artist: Adel Abidin
production manager: Abeer Seikaly
venue: Lawrie Shabibi
coordinates: Dubai, 2013
In March, 2012, at least 90 Iraqi students with ’emo’ appearances were stoned to death by religious extremists in Baghdad. Abidin takes this single event and transforms it into an imaginative journey that examines death, the soul’s quest for liberation and the tragic price paid in the name of freedom. Taking the philosophical and metaphysical writings of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) as a point of reference, Symphony is an homage to these young people and seeks to process the violent effects of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice that exist in many guises all over the world.
The project is the accumulation of a year long process of research and production with two separate phases. It began to take shape immediately after the incident and emerged first as a two-part project presented in different media. This first phase consisted of a sculpture-based installation and a video installation as part of the artist’s solo exhibition at Arter, Istanbul in November 2012. In the second phase, additional research led Abidin to discover fresh sources and new points of departure, bringing him deeper into his subject. Now he presents the second and final phase of the journey in a different location, in Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai.
The exhibition at Lawrie Shabibi comprises a wall-based sculptural installation, a suspended light-based sculptural installation, two one-channel video installations, (one on an LED screen), and a photographic image, mounted on the front facade of the gallery.
The exhibition begins with the sculpture-based installation titled Symphony I, displaying a set of white doors on the walls; some of them are closed, while others are open with drawers in them. The sliding drawers are pulled out to reveal little white stone-like statues of young people with an emo appearance. These figurines of deceased beautiful young people combined with the sterile, almost blinding whiteness, leaves no room for ignorance: It is a morgue accenting a shocking performance.
A suspended object radiates light from the gallery taking away the viewers attention from this gloomy experience. The viewer then walks towards an object that depicts an intangible outline of a dove. Ibn Sina (Avicenna) makes an analogy between ‘soul’ and ‘dove’ by comparing the journey of the soul with the flight of a dove. In his verses the soul is a timeless non-materialistic thing, unwilling to come down to the body. It signifies eternity, which will possibly be detached from the heavenly sphere. This enchanting work, entitled Al-Warqaa, is a visual analogue of this concept. It comprises subtly-lit white cubes and pyramids made from Plexiglas over a metal skeleton. Its spiky feathers contrast with the solid appearance of the cubes to create a tensional accord which is amplified by the thread pulling the claw of the bird to a stone on the floor. The one-channel video Symphony II located in a separate section of the gallery, engages with the same concept. This video is a painterly scene in portrait format depicting the aftermath of an imaginary massacre of the young Iraqis. The corpses in the video are juxtaposed as statues, icons, and even sacred figures. In the video, a thread connects each body by its mouth to the leg of a white dove. The flock of birds flap their wings in vain, attempting to escape. However, they are anchored by the weight of death. The fluttering wings form a white cloud in the sky, registering the only movement in the work.
Above and beyond, it is possible to draw parallels between the act of the phoenix bursting into flames and then reborn from the ashes on the altar of the temple at Heliopolis, and the doves’ efforts to escape and to recall those young people’s passion for another possible world in a continuous landscape. Nevertheless, the looping scene of this analogy in the video runs like an incomplete stanza of a poem, as it depicts the climax of the phoenix’s death, but not the rebirth process. The viewer is left to watch the stillness of death against the frantically flapping wings. The sound of the birds, their whistling cries and rustling wings, creates a soothing yet terrifying soundtrack of white noise.
Abidin articulates the aural attribute of the white noise with a visual pun: white noise flows on a portrait-format LED screen. A closer look at this work entitled Mass uncovers countless doves, creating the noise on the screen. The doves dissolve in dot patterns and random flickering, recalling the desperate and hopeless resistance of the young Iraqis while they were being stoned and killed.
The same image statically echoes on the facade of the gallery, interfering white noise of the dark corners and hazy zones of the city, Dubai.