Ryan Gander, Goldin+Senneby, Rana Hamadeh, Anja Kirschner & David Panos, Liz Magic Laser, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Lili Reynaud-Dewar
Lisson Gallery is proud to present The Magic of the State, an exhibition and editorial project, taking place in London and Cairo this Spring. Curated by Silvia Sgualdini of Lisson Gallery, in conjunction with Beirut – a new art initiative and exhibition space in Cairo – the project defines an ambitious platform for artistic exchange between two contrasting art institutions operating in very different contexts. Each exhibition features a different constellation of works by the same artists, including new commissions, and a public program of performances, talks and screenings.
The Magic of the State borrows its title from the eponymous book by anthropologist Michael Taussig. In this text, combining fiction with analysis, Taussig conceives the modern State as configured through a theatre of spirit possession into the living body of society. Historically placed at the intersection of science, religion and politics, the concept of magic exists in an integral relationship to that of power. Magic in its broadest sense is addressed within the context of the project: both secular magic and its connection to propaganda and mysticism with its claim to access supernatural entities and powers. Magic’s coerciveness lies in its power to transform, simultaneously holding together the desire to believe and the desire to doubt. Here, politics and magic, statecraft and stagecraft, converge as performance.
The exhibition in London opens with Stand Behind Me (2013), a new performance by artist Liz Magic Laser. Working with dancer Ariel Freedman, Laser isolates and replicates the trained body language of politicians. In a live-feed video produced at the opening reception the audience becomes the backdrop, simulating a media strategy used to demonstrate public support. The video will remain as an installation paired with a teleprompter that displays the figures and speech fragments referenced.
During the exhibition in London, Rana Hamadeh will enact The Big Board (2013), a new commissioned theatrical work. Inspired by Sun Ra’s 1974 film Space is the Place, Oskar Schlemmer’s 1926 Diagram for Gesture Dance and Paulus Fürst’s 1656 engraving of Doctor Schnabel of Rome, the work evokes a set of provocative associations, playing out an intensive scrutiny of the shared lexicons of criminology, epidemiology and theatre. The work follows Al Karantina (2013), a lecture- performance and installation presented for the first time at Beirut in Cairo. Al Karantina explores the relationship between resistance and contagion by considering the plague in ancient Athens as an allegory for the current Arab uprisings.
The composed narrative of Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s installation Cleda's Chairs' (2010) deals with ideas of magic, ritual and death as an element of domesticity, but
also with modernity, otherness and circulation. The Louis XIII chairs were inherited from the artist’s grandmother Cleda, when Cleda moved from her large country home into a small Parisian apartment, where the chairs were unable to fit. The artist draws a connection with Pasolini’s film Notes for an African Oresteia, a project for a film based on Aeschylus’s tragedy, that deals with the idea of passing from traditional to urban and modern structures in 1970s Africa.
Ryan Gander alchemically connects the exhibition spaces in Cairo and London via two Alchemy Boxes - sculptures made of common objects in which mysterious contents are sealed. In London, an illuminating sign – usually found outside operating theatres – intermittently displays the text 'SPONTANEOUS PROSE'. Ogenblik - (Alchemy Box # 101), (2013) contains objects from the collection of the artist on the subject of ‘the instigation of an art school’.
For Money will be like dross: A replica instruction for the August Nordenskiöld alchemy furnace, (2012), Goldin+Senneby offer instructions and a licence to replicate an alchemical furnace first developed by Swedish mineralogist August Nordenskiöld, who in 1780 was secretly employed by the King of Sweden to pursue alchemical research. However Nordenskiöld himself was a utopian idealist whose ultimate goal was to make gold worthless and thereby abolish the “tyranny of money”. For Nordenskiöld, an economy based on money created a disparity between labour and capital, a disparity comparable to the relationship between reality and illusion.
Anja Kirschner and David Panos' video installation Ultimate Substance, (2012) examines the current Greek economic crisis by revisiting ancient myths and looking at how the introduction of coinage affected the emergence of abstract mathematical and philosophical knowledge.
Christodoulos Panayiotou presents a series of photographs selected from the Press and Information Office in Nicosia. The works excavate the rituals and ceremonies that underline the construction of a national narrative and the constitution of Cyprus as a modern nation state following independence from Britain. Operation Serenade (2010) is part of a series of rolled carpets sourced from major Hollywood award ceremonies. The title alludes to the official codename for the 2004 funeral of American President Ronald Reagan who, before becoming a politician, was a celebrated actor in Hollywood. The artist’s presentation of carpets rolled up and not unfurled withholds our access to the aura of celebrity that they imply.
At a time of uncharted and complex political transition in Egypt, the selected and newly commissioned works question the legacy of outmoded systems of beliefs and mythological principles within the modern state, pointing to the slippage between the prescriptive intent and the idiosyncratic manifestations of stately power. They chart the potential of alternative aggregations, and explore the possibility of resistance by thinking laterally and looking at unorthodox places.
A compendium on art, magic and politics, featuring essays, fiction and true stories in both English and Arabic, will follow the exhibition, with contributions by Jonathan Allen, Will Bradley, Michael Taussig, a telephone conversation between Peter Lamborn Wilson and Evan Calder Williams, and others.
About the artists
Ryan Gander was born in 1976 in Chester and lives and works between London and Suffolk. When looking for a definition of Ryan Gander's work one has to surrender to its multifaceted nature and the apparent incongruity of its formal manifestations. Emblematic of his method of working is the lecture series Loose Associations, begun in 2002, for which the artist weaves a web of facts and fictions, mixing autobiographical anecdotes with shared cultural and art historical references. Underlying Gander's linguistic and formal play are tactics of illusion and deception in which the viewer is complicit in fostering a multiplication of meanings.
Goldin+Senneby is a framework for collaboration set up by artists Simon Goldin (b. 1981) and Jakob Senneby (b. 1971) since 2004. They explore juridical, financial and spatial constructs through notions of the performative and the virtual. In their body of work known as Headless (2007 -), they approach the sphere of offshore finance, and its production of virtual space through legal code. Looking at strategies of withdrawal and secrecy, they trace an offshore company on the Bahamas called Headless Ltd, while a ghostwritten detective novel narrates their investigations. Since 2010 their work has focused on The Nordenskiöld Model, an experiment in theatrical finance, in which they attempt to (re)enact the anarcho-alchemical scheme of 18th- Century alchemist August Nordenskiöld on the financial markets of today. www.goldinsenneby.com
Rana Hamadeh was born in 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon, and lives and works in Rotterdam. She works on extensive discursive research projects that generally question the conditions of spectatorship as well as the boundaries, authority and mechanisms of meaning production. Bringing together visual, performative and theoretical frameworks, Hamadeh constructs ever-growing constellations and networks of associative docu-fictive narratives that reflect upon linguistic, discursive, legal, and physical modes of violence along with its political and social articulations. She initiated in 2008 and 2011 two on-going artistic/curatorial projects, GRAPHIS N ̊127 and Alien Encounters, which comprise different levels of collaborations with other artists, illegal immigrants, writers, civil servants, housewives, and designers among others.
Anja Kirschner was born in 1977 in Munich, Germany and David Panos in 1971 in Athens, Greece, and they live in London and Athens. Working collaboratively since 2006, Kirschner and Panos have been at the forefront of explorations into narrative form within recent artists’ film and video. Frequently drawing on literary and historical sources as a means of reflecting on the present, their works collide film genre motifs and theoretical discourses, melodrama and digital effects to create a distinctive filmic language that subverts existing categories. Extending and challenging the tradition of Brechtian anti-naturalism, their films explore the relation of art and culture to political economy and power.
Liz Magic Laser was born in 1981 in New York City, where she lives and works. Her performances and videos intervene in semi-public spaces such as bank vestibules, movie theatres and newsrooms, and have involved collaborations with actors, dancers, surgeons, and motorcycle gang members. She stages situations, dialogues, monologues or plays in the urban environment, and its population becomes both her audience and her extras in the resulting videos. Her recent work appropriates the dominant performance techniques and psychological strategies used by the media and politicians to sway public opinion. Liz Magic Laser is her real name from birth. www.lizmagiclaser.com
Christodoulos Panayiotou was born in 1978 in Limassol, Cyprus, and lives and works in Paris, Berlin and Limassol. Christodoulos Panayiotou’s multidimensional work addresses issues and concerns ranging from the complex contemporary understanding of what constitutes “the public” to the construction of national identity and history. He frequently takes ceremonies, festivals, and theatrical spectacles as points of departure from which to explore the structures and customs that inform social experience. His process also engages the archives of the press and regional and state agencies of his country, Cyprus, to reflect on how interpretations of a collective sense of identity are dependent on the manner in which images and information are arranged and presented.
Lili Reynaud-Dewar was born in 1975 in La Rochelle, France, and lives and works in Paris. Her relatively epic projects combine performance, video, sculpture and involve her friends, her family and lately, her own body. Confronting her own biography and practice to the legacy of emblematic figures such as Josephine Baker, Sun Ra, and Jean Genet, she seeks to disrupt the expectations related to her own background and her role as a contemporary artist. She is the co-founder of Petunia a feminist art and entertainment magazine and writes regularly for various publications.