6 Middle Eastern, African and Asian artists from La Biennale de Montréal 2016

The 2016 edition of La Biennale de Montréal includes works by 55 artists and collectives from 23 countries.

Art Radar takes a look at a few of the highlights from this year’s edition.

Shannon Bool and Luis Jacob. Image courtesy BNLMTL. Photo by Alison Slattery.

Biennale artists Shannon Bool and Luis Jacob. Photo: Alison Slattery. Image courtesy BNLMTL.

On view from 19 October to 5 January 2017, this edition of La Biennale de Montréal (BNLMTL), entitled “Le Grand Balcon”, draws loosely on Jean Genet’s play Le Balcon. The contested space of the balcony in the play oscillates between revolution and counter-revolution, reality and illusion. In other instances the balcony is a place for lovers to meet yet maintain a certain distance. As detailed in the curatorial statement,

As an exhibition, Le Grand Balcon aims to open up a mental space to rethink some of our most pressing matters and their interconnectedness—our culture of waste and excess, the accelerating dematerialisation of the economy and the global evolution towards a clash of prophesying communities.

Michael Blum, 2016, 'The Swap' (still), video. Image courtesy the artist. Photo by Roberto Gianstefani.

Michael Blum, ‘The Swap’ (still), 2016, video. Photo: Roberto Gianstefani. Image courtesy the artist.

The Biennale delves into the pursuit of sensual pleasures, investigating the role of pleasure in everyday life and political decision-making. It calls for a materialist and sensualist approach, to mobilise both the brain and the body’s capacities to their fullest.

“Le Grand Balcon” consists of a multi-site exhibition, publications and a series of performances, concerts, film screenings, talks, tours, conferences, encounters and experiences over a total of 22 venues. With 35 new works and ten international co-productions, the 2016 edition is a full programme.

Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights from Asia, Africa and the Middle East in this edition of La Biennale de Montréal.

Haig Aivazian, 'Not Everyday Is Spring', 2016, film with sound, 46 minutes. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

Haig Aivazian, ‘Not Everyday Is Spring’, 2016, film with sound, 46:00 min. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

1. Haig Aivazian

Haig Aivazian is an artist, curator and writer who was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1980, where he is currently based. He uses performance, video, drawing, installation and sculpture in his practice. His work takes historical events as points of departure to build narratives about systems of power and their far-reaching influence.

Haig Aivazian, 'Not Everyday Is Spring', 2016, film with sound, 46 minutes. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

Haig Aivazian, ‘Not Everyday Is Spring’, 2016, film with sound, 46:00 min. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

At La Biennale de Montréal, Aivazian presents the new film Not Everyday is Spring (2016), which is a journey through the sites of music production and dissemination in Istanbul. It is part of a bigger project that began in 2014, Hastayim Yasiyorum (I am Sick but I am Alive), which delves into the history of classical and modern Turkish music and touches upon Turkish-Armenian oud master Udi Hrant Kenkulian (1901-1978). This new film connects the present-day city with the movement of people and music, through encounters with an unusual cast of musical characters.

Hassan Khan, 2015, 'The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility', video 9:11 minutes, commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Hassan Khan, 2015, ‘The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility’, video, 9:11 min. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

2. Hassan Khan

Hassan Khan was born in 1975 and lives and works in Cairo, Egypt. His works engage with cultural artifacts (music, film, text or objects) in order to explore the continuous shift between, on the one hand the personal and private and on the other hand, national history and popular culture. He has an interdisciplinary practice that is hard to define, ranging from writing, music and performance to moving image and installation.

Hassan Khan, 2015, 'The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility', video 9:11 minutes, commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Hassan Khan, 2015, ‘The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility’, video, 9:11 min. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Khan is presenting The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility (2015) at La Biennale de Montréal, a recent film that takes Egyptian comedy and its use of language as its starting point. The film features performances by iconic actors Ismail Yassin, a 1950s comedy superstar, and Tewfiq El Deqn. Khan works with their repertoire of gestures, nervous tics, physical contortions and voices in order to investigate a language of compulsion and fears that can be found in Egyptian comedy.

Dineo Seshee Bopape, 'Sa kosa ke lerole'. Image courtesy BNLMTL.

Dineo Seshee Bopape, ‘Sa Kosa Ke Lerole’. Image courtesy BNLMTL.

3. Dineo Seshee Bopape

Dineo Seshee Bopape, born in 1981, is a South African artist based in Johannesburg. She originally studied painting and sculpture and has since established a multimedia practice that involves experimental video montages, sound, found objects, photographs and installations. Her work engages with themes such as memory, narration and representation and includes addressing the legacy of apartheid in South Africa.

Bopape’s work can be politically active, such as her work in the 2016 Marrakech Biennale that addressed
 topics of gender,
 sexuality, politics and
 race by creating elaborate ad playful assemblages. Her work has also been described as surreal, and in an interview with Art Africa she commented that “life itself is quite ‘kaleidoscopic’ and surreal”.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2015, 'Cassava Garden', acrylique, transferts, crayon de couleur, fusain et tissu commémoratif sur papier, acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, charcoal and commemorative fabric on paper, 182.88 cm x 152.40 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo by Robert Glowacki.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Cassava Garden’, 2015, acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, charcoal and commemorative fabric on paper, 182,88 cm x 152,40 cm. Photo: Robert Glowacki. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London.

4. Njideka Akunyili Crosby

United States-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria and moved to the USA in 1999 when she was a teenager. Her work combines a number of techniques including drawing, painting and collage on paper, as well as a variety of styles. Her dense compositions often portray interior spaces and everyday scenes such as eating, drinking and watching TV. The intimate moments are left open to interpretation, yet draw the viewer into the bright spaces.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2015, 'Thread', acrylic, charcoal, pastel, coloured pencils and transfers on paper, 131.98 cm x 131.98 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo by Max Yawney,

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Thread’, 2015, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, coloured pencils and transfers on paper, 131,98 cm x 131,98 cm. Photo: Max Yawney. Image courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London.

Akunyili Crosby draws on diverse art historical, political and personal references, merging the African and western influences that form her experiences. The collages reference Nigerian pop culture and politics, ranging from models and celebrities, to lawyers and military dictators. Some are personal images and photos from magazines, while others are sourced from the Internet. The works tell a multilayered story of diverse memories and cultural history. Thread (2012) and Cassava Garden (2015), the two works on display at the Biennale, combine suggestions of Renaissance paintings with the compositional structure and iconography of African artists like Malinese Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Nontsikelelo Veleko.

Portrait of Liao Guohe. Image courtesy of La Biennale de Montréal.

Portrait of Liao Guohe. Image courtesy of La Biennale de Montréal.

5. Liao Guohe

Liao Guohe, based in Changsha, China, is a painter who uses dry whit and language to comment on political and social customs of today’s China. His painted drawings use simple imagery with sentences or words in Chinese characters, creating work that seems buoyant, silly and perverse and yet eerily perceptive. The work does not fall into cynicism, rather his style opens his commentaries to the sympathy of the viewer.

There are a number of his works on display at the Biennale, principally from 2014 and 2015. Although his work is reminiscent of graffiti or cartoons, Liao Guohe prefers to refer to historical antecedents of classical Chinese painters who incorporated poems in their works. Like the 13th century artist-poet Zhao Mengfu, Liao Guohe writes the title of the work directly on the canvas. With this rough aesthetic, he is challenging a society that could be seen as amoral, smutty and unbalanced.

Haegue Yang, 2016, 'The Intermediate – Dragon Conglomerate', artificial straw, steel stand, powder coating, casters plastic twine, 180 x 115 x 114.9 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photograph by Elisabeth Bernstein.

Haegue Yang, ‘The Intermediate – Dragon Conglomerate’, 2016, artificial straw, steel stand, powder coating, casters plastic twine, 180 x 115 x 114.9 cm. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.

6. Haegue Yang

Born in Seoul in 1971 and now based between her hometown and Berlin, Haegue Yang uses everyday household objects, decontextualising them in order to apply new meaning to the objects. For example, she has used Venetian blinds, such as in her site-specific installation at the Centre Pompidou in Paris this year, which used a grid-like structure to create a sparse installation piece.

Haegue Yang, 2015, 'Sonic Sphere – Horizontally-striped Brass and Nickel', steel stand, metal grid, powder coating, casters, nickel plated bells, brass plated bells, metal rings, 99 x 83 x 83 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photograph by Elisabeth Bernstein.

Haegue Yang, ‘Sonic Sphere – Horizontally-striped Brass and Nickel’, 2015, steel stand, metal grid, powder coating, casters, nickel plated bells, brass plated bells, metal rings, 99 x 83 x 83 cm. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.

At La Biennale de Montréal, Yang presents six sculptures from 2011 to 2016 that draw on materials associated with ancient, forgotten or ceremonial traditions. One of the works, Can Cosies Pyramid – Tulip 340 g Silver, consists of cans encased in knitted cosies and displayed as a pyramid. By choosing this particular domestic object, Haegue Yang is drawing upon concepts of comfort and domesticity, transferring the hard tins into objects that are more comforting. The Intermediate series of sculptures, also presented at the Biennale, consists of artificial straws woven into shapes that recall the human body, further exploring concepts of materiality in the world around us.

Claire Wilson

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Related Topics: biennales, lists, events in Canada, installation, painting, collage, mixed media

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