Magazine article Artforum International

Vanessa Van Obberghen: Galerie Susanna Kulli

Magazine article Artforum International

Vanessa Van Obberghen: Galerie Susanna Kulli

Article excerpt

Belgian artist Vanessa van Obberghen has been traveling to Dakar for several years. In her work, for the most part photographs and multimedia installations, she investigates transcultural exchange. A key to unpacking "Big Wig," her tightly structured recent exhibition in Zurich, was provided by an untitled video projection, 2006-2007, showing a white man attempting to find his rhythm while surrounded by a group of people (both white and black) dancing; he never succeeds. The dance motif is reprised in three light boxes, BIG WIG (Zi KhR 1), BIG WIG (Zi KhR 2), and BIG WIG (Zi KhR 3) (all 2007), each of which contains several transparent, overlapping photographs showing the heads of black men, like stills marking the phases of a ritual dance. The act of looking through the various layers of the image, as well as the movement from one box to the next, draws the viewer into the rite performed by these figures even while remaining physically excluded.

Other photographs show people and interiors from African communities in Antwerp as well as in Dakar--images with and without figures. But in the void of the empty spaces, in the gaps amid the open constellation of the exhibition, we feel a sort of unifying power, an evocation of the presence of the "bigwig," the religious and political boss with unlimited power to protect and monitor. Printed on stainless steel mirrors, these black-and-white images have a peculiar presence, one that lies somewhere between direct confrontation, dream, and trauma. BIG WIG (Citroen DS), 2007, a glimpse into the showroom of an automobile dealership with several cars lined up temptingly in a row, becomes an exploration of one of the everyday myths of Europe and the desires that can be projected onto it in the global South. …

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