Knot alone: the “Imaginary Friends” of Afghanistan’s Jeanno Gaussi – artist profile

Afghan diaspora artist Jeanno Gaussi canvases neighborhoods seeking integral components. 

A marriage of found objects and 13th century knotting technique populate Jeanno Gaussi’s labour-intensive series “Imaginary Friends”. The artist breathes life into invisible playmates in her latest solo exhibition in Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

“Imaginary Friends”, a solo exhibition of Jeanno Gaussi’s work, concludes on 10 June 2017 at Berlin’s Galerie koal. The artist will then join “The Beauty of Difference”, a group show at the Rohkunstbau (PDF download) from 2 July to 10 September 2017. The series brings a contemporary riff to a needlework technique and explores the artist’s inclusion of found items into what the Galerie koal website says is a “complex imaginary world”:

Gaussi dealt with the loneliness, the isolation and the unalterable conditions that shaped her childhood by creating a complex imaginary world. A tree in a park and a human skeleton model in a chaotic flat became beloved friends; things carelessly thrown away were collected as precious treasures.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. As a child, Gaussi was separated from her brother and parents for several years during the Soviet-Afghan war, first spending time in Delhi and then moving to Berlin to live with an Aunt. This disruption of her childhood has lead the artist to revisit and re-examine her idea of “what is home” through her artwork. According to Gaussi’s biography (PDF download), her work engages with mechanisms of remembrance, the search for identity, and the social and cultural processes associated with them.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Gaussi began her art career as a video and film artist before turning her attention to mixed media installations such as her “War Rugs Project” and “Family Stories” series. Her work has been shown widely internationally including the NSK State Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, ARCOmadrid 2017, the Havana Biennial, and dOCUMENTA (13). The artist has participated in various residency programmes, including with the Al-Ma’mal Foundation (Israel/Palestine), the Shantana International Artist Workshop (Jordan) and the International Diasporic Artists Residency (Pakistan). She has been awarded two Goethe Institut art grants and was a presenter at the 2016 inaugural Yinchuan Biennale. Gaussi currently works and lives in the United States.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

As someone who has spent considerable time straddling disparate cultures, Gaussi does not necessarily consider her work solely tied to her identity as an Afghan or as a diaspora artist. Instead, her work, as noted on the artist’s website, is carefully researched and developed with materials or techniques that are site-specific:

Gaussi’s work explores cultural identities, aspects of memorization and remembrance, and of identity. The artist often develops projects in close relation to the place in which they are created, examines the characteristics and unique aspects of her surroundings.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Gaussi’s most recent series “Imaginary Friends” is an excellent example of the artist’s inclusion of local crafts into her work. Currently living in San Francisco, Gaussi recently began to notice that macramé, a throwback to the hippy counter-culture of the American 1960s and 1970s, was gaining ground in local galleries and was a noticeable part of the present-day design culture. Upon further research, the artist was surprised to learn that the craft dated back to the 13th century and was thought to originate with Arab weavers. From there, Gaussi embarked on learning more about the craft, as the artist told Art Radar:

First, you have to make a drawing to understand how many ropes you need but it never ended up like the drawing! Then you have to figure it out again. You have to buy big spools of rope. This was very much a learning process. It can take a long time to make even 1 meters. Even if the piece doesn’t look complex, it’s very labor intensive.

When you’re knotting, it can really start to hurt and you bleed from the fingertips. Initially, you may feel the material is perfect, then once you start making knots, you see that it won’t work. All of these little facts were part of the learning process, understanding if the material is flexible or not.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Macramé turned out to be a suitable vehicle for the artist’s quest to explore her feelings of isolation in an increasingly xenophobic American society. But this was just the beginning. Gaussi then realised that she wanted to integrate each work with found or discarded materials, gathered from around the city, such as coins collected in Japantown. This gave her the opportunity to delve deep into the environs of San Francisco, taking her to industrial areas that many never visit.

To complete each piece, Gaussi sometimes struggled with her “friend”. Knots did not hold or the emerging design did not match the plans carefully sketched out. Gaussi began to understood that she had to have a dialogue with each piece, much like a real friendship.

Jeanno Gaussi, "Imaginary Friends" installation shot, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image ccourtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

Jeanno Gaussi, “Imaginary Friends”, 2017, Galerie koal / Berlin. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie koal / Berlin.

This deliberate dialogue with each piece has translated into something that is uniquely authentic and poignant. At her recent solo show at Berlin’s Galerie koal, the audience was moved by the series, shown for the first time together. As the artist relayed to Art Radar, the opening night was different than previous openings, with many questions and revelations. To her, this speaks to a commonality that people share, regardless of their age or cultural background:

We all share these imaginary friends in a way – from childhood but also as grown-ups, where we also may have conversations with nature or even with ourselves. Everyone had a childhood friend and could remember this simpler time. This tells me that this series is something that has the potential to emotionally touch people.

Lisa Pollman

1725

Related Topics: Afghan artists, art as meditation, fragile art, handicraft art, events in Berlin

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