The pictorial genre that lends this exhibition its title flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century, before photography made it redundant. “Interior portraits” depicted living spaces and their furnishings, devoid of yet suggestive of human presence. Built around historical works and archival materials, the installations on view by five contemporary artists can be seen as three-dimensional portraits of interiors.
Put center-stage, Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s and Nick Mauss’s contributions—Jean Cocteau . . ., 2003–14, and Concern, Crush, Desire, 2011—pay tribute to Cocteau and to his set and costume designer, Christian Bérard, respectively: apt references given their association with the Ballets Russes, based in Monte Carlo in the 1930s. Though parts of these hyper-detailed composite works have been shown elsewhere, they acquire new resonance here, framed by a variety of posters, paintings, and stage set models from the museum’s collection.
A surfeit of objects also characterizes Laure Prouvost’s video and sculptural installation Wantee, 2013, strikingly exhibited in a darkened interior. One of the spotlighted components of the piece portrays a painting of a cluttered interior scene, in part a mise en abyme that echoes one of the show’s dominant modes. Similar doubling effects, recurrent patterns, and destabilizing shifts in media course through the installations of Brice Dellsperger—in which seven Dan Flavin monochromes that appear in one of Dellsperger’s “Double Body” videos are placed beside screens projecting cult films that have been remade by the artist, who interprets each role—and of Danica Dakic, whose Isola Bella, 2007–2008, is named after a period wallpaper, which Dakic reproduced as a film poster and backdrop for a production she filmed in a Bosnian home for the mentally handicapped.
It is more like a plunge than a slow immersion: Entering Atul Bhalla’s solo show “Ya ki kuchh aur!” (It’s Always About Something Else!), one feels immediately surrounded by water—thanks to Bhalla’s three-channel video installation Adrift (on Dvaipayana), 2014. As the Ganges’s water reflects pink-hued evening light, an unmanned boat glides across the three screens. Then suddenly, inexplicably, it bursts into flames, a burning fireball on dark waters.
In this show, Bhalla deepens his investigations into two major strands of his artistic practice: water and walking. The former fascinates Bhalla, whether as a body of water or a bodily fluid. It bears myth and memory, history and knowledge. By immersing himself in it both physically (as he did in I Was Not Waving But Drowning, 2005) and metaphorically, he invokes environmental, sociological, political, and even religious narratives that have long accompanied the life-giving substance.
While immersion forms an important part of Bhalla’s practice, walking is more often its physical manifestation. He has walked along rivers and seas, in cities ranging from Delhi to Basel. “Inundation,” 2012, a series of photos he created during perambulations in Hamburg, bears echoes of Caspar David Friedrich: Shot in the cool northern light, the river Elbe mates with the sea, as water meets sky. Bhalla, meanwhile, made “Contestation,” 2013, while striding across South Africa’s golden grasslands—the resulting images a subtle reference to the deleterious effects of colonization and the lack of land reform. In a manner more poetic than didactic, Bhalla urges his viewers to reconnect with nature’s fragile ecosystem, the focus of his lens.
Under the general advising of Noh performer Mansai Nomura, this thematic exhibition bridges various cultures through an eclectic selection of works while also drawing on highlights from the museum’s collection. On view are three ways of framing the body as a writing (and written) device through time, space, image, and sound: dance as set of patterns (see Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company’s Wallflower, 2014); critiquing gesture as transparent expression of the soul (as in Atsuko Tanaka’s Work [Hoops], 1963, and Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon’s famed Zidane, a Twenty-first Century Portrait, 2006); and the critical interference of technological apparatuses in bodily communication, invoked for instance in Ka Fai Choy’s violent anthropological experiment via electric impulses in Prospectus For A Future Body, 2013.
For MEMORANDUM OR VOYAGE, 2014, the Kyoto collective Dumb Type presented new media performances from September 27 to November 16—OR, 1997, memorandum, 1999, and Voyage, 2002. All were remixed in a cutting-edge, high-definition projection that filled the galleries with a pulsating noise. The technological sublime is still on view here, though, and encountered in a video, Fencing × Technology, 2014, by Dentsu Lab Tokyo and Rhizomatiks, which shows the health monitoring of an athlete during competition. It is a work that seems ironically commented upon in Teppei Kaneuji’s deconstructive set design for Toshiki Okada’s play Impossible To Understand You. It’s Almost Like Electrical Devices, 2011.
Because the exhibition encompasses a wide array of works, visitors are left to experience its totality of fragments as if it were an interwoven quilt. In this regard, Sharon Lockhart and Noa Eshkol’s Five Dances and Nine Wall Carpets, 2011, stands out, as it offers a comparative set of mapped rhythms and material textures rather than universal continuity to be deciphered.
In a dark, mazelike gallery, a luminous network of flat-screen TVs, digital picture frames, projectors, and iPads serve as receptors for a selection of filmic representations. Screening an international array of thirty-six videos, documentaries, and installations incorporating the moving image, this exhibition presents a survey of spiritual practices that address the ghostly nature of cinematic images and the modern history of specters.
At the entrance of the museum Lee Ji-Hong projects a faint image of himself cleaning the reception area’s window, in the piece September’s Work, 2014. With the video digitally altered to run at variable speeds, his utilitarian gestures are rendered as a lyrical, phantasmal dance. In an adjacent room, Grayson Cooke’s video AgX:HNO3, 2014, addresses the materiality of memories by inducing a beautiful decay of film negatives in nitric acid, while the artist group FLATFORM’s 57,600 seconds of invisible night and light, 2009, highlights the malleability of time by seamlessly collaging different moments of night and day into one ordinary street scene.
Before the opening, the exhibition’s curators, Nobuo Takamori and Gong Jow-Juin, organized several related events. One involved a Taoist spirit mediator who, amidst channeling a divine spirit, spoke about the correlation between spiritual mediation and contemporary art. According to him, inspiration relies on sensitivity to the spiritual realm. Such receptivity is most directly demonstrated in Mark Freeman’s documentary Body without a Brain, 2014, in which an Indonesian man in a state of trance performs a physically demanding mediation of spirits from the natural world. This film, a representation of the past, is projected in a ritualistic loop onto a free-hanging panel, stirring the psychic energy of the gallery space.
Sahand Hesamiyan’s massive steel sculpture Khalvat, 2014, magnetically draws and physically engages the viewer, in what at first sight appears to be a displaced extraterrestrial object. Displayed at the heart of the Tehran-based artist’s first solo exhibition in the UAE, this multifaceted work is the result of Hesamiyan’s ongoing interest in architectural forms. With its circular shell and thin ribs, Khalvat carries a sense of simultaneous lightness and complexity as the artist adapts and interprets the Rasmi dome common in secular and religious buildings alike in Iran, to trace notions of infinite creation and the oneness of God as borrowed from Sufi spiritualism. The circular opening at the back of the sculpture exposes an interior universe of stars, echoing the decorative yazdi-bandi frequently found in domes of Iranian Islamic architecture. Stainless-steel prototypes of Khalvat hung on two walls, and maquettes in the same material are placed on two plinths in a gallery downstairs, while intricate drawings, layered digital prints, and paper versions of the maquettes are displayed upstairs in a project space. These provide generous insight into Hesamiyan’s process and experimentation in other media during the making of Khalvat.
Adding to the immersiveness of the installation, the artist’s use of a musical composition by Hossein Alizâdeh playing subtly in the background complements our aesthetic and spiritual experience with the work. Hesamiyan is predominantly intrigued by the self-discovery—also part of his design process—gifted to the patient viewer who will spend time contemplating the interplay between our outer and inner worlds through this hushed sanctum of an installation.