Magazine article Artforum International

Yinka Shonibare, MBE: James Cohan Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Yinka Shonibare, MBE: James Cohan Gallery

Article excerpt

What stripes are to Daniel Buren or the "blp" is to Richard Artschwager, wax-printed cotton is to Yinka Shonibare, MBK--a medium, a trademark, a transformative tool. These inexpensive fabrics were initially manufactured by the Dutch in the nineteenth century for trade in the Far East, but found a readier market in Africa, to the point that today they index that continent. To Shonibare they also index the trade between Europe and its former colonies, and accordingly a complex and problematic nest of arrangements among nations and races. Throughout Shonibare's work in many media, these fabrics act as cheerfully decorative symbols and signatures, signs of worldly doings applicable, it seems, to almost any worldly object, changing its meaning.

In Shonibare's video Addio del Passato, 2011, the prints appear most prominently in an elaborate dress. A third of the way through this work, some viewers may think it's been looped or rewound. For the second time, the woman wearing the dress, and standing in some opulent aristocrat's mansion, begins the famous aria of the work's title, from Verdi's La Traviata (1853); for the second time, she starts a sad, stately progress through the rooms of the house, down its grand staircase and out into its grounds, before returning to a gallery where, collapsing on the carpet, she ends her song and essentially herself. And then, of course, she begins again, for that is the nature of a loop. But those who watch carefully will realize that she begins again, differently--that, as in Shonibare's earlier video Un Bath in Maschera, 2004, this isn't a loop but a new episode, or the same one shot and edited another way. A view through a doorway, for example, may switch to a different doorway; a musical passage that one segment stages in the garden another sets in the conservatory. Other sequences may simply be repeats, others perhaps a different camera view of the same action. Each performance of the aria, then--the video has three altogether--is ingeniously different and ingeniously the same.

Speaking of Un Bulla in Maschera, Shonibare has related this kind of repetition to the medium's reflexivity--to directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, who break film's illusion of a god's-eye view of the world through devices that insist on cinema's artifice. …

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