Eric Van Hove’s “Atchilihtallah” is on show at Frankfurter Kunstverein until 12 February 2017.
Frankfurter Kunstverein presents the first museum solo of Belgian-Algerian artist Eric van Hove in Germany. Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition, which includes key sculpture works as well as a reproduction of the artist’s Marrakesh studio in the exhibition space.
Eric van Hove (b. 1975, Algeria) is a Cameroon-raised Belgian conceptual artist who was born in Algeria. Over the last ten years, he has built a reputation as a “nomadic” artist, not focusing on one art form for too long or living in one place. Although he is a trained Japanese calligrapher, having studied with the Tokyo-based Master Hideaki Nagano between 2008 and 2013, his recent work is mostly sculpture that he makes in collaboration with multiple assistants at a studio in Marrakesh, where he has been based since 2012. His mechanic sculptures are often combined with installations, video and film.
His exhibitions explore unexpected meetings between craft, art and industrial production, and reveal the incoherence of a decadent global economic order in which labour forces and materials are ordered in exploitative hierarchies. The “Atchilihtallah – On the Transformation of Things” exhibition at Frankfurter Kunstverein (FKV) features recent sculptural works Rachel’s Tribute (2015) and V12 Laraki (2013), and offers viewers a look at a partial reconstruction of van Hove’s Marrakesh studio.
Eric Van Hove has self-identified as an activist, as well as an artist, and sees his practice as a means of drawing attention to the lack of justice in the global economy, as well as a means of initiating a change in forms of production or the links between traditional and modern forms of production. The word used in the exhibition title, Atchilihtallah, refers to a Moroccan idiom, meaning “this is what God gave us!”
The phrase reflects the intentions of the artist to activate multiple, local bodies of knowledge of materials and craft processes in his art, and to assist in the recognition of older techniques of making increasingly rendered obsolete. The title also gestures towards an attitude of trust in the productive and meaningful use of “what we have been given”.
V12 Laraki, calligraphy and “copying”
In 2012 Eric van Hove moved to Morocco to start creating V12 Laraki (2013), a highlight of the exhibition at FKV. The sculpture brings together Western industrial tradition, represented in the car engine, and more than a thousand years of craftsmanship heritage of the Maghreb region in Africa. Created in collaboration with 43 talented craftsmen from across Morocco who worked together for nine months, the work is comprised of 53 locally sourced materials, handcrafted to replicate roughly 455 individual components of the Mercedes-Benz V12 engine, and then assembled.
The engine is a tribute to the respected Moroccan designer Abdeslam Laraki, who at the International Geneva Motor Fair in 2004 unveiled the Laraki Fulgra, a luxury sports car intended to help stimulate an indigenous car manufacturing industry in Morocco. Laraki imported the Mercedes-Benz V12 piston engine, famed for its muscular output, to power the Laraki Fulgra because he could not produce the car’s high-performance engine locally.
van Hove’s decision to build the v12 “locally” is an ironic proposition to complete Laraki’s mission. However, as the engine is not actually functional, the work makes a statement about the gap in processes of production between “industrial” Germany and “traditional” Morroco, albeit one that affirms dominant and misleading representations of “first” and “third world” production processes.
In an interview with Natasha Hoare for Ibraaz, van Hove talked about the influence of calligraphy on the process of “copying” the engine, stating:
While working on this engine in Morocco years later, I suddenly felt I was using every bit of the knowledge Mr Nagano had given me. As much spiritually as philosophically, the engine owes a lot to my years of living in Japan and studying Japanese traditions, considering for example that copying is one of the main axioms of calligraphy apprenticeship, an endeavour that lasts for a lifetime, too. Asian calligraphers – and that is something that can be found all around Asia and connects to their deeper beliefs – copy thousands of times over old Chinese classical parchments.
Copying, which in the western world is considered an artificial loss of time, is in Japan the essence of creativity – while western ideas of progress tend to believe that creating new things is possible if not a requirement, the Japanese duplicate the past as a contemporary creative end. V12 Laraki is no different: the Mercedes-Benz engine was copied bit by bit, faithfully. I ‘invented’ nothing, but I ‘contemporized’ it in the fashion of a calligrapher.
The work was shown at the 2014 Marrakesh Biennial. Talking about the display of the work in the context of Marrakesh, van Hove stated:
I was very lucky to be able to show a piece like that in the city that fathered it. Many artists do projects that are then shown elsewhere. I think that there is a whole underlying context that doesn’t have to be explained to Marrakechis, they really get it – it’s using their language, it’s this effort of translation. It’s the ultimate human effort to translate our existence, our ideas on why we are here, on the existence of God. So here we translate an object of German design into Moroccan craft. And it’s the same story of material and the familiarity people have with this material in the Moroccan context.
The “Fenduq” workshop
The exhibition at FKV includes a reconstruction of the artist’s atelier from Marrakesh, which is named after the fenduqs – Maghrebi gathering places for traders and their animals. In the same Ibraaz interview van Hove explains:
The Fenduq [atelier] came into being after making the [V12] engine. The engine was really developed in the boot of my car, because the craftsmen were then working in their own workshops wherever they were, and they could only all be gathered together in one place when they had enough trust in the project and me. So at first it was about me going to them. I had to drive maybe a 130,000 kilometres across the country to connect all these people and pieces… the atelier model is inspired by the way the craftsmen work, there is a specific socioeconomic model in the way that they earn money, the way materials can be found.
In the same interview, the artist continues describing the functioning of his studio-cum-atelier, stating
That structure is born from a certain way of doing things here and I try to let it go, to not know in advance where it is going. As the conductor initiating it, I unify the performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and shape the sound of the ensemble, but we work collectively somehow and each of these craftsmen is unique and influences what is happening. So, for instance, now I want to work on a running electric motorbike out of these craft materials. The craftsmen are all waiting for the next big project.
van Hove sees the development of the workshop as a part of his art practice, a “context specific living sculpture”. This is what the exhibition hopes to reproduce in an installation that the public can access in the exhibition space. Work benches, common rooms and materials from van Hove’s Marrakesh studio have been temporarily incorporated into the Kunstverein’s building. Here van Hove and his assistants, ten mechanics and artisans from different fields, are currently working on their project Mahjouba II, which is a manufactured electric motorcycle that will be refined and finished in cooperation with local experts of engineering, craftsmanship and design.
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