Sunday, December 10, 2017

Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige in Prix Marcel Duchamp @ Pompidou Centre

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Palimpsests, 2017
The good news about the selection process for the Prix Marcel Duchamp is that there’s very little to argue about with the choice for winner. But this is also the bad news because of the four 2017 finalists (now on display at the Centre Pompidou), as is often the case, the winner’s work is above and beyond the conceptual and artistic merit of the others. This year, there’s no question that Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige’s installation is the worthy winner of the prize. The other three entries are, however, disappointing. Maja Bajivec, Charlotte Moth and Vittorio Santo’s work doesn’t have the complexity and challenge that we might expect from the leading contemporary artists working in France today.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Palimpsests, 2017
Hadjithomas and Joreige present a series of pieces representing the process of what is known as “coring”: when a machine pulls out (in the shape of an apple core) the sediments that lay beneath construction sites in Athens, Beirut and Paris. The result is a fascinating collection of film, installation and sketches. The stones unearthed from beneath the three cities in which they live are suspended in resin tubes and hung from the ceiling of the exhibition space. They were very beautiful, some of them even had these silver faces that made them look like gem stones. It was striking to note also how what exists beneath these cities with extremely different histories, politics, cultures, values, symbolic significance and vastly different situations on the world stage are almost identical when reduced to rocks suspended in resin.
Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige
Installation View
The rocks are supposedly remainders of buried cities, the subterranean world that exist beneath each of the three cities. Thus, in the tubes we see a physical manifestation of the past, the excavation of what has otherwise been forgotten and “erased” in the name of progress. The text accompanying the exhibit claims it represents a digging into the past in order to explore the present. However, to me, the works do more than that: they show traces of the unknown, ignored worlds that have been covered over by the sameness of progress. In addition, the extra-large vials preserve the past: they store traces of worlds that cannot be seen in the anticipation of a future generation. Maybe someone in the future, archaeologists will be able to decipher geological finds. It’s also quite easy to imagine the tragedies and other human stories that might be fosilized in the stones, but that are not yet legible. No doubt the new technologies of the future will enable legibility.

A film that accompanies the hanging tubes represents the difference between the cities rebuilt, that is, what is laid over the top of the ruins and underground cities: they are whole new worlds that have little concern for the past. Around the edges of the gallery we see excavation and geological drawings and photographs, together with narratives about the cities, the processes of building, coring, erasing and exposing the past as it has been surreptitiously wiped away. The artists’ giving of a story to these events is so speculative that it becomes abstract, almost like poetry. 

Images courtesy of Centre Pompidou

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