Magazine article Art Monthly

Subversion

Magazine article Art Monthly

Subversion

Article excerpt

Cornerhouse Manchester 14 April to 5 June

Questioning notions of an imposed or imagined identity, this show of new art from the Arab world revels in playfulness and disguise, and strongly reflects the background in cinema of curator (and AM contributor) Omar Kholeif. 'Subversion' does what its title suggests by undermining popular global media, notably film and video, animation and computer gaming.

This is perhaps most dramatically achieved by the Gaza-based twin brothers Tarzan and Arab in their Gazawood project of 2010, an ironic title from artists who do not have access to a functioning cinema. Instead, one has been installed here, showing the short film Colourful Journey, 2010, which features a pair of identical gunmen facing each other on a rooftop intercut with close-ups of gloopy paint being applied to canvas. Placed nearby are posters for imaginary films with disconcerting titles like Autumn Clouds or Cast Lead, which are named after Israeli military campaigns.

The Iraqi-born Wafaa Bilal's computer game Virtual Jihadi, 2008, is available for visitors to play inside a stage-set Baghdad internet cafe designed by Kev Thornton. Originating in the US military game The Quest for Saddam, it was appropriated by al-Qaeda, which 'reverse engineered' it as an electronic hunt for George W Bush. Bilal's hacked version is a bleak, bullet-riddled series of scenarios where tunnel-vision ideology becomes cartoon-like. Yet, in some ways, the 'imagined' Arab world is inescapable, at least as far as Circle of Confusion, 1997, by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige is concerned. This new version invites visitors to unpick a large aerial photograph of Beirut consisting of peeloff rectangles with the words 'Beirut does not exist' printed on the back of each. Behind the stickers is a mirror.

Floating through infinity, the first Palestinian in space is revealed behind the visor of her helmet to be the Jerusalem-born artist Larissa Sansour, starring in the film A Space Exodus, 2009. To a witty soundtrack by Iraqi musician Aida Nadeem, who has rearranged the familiar Strauss themes from Stanley Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey for sitar, tabla and orchestra, Sansour's astronaut stakes a claim on behalf of her uprooted nation to a part of the Moon. As she disappears into space at the end, she calls back to base: 'Jersusalem? Jerusalem?' And at our feet in the gallery, little crowds of plastic Palestinauts are grouped together, also demanding attention. Sansour's latest project, Nation Estate, 2012, is also previewed. Imagining the State of Palestine vertically realised in floor-by-floor designs for a huge skyscraper, we see computer generated photos of a main lobby, a Jerusalem floor containing its own model Dome of the Rock and a flat with a personal olive tree. It is a controversial work: last year it was nominated for and then disqualified from the Lacoste Elysee Prize on the grounds that it was 'too pro-Palestinian', according to Sansour (Artnotes AM353). Following this, the Swiss Musee de l'Elysee broke links with Lacoste, which cancelled the prize. Sansour is now turning Nation Estate into a film.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

At around an hour in length, it seems appropriate to watch Television Pilot for An Egyptian Air Hostess Soap Opera, 2003, while seated in genuine airliner seats. Directed by Manchester-born Sherif El-Azma, its lead characters, Farah and Leila, are new recruits, learning to wear revealing corporate uniforms, regularly apply make-up, endure sexist treatment from male passengers and communicate in bizarre, disconnected dialogue, but they must always wear disarmingly sincere smiles, even when experiencing a nosebleed. …

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