatmi, Seeing is believing, 2010
Installation View; Courstesy of the artist and Galerie Hussenot

Blaire Dessent

Blaire Dessent was born in La Jolla, California and settled in Paris in 2008 after ten years in New York City where she worked in contemporary art. She was formerly the Director for the Art Omi International Artists’ Residency, a non-profit arts organization based in Columbia County, New York. Her current project is The Vitrine, www.thevitrine.com, a creative platform for talented makers and thoughtfully designed objects. She holds a Masters in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

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