Tag Archives: Etel Adnan

Garden of Memory

This Critics’ Pick of a show at the Musee Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh appeared on artforum.com:

View of “Garden of Memory,” 2018.

Weaving together poetry, sound, and sculpture, “Garden of Memory” styles itself as a conversation à trois between artists who are bound by friendship and love. Poet and painter Etel Adnan serves as the link among her longtime collaborators Robert Wilson and Simone Fattal, both of whom she met for the first time in the summer of 1972 in Beirut. Her poem Conversations with my soul (III), 2018—here read aloud by Wilson over speakers and heard by Fattal’s sculpted angels—folds into another dialogue, this time between the poet’s different selves.

Fitted with a gray carpet that dulls the sound of footsteps and, from the outset, solicits the sense of touch, the gallery feels like an anechoic chamber, one that invites visitors to turn inward. Wilson’s looped, nearly ten-minute reading is set to Michael Galasso’s string music and punctuated by silences that contribute to an overall mood of contemplation. Galasso’s wistful composition, written for Wilson’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1888 play The Lady from the Sea—which resonates with the marine imagery of Adnan’s verse—adds yet another layer to the polyphonic whole.

Visually, the show is dominated by Fattal’s sculptures. Inspired by the encyclopedic writings of the thirteenth-century Sufi mystic and philosopher Ibn Arabi and, in particular, by his discussion of angels in The Meccan Revelations, these works take many forms: hollow terra-cotta stelae inscribed with Arabi’s texts, displayed on plinths in sets of two and five; small and large humanoid figures resting on pillar-like legs; and a row of five glazed angels mounted on the circular wall diagonally, as if to convey their flight. Fattal considers the stuff of her sculptures—clay and mud—as living material, and thus a conversation partner in its own right.


Transformation Marathon

This piece appeared in the “Conference Room” section of LEAP magazine, in Chinese translation:

DATE: 2015.10.17-18

LOCATION: Serpentine Gallery and Serpentine Radio

PARTICIPANTS: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Saskia Sassen, Bruno Latour, Gilbert & George and Victoria, Tino Sehgal, Alice Rawsthorn, Eyal Weizman, Etel Adnan, Dorothea von Hantelmann, Juliet Jacques, Kim West, Judy Chicago, François Jullien, Marcus du Sautoy, Jimmie Durham, Gabriella Coleman, Julieta Aranda, and many others.

Now in its tenth year, the annual Serpentine Marathon at the close of Frieze Week has become a London institution. Initiated by Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2006, the inaugural 24-Hour Interview Marathon was co-curated with architect Rem Koolhaas; subsequent marathons explored topics as diverse as maps, manifestos, gardens, poetry, memory and, last year, extinction. The Transformation Marathon grew out of this last entrant, as a counterpoint to a loaded theme with a certain ring of finality to it.

“Transformation is change with no interruption,” Obrist made his own Etel Adnan’s claim in his opening speech. The Lebanese-American poet, who has been in six prior editions of the Serpentine Marathon, is an oracle Obrist consults in the run up to each new marathon. On the eve of the Transformation Marathon proper, she and two other marathon stalwarts, the artist duo Gilbert and George, took part in an hour-long Flash Marathon at the Google Cultural Institute, alongside Obrist and Juliet Jacques, author of Trans: A Memoir (2015), which, together with Paul B. Preciado’s 2008 Testo Junkie, originally published in Spanish, inspired the transgender strand of this year’s marathon.

“Trans” means to go through or beyond, outgoing Serpentine director Peyton-Jones reminded the audience in her inaugural address, adding that the chosen topic of transformation “touches everybody in spite of their race, color and creed.” Coming at the notion from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and interests, the 100-odd participants considered its social, political, biological, ecological and institutional ramifications. Among other things, the marathon’s anniversary edition addressed the transformation not only of museums and art institutions but of the marathon format itself.

As in previous years, the marathon availed itself of different presentation formats – from talks and conversations to screenings and sound performances – lasting about 15 minutes, and occasionally longer. The Transformation Marathon as a whole reverted to the original non-stop 24-hour format, scaling back somewhat from the last editions. Whereas the initial twelve hours happened live before an audience gathered in Zaha Hadid’s sinuous white Magazine at the Sackler Gallery, the remainder continued on air from midnight until noon the following day in a bid to explore the “transformative power of radio”.

“Bringing together all fields of knowledge but not in a continental and homogenizing way,” in the words of Obrist, the Serpentine marathons invoke Martinican writer Édouard Glissant’s “archipelago-thinking.” What follows are three islands selected by LEAP from the archipelago of ideas.


Poet and painter

 When you speak of transformation you have the beautiful combination or contrast of something permanent that is there, a substratum, and something that changes. There is a mountain north of San Francisco called Mount Tamalpais. The Indians called it the Sleeping Woman. When I became a painter, I started drawing it and I realized how much something that looked so stable was never the same. This was a great discovery that helped me understand painters like Giorgio Morandi, who painted the same ten bottles in his kitchen, or Paul Cézanne, who went everyday to Mont Sainte-Victoire. The area where I lived had phenomenal fogs in the summer that came like rivers, like in some old Chinese painting, and the mountain would be cut in two. You would see the tip and nothing else. When a cloud came under the sun you had shadows moving on the mountain, as if a guardian or some spirit was touching it and moving with it. Sometimes I had the feeling, when these shadows touched it, that it was like some people’s face. You speak to somebody and you say something that moves them and their physiognomy changes. This mountain became as close as a person. It was alive in a strange way. Still on paper or on canvas I try with colour to catch the different moods; the mountain is moody like people are moody. The transformation of the mountain transforms you.


Philosopher and sinologist

I call the “silent transformation” a transformation that takes place without noise and which we do not talk about. Why don’t we talk about it? Because it is global and continuous. It takes place discreetly. We cannot see ourselves getting old because everything within us gets old. Everything is a silent transformation. Ice melting or the falling out of love. I am a philosopher and I follow the Greeks, but I have also decided to look at China because that enables me to step back from our European culture and to consider it from an external point of view. The Greeks did not know how to think about transition, which is at the heart of transformation. Plato spoke about melting snow. Snow, while melting, is indistinct: it is neither water nor snow. It has no essence. Greeks and subsequent philosophies such as ours thought that transition is distinguishing what is indistinct. Chinese thought helps us to think about transition. In China, there are two concepts that refer to transition: modification and continuation. There are four seasons: two seasons which change and two seasons which continue. Winter to spring is a change, spring to summer is a continuation, then to autumn is a change and a continuation into winter. Transformation is an alteration rather a change. This alteration within continuation enables renewal.


Artist and feminist

By the end of the 1960s I began looking back at women’s history because I’d decided that I was tired of not being myself. At the time I don’t think I realized what a radical break I was about to make. In Pasadena Lifesavers, I was starting to try and infuse the minimal language and the colour systems I had developed with my own content and subject matter as a woman. I became incredibly interested in trying to fashion images of female sexual agency. The image of the flying phallus, active male sexuality, goes back to Greek times. There is no comparable history of female sexual agency. So imagine if you’re a female artist and you feel not only active as an artist, as a sexual being, as a person, actively wanting to participate in human history – you have to think and stand against the entire history of Western thought. Pasadena Leftovers was probably my first baby step in preparing myself to stand against the tradition of art history and of Western culture, to find my way and create a path for female sexual agency. When I decided to make this radical change in my work, I wanted a way to symbolize it. And I thought I’m going to announce with a name change that I’m taking control of my future, my identity, my art making.

Solaris Chronicles

 This piece appeared on artforum.com:

Left: LUMA Foundation founder Maja Hoffmann with architects Annabelle Selldorf and Frank Gehry. Right: At the “Solaris Chronicles” event. (All photos: Herve Hote)

THE TWENTY-ACRE PARC DES ATELIERS, a defunct SNCF railway yard on the outer edge of Arles, might only be a fifteen-minute walk from the train station. But as I stood in midday heat last Sunday, with no taxis in sight, Maja Hoffmann’s proposal to build a station closer to the Ateliers made perfect sense to me.

Not so to my French travel companions, who saw it as a sign of how out of touch with (local) reality the Swiss-born arts patron is. A new railway station is, after all, “an affair of national concern.” Though Hoffmann, who recently purchased the Ateliers to transform them into a Frank Gehry–designed research and exhibition center for her LUMA Foundation, might be more in touch than many, given that she spent her childhood in the French Provençal city.

Spurred on by the prospect of refreshments hosted by LUMA, editor Phoebe Greenwood and I briskly made our way to the Ateliers, past the amphitheater and other Roman vestiges, pausing to gape at the women who drifted past us as in a dream in full arlésienne garb, looking starched and crisp despite the heat. We arrived in time to sip Bloody Marys and juice in the shade of the Atelier des Forges, overlooking the fenced-off vacant plot where the foundation stone of Gehry’s shiny stainless steel-clad tower—the centerpiece of the arts complex due to be completed in 2018—was laid in April.

Lunch was served on a table that spanned the full length of the Atelier des Forges, the first of the former SNCF sheds to be renovated by New York–based architect Annabelle Selldorf. In a speech prefaced with a caveat about her German penchant for sentimentality, Selldorf explained how the Parc des Ateliers was “more or less a ruin” before the LUMA Foundation set about “sensitively” refurbishing it with her help.

John Baldessari‘s Laughing Man / Architecture / Angry Man, 1984.

Designed to house photographic exhibits, the building with its pristine white walls was ready for the opening of the forty-fifth edition of the acclaimed photography festival, the Rencontres d’Arles, and put at its disposal. But gifts are sometimes spurned, and the Rencontres d’Arles, somewhat perversely, would have none of it. Its director François Hebel resigned earlier this year in protest against what he views as Hoffmann’s ruthless takeover of the Parc des Ateliers, whose dilapidated halls have served the festival well over the years.

All the political wrangling may be little more than a bataille de quequettes (“battle of peckers”), as the fireworks maker Christophe Berthonneau next to whom I was seated curiously put it, but it’s hard not to think that LUMA Arles is, if not quite ousting, then upstaging the festival with Liam Gillick, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Philippe Parreno’s spectacular, changing “Solaris Chronicles,” a collaborative endeavor conceived as a Gesamtkuntswerk, whose second stage was precisely timed to coincide with the start of the Rencontres. Placed on the outside of the Atelier de la Mécanique, by the entrance to “Solaris Chronicles,” John Baldessari’s 1984 billboard Laughing Man / Architecture / Angry Man seemed apt.

By the time I reached the Atelier de la Mécanique, where the “Solaris Chronicles” event was about to begin, the cavernous hall—lit up by a single moving spotlight standing for the titular light-bearing planet—was filled with people, many of them from Arles. The most beguiling element of the show—the sharply outlined shadows of the building’s columns and of Gehry’s architectural models gliding over a white screen at the back of the room—was achieved by the simplest of means, reminiscent of early cinema and its experiments. Parreno’s strident, flickering marquees suspended above the models felt brash in comparison.

Deliberately low-key, the delicate indoor fireworks, orchestrated by Cai Guo-Qiang with the aid of Berthonneau and his Camargue-based Groupe F, who have been creating fireworks displays for some of the most high-profile events in the past two decades, were never going to be crowd-pleasers. Yet, judging by some of the bemused reactions (“Wait, we’ll get crushed by a maquette”), Tino Sehgal and Asad Raza’s choreography for Gehry’s signature architectural models (including one of the sprawling Facebook West Campus building in Menlo Park), which were shifted around on trolleys and threatening in their sheer bulk, had an awe-inspiring effect, compounded by Pierre Boulez’s atonal musical score.

Left: Kunsthaus Zürich curator and Parkett editor Bice Curiger. Right: Artists Tino Sehgal and Asad Raza.

The sun was no longer au rendez-vous when we emerged into broad daylight. Soon after the start of the afterparty at the Villa des Alyscamps, a former convent adjoining the Roman necropolis of the same name, it began to rain, forcing everyone to huddle together beneath an old tree, large enough to shelter us all. “People should always hold conversations under trees,” Obrist said, invoking Lebanese poet and artist Etel Adnan. Behind the villa, beneath another tree, the LUMA “core group” and its extended family of artists, art-world luminaries, and Ping-Pong aficionados were discussing the foundation’s weighty matters as the party got going.

The rain and inevitable grumbling about the DJs didn’t stop us from dancing on the sodden platform in the shadow of the ruined Saint Honorat Church facing the villa, its lit-up tower rising above us like a premonition. Hoffmann herself joined in at some point. “Who could stop her?” someone comments. “Did you see her dance? She’s a force.” I have to concur.