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"What We Saw Upon Awakening"
, 2006
16 mm film transferred onto DVD, colour, sound, 6:53

In collaboration with 49 NORD 6 EST FRAC LORRAINE, France

06.05. - 19.06.2011


Curated by Malin Barth

Afghan artist Lida Abdul presents a consistent critique of architecture and the built environment in a body of video, film and performance works that span the last decade. Through her examination of the role of monuments and ruins in contemporary culture, Abdul provides a counter-narrative to dominant preoccupations in the politics and meaning of the built environment. Returning to Afghanistan recently after years spent in the United States and Europe (and as a refugee with no passport), Abdul’s itinerant past and present inform her perceptions of home and place.

Like some of her previous works, the video What we saw upon awakening (2006), produced by Fonds regional d’art contemporain de Lorraine, is strikingly silent. Abdul’s selective and careful use of audio creates a sense of cinematic minimalism. Beyond a minimalism in the formal sense, it is clear that Abdul’s use of silence is a deliberate conceptual strategy, an allusion to the implications and politics of speechlessness, homelessness and dispos-session.

What We Saw Upon Awakening presents a scene of perhaps a dozen young men clad in black pulling on the remains of a bombed-out structure in Kabul, the ruin a legacy of decades of war in the region. Ropes are fastened to the ruin at various points, and the men strain to pull them as if to tear down what remains of the building. The ropes create a complex and resonant image. They literally form a web, with associations of entanglement, and create a similarly biomorphic form like an octopus. Entangled in this web are memories of ruin, collapse, and history.

[Abdul] work consistently in film and video, looking at the built environment as a means to reflect on human existence. There is also a performative aspect to [her] works which questions the traditional, foundational and autonomous object. Architecture becomes a process, rather than an object, which is a sustained implication of Abdul’s work. The burying of the stone in What we saw upon awakening (in a scene we can see men placing a rock in a hole and burying it in the ground), is the burying of the static object of architecture and value in western culture. It is not a rejection of space or buildings in a simple oppositional sense; rather it connects Abdul’s work to a contemporary reading of significant “anti-architec-tural” works.

Like Abdul’s previous video works - such as White House (2005), or Untitled (Tree) (2005) - What We Saw Upon Awakening also reflects on the representation of ruin or the subsequent significance and fate of sites of catastrophe, death and memorial. The video has an ambiguous and poetic sensibility; it is not certain exactly what the goal of the men’s labours is. The images appear as if in a dream, both believable and yet unbelievable. The “pulling” could also read visually as shoring up, or maintaining a structure that is perilously destined to collapse with very little or no human intervention. It is the shell of a former structure, already half disappeared. Could these figures actually be holding up the building, against all odds? The ambiguity of their actions allows viewers to project their own meaning and understanding upon the work.

Further, in What We Saw Upon Awakening, there is this scene where the men have dug a hole in the ground. They place a rock in the hole and bury it. In Islam the body is buried directly into the earth, and this association underscores the memorial nature of the piece. As both a memory and commemoration, the stone signifies more than its literal singularity. While the stone buried naked has Islamic meaning, Abdul’s work references western cultures as well. A stone has an iconic status in western architectural culture, which Abdul sustains her critique of in these new works.

by Anthony Kiendl

As an artist who works both in performance and video art, Lida Abdul creates poetic spaces that allow the viewer to interrogate the familiar and the personal.  Her work is guided by a ritualized formalism that insinuates the immediacy of myth and the playfulness of a mind seeking to understand the surrounding world. In many ways, witnessing her pieces is like attempting to understand the riddles of the gestures and the repetitions that highlight her work.  Abdul's work is located at the intersection between art and architecture; it invites the viewer to see the unfolding of new forms but never resolves the contradictions and the paradoxes, the purpose of which seems to be to make us doubt our claims of understanding.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1973, and resides there now. Abdul lived in Germany and India as a refugee after she was forced to leave Afghanistan after the former-Soviet invasion. Her work fuses the tropes of ‘Western” formalism with the numerous aesthetic traditions--Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan and nomadic--that collectively influenced Afghan art and culture. She has produced work in many media including video, film, photography, installation and live performance. Her most recent work has been featured at the Venice Biennale 2005, Istanbul Modern, Kunsthalle Vienna, Museum of Modern Art Arnhem, Netherlands and Miami Central, CAC Centre d'Art Contemporain de Bretigny, and Frac Lorraine Metz, France. She has also exhibited in festivals in Mexico, Spain, Germany, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan; She was also a featured artist at the Central Asian Biennial 2004. For the past few years, Abdul has been working in different parts of Afghanistan on projects exploring the relationship between architecture and identity.


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