Magazine article Art Monthly

Estrangement

Magazine article Art Monthly

Estrangement

Article excerpt

Estrangement

Showroom London 21 April to 5 June

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

On the opening day of 'Estrangement', two art-world-attired adults dressed in tasteful shades of black could be spotted towing a full-size gold-painted Roman chariot at speed along the local high street. About a dozen children stood inside the open-backed cart, clinging perilously to its sides, spilling in and out with breathless excitement. The Chariot, 2010, by Polish artist Joanna Rajkowska, was based on the somewhat tenuous conceit that ancient chariots, which originally came from the East and were eventually integrated into British indigenous culture (remember Boudicca?), are an obvious corollary to Edgware's immigrant population, which largely hails from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. The idea might have been naff, but the event was both fun and genuinely concerned with enriching the social experience of this deprived neighbourhood.

Initiated by Polish curator Aneta Szylak and Iraqi artist Hiwa K, the Estrangement Project is an ongoing series of workshops and exhibitions regionally centred in Kurdish Iraq and spilling geographically and culturally across northern Europe. On the opening night, Hiwa K and Jim White's untitled performance at the nearby Cockpit Theatre featured a screening of the famous denouement gunfight from Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, and was both witty and sincere. This consisted of a live musical performance of Ennio Morricone's blood-curdling soundtrack by the artist (on mouth organ) and a clutch of Royal College of Music students (on brass); also performing was White, a former US soldier who now works as a caretaker at the Art Academy of Mainz (where Hiwa K currently lives). White, who is not a musician, concentrated with grim determination as he strummed his chords, and this lack of professionalism became an integral part of the performance. The event lasted barely ten minutes or so, but it effectively dissolved the latent binary conflict of good/bad, Iraqi/American into a drama of friendship, co-operation and hard work.

Returning to the gallery the next day was a relatively sedate experience, but the humour and muddying of cliches continued apace. There was deadpan playfulness to Sherko Abbas's video Sherwal, 2008, which is named after the Kurdish men's trousers that tighten at the ankles and flare around the upper legs. Here, the artist inflates his sherwal into a sort of lower-body life vest, which he uses as a buoyancy device to help him swim across a small lake. Also comically off-key were Maryam Jaffri's short video works in which she performed as two interlocutors whose identities seemed to fuse and unravel. In Theatre, 2001, she acts as both patient and doctor; her ponderous, rather annoying, metrical intonation becomes a Brechtian device that opens up a gulf between experience, performance and narrative, and was the most distilled approximation of the project's 'estrangement' leitmotif.

Theatrical self-analysis was also evident in works that testified to a closer experience of the violence of war, migration and exile. In Anton Katz's Dasha & Kolja, 2008, the artist gave his video camera to two young street children living in a Russian village near the Estonian border, who alternately perform to the camera (practising circus juggling, clambering across a barn roof etc) and retreat shyly from its gaze. …

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