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desde los azules, at Kunsthalle Lissabon

Identity. That shifting and morphing thing. Which is body and crowd, which is a choir and a cry in the void. Identity. That vague thing. Unclear to some, so precise to others. Identity. Ever so subjective, and now we are being told: no, it is objective – it is History, past, unique, glorious. As if History could be singular, etched in stone.

Identity. As if it were like crystal: pure, untouchable, unchanging, unassailable. Identity. Plastered on a body dotted with cellulite, wrinkles, bumps, those scar-like streaks on the arm from the broken white ceramic blade, built by it, transformed by it; built with it, transformed with it; built on it, transformed on it. Identity. An idealised, ideological, political structure, a battleground with regimes, with other bodies. Divergent identity. Absent, plastic, amorphous, apathetic identities, formed and then conformed – by the State, by Space, by Time, by Culture, by the politics of liberal, illiberal, autocratic, nationalist, universalist, liberal cosmopolitan, illiberal cosmopolitan culture.

An identity disorder, an identity crisis, a sickening, eye-rolling neurosis. With or without masks. Facing the mirror, far from the mirror.

The Identity of the I. The Identity of the EU. Queer identity. Afro identity. Diasporic identity. Colonial identity. Post-colonial identity. De-colonised identity. Ecosexual identity. Neoliberalised identity. Collective identity. National identity, of the nation – of the brave and immortal nation.

No. Never. Not ever. Me. Me. Me. Just Me, without any networks, labour or solidarity structures, without any other.

Je est un autre. Not because I’m a projection of others, but because I refuse to be whoever I am, whatever I am, because everything is utter boredom – a persona, a character, a staged, performative, artificial rendition of Terminal Boredom, by Izumi Suzuki. Yes. Absent identity, absorbed, gazing at the ceiling. Vegetable.

When I die, feed me to the pigs. Let them take care of my identity.

Am I projecting myself onto someone else’s work? Yes. All the time. I hesitate to be or not to be. There is no question. There is only a decision. Which is not even mine, but someone else’s. Who I am and what I am hardly matter. In this shapeless, deformed, disconnected, desolate body.

 

These sometimes elusive, complex and perplexing intricacies of identity and the body are the subjects of Yina Jiménez Suriel’s curatorial duties for desde los azules [from the blues] – a special project that turns the Rotation of pieces into a constructor and de-constructor of identities.

Iman Issa, Marwa Arsanios and Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa are back for the fifteenth anniversary of Kunsthalle Lissabon, but their selection, while referring to the works previously exhibited in this venue, delves deeper into the issues raised above, with new works featuring a very clear performance aspect in the way the artists and curator perceive art, life, politics and the histories of the countries they bring to mind.

Iman Issa conceives of museums as power and knowledge arenas, but also as factories of identity and ideological politics. Objects contain myths and wonders that move masses and collectives. These objects become icons, which become just things through mass cultural tourism. The Heritage Studies series (2015-) is a profound reflection on the way we grasp objects in museums – a circular performativity, shielded by showcases and different devices – and how cultural policies comprehend the past and its productions, reducing them to mere totemic objects. This ambiguity or ambivalence, between de facto astoundment and museological capitalisation, is visible in Heritage Studies #30 (2020) – the abstraction or objectification of a cylinder at the International Museum of Ancient Arts and Cultures. The cylinder is stripped down to its formal and objectual character, augmented and mediated by the caption and conservation or archive note.

Someone enquired about an industrial building that served as a dance school for women in “The most beautiful industry in our country” (1958), published in Al-Hilal magazine. This school would be tasked with training and modelling the bodies of modern “new women” through dance and movement. Olga’s Notes, all those restless bodies (2014) reflects on a dance-based political project. Marwa Arsanios films a series of choreographies referring to this article, in which the bodies appear to lose their autonomy, their identity, and fall into a state of unrest. The identity of the bodies is unclear in this instance, as much so as the viewers or the political actors who wanted to manufacture these bodies by systematising their movements.

Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa works with the body as a tool for artistic and political reflection. Unabashedly, unencumbered by any complex, the body is the scatological truth and the mark, dilating and deforming, of things in life. Ramirez-Figueroa dances in an unstable balance with Guatemala’s iconic architecture. His body lays the foundation for Arquitetura Incremental (2015), or sections of buildings stacked on top of each other in a tower. When the dance begins, the tower is defied to remain intact, upright, until it yields and collapses on top of the artist with its movements. Architectural space is studied in terms of how it can alienate bodies, from colonial architecture to post-colonial architecture.

New works come onto the scene after Rotations.

Iman Issa’s cylindrical structure leads to an emulation of the Papyrus of the Singer Anhai, with Spells from the Book of the Dead – a document holding a vital position in Egyptian culture, between fear and desire, reverberating in the country’s and the world’s current identities and memories. A large red-coloured object unfolds. The caption next to it allows the viewer to project and fictionalise hieroglyphs and spells, imagining Anhai’s remote, sonorous intonation.

Have you ever killed a bear? Or becoming Jamila (2014) is a video about Jamila Bouhired – a feminist and socialist icon of Algerian liberation, who towered above an entire social and political infrastructure that pushed the role of women to the fringes and into silence. Jamila became a media icon. However, icons often develop an aura or identity outside of the original individual, constructing visions and facts that transcend them. Marwa Arsianos enquires about what it means to become an icon and fight for freedom, a process that is as much retrospective as it is performative and documentary (the research once again starts with the magazine Al-Hilal from the 1960s and 1970s).

Print of Sleep (2016) is one of Ramirez-Figueroa’s most intimate projects – a performance registering on the body the imprint of affections and dreams. The body does not forget. The body stops forgetting. The bodies’ movements are recorded and drawn on the body, in the folds of the sheets, in the performers’ tattered garments. There is a surrender to conjugality, but also to dream-like solitude, to rest – and, why not, to insomnia.

The seeming economy of desde los azules is inversely proportional to the sheer depth of the issues it addresses. The three works (six in total, but at different times) and the three artists summon up age-old concerns that frequently refer to the building of nation-states with histories and territories splintered by different eras and occupations. Egypt and Great Britain, Algeria and France, Guatemala and Spain, all a confrontation and an endless tale, between what can be repaired and what is beyond mending, bearing the crosses and sacred objects of a past, a present and a future in constant reconstruction and movement.

desde los azules is at Kunsthalle Lissabon until August 17. Rotation 2, proposed by curator Yina Jiménez Suriel, takes place on July 4.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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