Orkhan Husneynov’s “Dear Beloved” runs at YARAT Contemporary Art Centre until 4 June 2017.
The Azerbaijani artist’s works on display draw upon alternative realities and fake stories that have become a part of our daily life, with most narratives spreading through internet news sites, email and social media.
The proliferation of “fake news” traces its origins long before the American political cycle, but its rise in the public mainstream – whether through misguided Facebook users or other Internet culs-de-sac – has made it significant enough for artistic interpretation, at least in the eyes of Azerbaijani artist Orkhan Husneynov. Responding to the barrage of misinformation, from fake emails to uncredited news pieces and social media posts, Husneynov’s “Dear Beloved” at YARAT Contemporary Art Centre tackles the themes of credibility and how credibility is determined through language, in an exhibition consisting of film, furniture installation, text, and performance. The exhibition is curated by Björn Geldhof, who previously served as the deputy artistic director at Kiev’s Pinchuk Art Centre, where he developed the Future Generation Art Prize and also curated the Ukranian Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Orkhan Husneynov was trained at the A. Azimzade Art College in the Faculty of Ceramic Design, and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in ceramic design from Azerbaijan State University in 1999, and a Master’s degree in 2000. His first exhibitions, “Wings of Time” (2000), “Cosmoperformance” (2001) and “Orientalism: Inside and Outside “(2002) were held in Baku’s Contemporary Art Project and curated by Leila Akhundzada. Though much of “Dear Beloved” consists of video and performance works, Husneynov’s past work has consisted of graphic sculptures of animals, and in 2015, a series of plexiglass diptych reliefs accompanied by passages from the Q’uran. Husneynov’s versatility has offered him the opportunity to exhibit in spaces such as the 2003 International Festival of the Digital Image in Prague, Rome’s MAXXI Museum, which held his touring exhibition “Fly to Baku”, and the 52nd and 55th Venice Biennale, held in 2007 and 2014, respectively.
“Dear Beloved”, which consists of books and wooden furniture arranged so as to be moveable, is a commissioned work by YARAT. The name is drawn from scam emails that Husneynov received, addressing the recipient with manufactured intimacy in order to breach sensitive personal data. These emails are reprinted in book form, memorialising what would otherwise be deemed as spam and immediately discarded. Two other commissioned works, both one-channel videos, round out the beginning of the exhibition: Mr. Mohamed (2017) and Mrs. Noor (2017).
Projected in a second room is Husneynov’s 2017 video work Calentamiento Global, which splices clips from the Mexican telenovelas La Dueña (1995) and Corazon Salvaje (1993). The telenovela’s tendency towards over-the-top acting and dramatic plotlines makes it the perfect template for Husneynov’s machinations. A still from the video, plastered on the façade of the YARAT building in Baku, show a well-coiffed woman in the peak of emotional response: her facial expression strained, her hand clutched to her chest.
For Calentamiento Global, Husneynov hired Azeri actors to dub over the Spanish dialogue with his own text, evacuating the original plot structure in favour of a sarcastic exchange on climate change. The cognitive dissonance achieved through this translation, transliteration and subsequent creation of an entirely new situation goes hand in hand with the artist’s thematic overture of misinformation. The difference between what is said and how that is interpreted propels Husneynov’s current artistic oeuvre, generating questions on the validity of what we consume in any context, not just those in an art exhibition.
Colorado Beetle (2017) is a performance piece wherein a group of classical Azeri restaurant musicians, who play a range of instruments including the clarinet, keyboards and garmon, were conscripted from a local restaurant named Tongal. The musicians intermittently play one of four songs written specifically for the performance by Husneynov, but do not play constantly. When the musicians are not present, the wooden stage on which they normally perform remains empty with the exception of a large-scale screening of the performers. Once again, Husneynov juxtaposes the consumption of media – particularly televised news stories – with the collective failure to distinguish between what is fake and what is real.
Like Calentamiento Global, the work Colorado Beetle also sets up a contrast between traditional culture (telenovelas, folk music) and contemporary practices. The relationship between the former and the latter is not one of incommensurability between the two, but disjuncture: the differences between the traditional and contemporary are not so stark as to be irreparable, but are distinct enough to create real tension.
The final work in the exhibition is a video piece made a decade prior. The War on 30th February (2007), installed in the corridor that separates the gallery rooms at YARAT, is a continuous loop of a rocky landscape in Baku. It is filmed in documentary style, and captures the frenetic, loud bombardments and explosions typical of eyewitness news reports from war zones. However, as the title suggests, this soundscape is entirely constructed and fictional, leading us to the question: how can there be material evidence of events that have never happened?
By playing with these questions and suggesting that the answers are as murky as the sources themselves, Husneynov is able to maneuver an artistic repertoire that constantly surprises and intrigues. His work, particularly in the medium of video, is not just topical and germane to contemporary politics, but emerges from a milieu of skeptical thinking that allows for experimentation.
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