The relationship between West and Middle East is just one of the issues about the exhibition Too early, too late, by Marco Scotini, open till 12th of April at the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Bologna. Almost sixty artists from Central Asia displaying here and works from major Italian collections are set out. An exhibition that obtains a timely dimension for meditation on matters such as the progressive westernization of the East, the modernity and the risk of its loss, the cultural and socio-political events of the Central Asian and future prospects, mixed with fundamentalisms, archaisms and modernity. We spoke with Marco Scotini about it.
Deianira Amico: The exhibition Too Early, Too late after The Empty Pedestal and Ghosts of Eastern Europe, is talking again about the Central Asian area after the Berlin Wall downfall. Now the “ghost” seems to be the West. Can you tell us concerning the genesis of the show?
Marco Scotini: Collapsed an arrangement, a new one will be done. This is the 1989 for the media and forms of power: the political opposition between liberalism and socialism would have been replaced with a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. De facto, the ‘89 opens to an epochal phenomenon much more intricate who calls himself only in terms of economic globalization, bringing together East and West. The new display depicts an additional chapter than “The Empty Pedestal”. Could have been titled “Without Pedestal”, referring to the green area in Tahrir Square, as the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif is calling it. However I recovered this ratio among the two exhibitions focusing on time. Regarding the “before” and the “after” of Eastern Europe, the new exhibition offers a temporality which is about “already” and “not yet”, about “too late, too early”. How to face a topic such as the modernity, if not through time not aligned, but in sync? Here the ghost of West, as you call it. Something where the past seeded his gifts (democracy, bridges, factories, machines, electricity) in a package called “modernity”. What was the outcome? The wall at the entrance of the exhibition is significant in this sense: a massive engraving from the temple of Karnak, deriving from the monumental work “La Description de l’Egypte”. What people found in the temple after Bonaparte? What we expect to find in today, after two centuries of relations with the West? I believe the three lacunari in the wall (with works by Mona Hatoum, Bisan Abu Eisheh and Mustafa Abu Ali) are fully answering.
Lots of the cultural dealing amidst West and Middle East unwinding around the dynamics colonialist of diffusion of an alleged modernity in a geopolitical context not ready to accept it. Artists incisively bring to light the critical issues of globalization. Does a critical sensibility connecting the artistic research in the Middle East and the West subsist?
Once you’re at the exhibition, you will find yourself in front a photos of: Persian women of the Cagiara dynasty posing with a stereo on the table, tires of Fiat beached in the sand, postcards of banned lovers, stamps for a nation-state that doesn’t even exist, miniated codes with anti-globalization political slogans, heaps of ruins, fountains of sand, dervishes in prayer in front of sliding doors, etc. Something always creak: it is the expression of two times that hardly coexist, affirming and denying each others at the same time. In all these artists there isn’t the critique of modernity as such. Somewhat there’s a criticism at the concept of modernity as equivalent of westernization of manners, habits and consumptions. It’s not a coincidence that I’ve tried to prop up the show with Foucault and Pasolini. I remember his notes about the Yemen: “As a director I have seen (…) the horrible “expressive” presence of modernity: a pestilence of light poles chaotically planted in – cement and corrugated iron shacks built up with no sense wherever instead of city walls (…) plastic items, tins, shoes and miserable cotton manufactured, canned pears (from China), radios … “
In Too early, too late also emerges a historical and contemporary reflection of great interest. The gap between modernity, revolutionary forces and indigenous loss of modernity is also manifested in the reflection of the Palestinian filmmakers Mohanad Yaqubi: if the right to self-determination claimed by the Palestinian revolution of the Sixties appeared too early, the Arab Spring of 2011 is perhaps came too later (cit. in the exhibition catalogue). Today, which are the other aspects, in terms of what is “too early” or “too late”, that artists involved in the exhibition are dealing with, respect to our political and cultural relations with the Middle East?
I would immediately say here dates mean. In the Cold War was still a promise of future that we may lost with the downfall of the Berlin Wall. The Palestinian Revolution was still an integral part of that opposition to capitalism. Other hand, today we live in a crisis of future, in a lack of prospects for the future whence tirelessly we try to escape. The Arab Spring is part of this setting where the collapse of the Soviet world has left in a void, partially filled by reactionary forms of identity and nationalistic and ethnic affiliations.
Also emerges a reflection about our run, mutated by the rise of Internet and globalization impact. The West is increasingly accustomed to living in a kind of space-time continuum, in an eternal present that flows without stratification. However several artists in the show actualize the memory through a recovery of archival materials, as to signify that in their culture the historical memory, and therefore the cultural identity, is stronger than in ours. Does this divergence subsist, in the relation with memory, between the West and the Middle East?
I don’t know if we can talk about a divergence. Actually, Middle East artists have anticipated the new wave about an historical memory inside of a contemporary art scene. Same as what’s happened with the Soviet bloc. Of course there is a reason. Almost overnight, entire cultures have found themselves facing the loss of social identity, with the expropriation of the own land, with the cancellation of its own private memory. No matter when this happened. What matters is that just on the fight against forgetting is played the current condition of existence of entire social areas. For this reason show tried to highlight this “state memory”. Look at Emily Jacir with the work Ex Libris and the Palestinian issue. Or Hiwa K. and the Kurdish question. Or Lamia Joreige with A Journey, a video in which the life of her grandmother meets with the collective life the Middle East, from the 30s to the Lebanese civil war. Or, again, the relation between Akraam Zaatari and the photographic archives that have led to the establishment of the Arab Image Foundation. His video (in exhibition), Twenty Eight Nights, where Akraam is next to the old photographer Hashem El Madani, is an evocative summary. But there is also the memory of the Iranian revolution in the work of the Israeli Taghizadeh or through a bombed Turkmen carpet bombed, in the work of Ariel Schlesinger. Or even the action of whitewashing the rubble of a house near Kabul by Afghan artist Lida Abdul. But also the work of Céline Condorelli of Alexandria entitled Il n’y a Plus Rien. The memory in these countries is a disputed territory. There is a permanently post-traumatic where the policy of non-memory, the official amnesia, is sponsored by the states. No words about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role that memory plays there. So we are dealing with different temporal layers that the title of the exhibition illustrates well.
A positive feature of modernity that comes out is the use of new media by the artists, as well as the presence of different female artists. What are the aesthetic and social issues that motivate, in your opinion, this form of female and technological empowerment?
Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir, Shadi Ghadirian, Lamia Joreige, Ahlam Shibli, Lida Abdul, Mona Marzouk, Sabah Naim, Taus Makhacheva, Dina Danish, Jinoos Taghizadeh, Ayreen Anastas, Malak Helmy, the Turkish feminist CANAN and great intellectual Etel Adnan. There are so many Middle East artists present. Each of them is also a dissident, who practices an art of exile and emancipation. From this point of view, the technology has an emancipatory sense. Not itself, but for the use made of it. I mean the media figure has been identified as “citizen journalism”. This expression means all non-professional, no-governmental media forms occurring from below, from the position of witness. In this sense, the technology becomes a mode of redistribution of functions and roles through which everyone can tell and produce the story. Roy Samaha, Ahmed Mater, Mosireen, as many others Arabian artists and filmmakers wonder about this low-resolution digital image, on its imperfection and ability to store events.
Too early, too late
Curated by Marco Scotini
Until 12th of April, 2015
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna
This post is also available in: Italian