Th 26.02.2009

Press release Exhibition opening «Dream and reality. Contemporary Art from the Middle East»

The second exhibition focusing on the Orient turns its attention to the art of the modern-day “Orient”: Arranged as a multidisciplinary exhibition, Dream and reality. Contemporary Art from the Middle East invites the visitor on a journey through the present-day Islamic and Arab world that lies between Turkey and Afghanistan and between Egypt and Lebanon. The “Middle East” of the title is applied somewhat loosely to indicate not so much a political or geographical arena as a religious and cultural concept. “Real fiction” works within the context of documentary film material offer a contemporary and topical look at the region, while highly aestheticised and fictitious videos lend subjective and poetic expression to the overall picture.

Through its thematic cycle of exhibitions, the Zentrum Paul Klee is embracing the real and imaginary Orient and presenting the full range of interaction between Orient and Occident in work culled from past centuries. The artists with works on display reflect on the historical Orientalism of the West as witnessed in the exhibitions In Search of the Orient (7.2.-24.5.2009) and Carpet of Memory (30.5.-30.8.2009) on the ground floor of the Zentrum Paul Klee. The works deal both consciously and critically with the clichés and mixing of styles and idioms in the globalised art world of the twenty-first century. Lida Abdul’s video White Horse, for instance, features an old Afghan man whitewashing his horse with a coarse brush. He appears to be following an age-old custom, but when asked by his nephew what he means by it, the old man replies laconically that tourists now prefer white horses. This video can be read as an allegory on the art scene in the Middle East, oscillating as it does between the rich traditions of folklore, cultural criticism and stylistic self-assertion.

Strongly assertive installations such as Marwan Rechmaoui’s plan view of Beirut as a large rubber mat intensify the emotional and sensual radiance of the exhibition. Emphasising this sensuality are audio stations prepared by the Bernese ethnomusicologist Thomas Burkhalter and his Norient organisation, as well as performances of live music. Video works by Hala Elkoussy and Hatice Güleryüz render partly documentary, partly subjective and poetic portraits of the cities of Cairo and Istanbul.

The block of flats painted in various shades of green which Ergin Cavusoglu captures in his video production Empire After Andy Warhol could also be found in Bern, were it not for the small minaret on the roof from which the muezzin calls at dusk. The Turkish artist Halil Altindere, well-known for his involvement with documenta 12, has been commissioned by the Zentrum Paul Klee to create Mirage, a synchro-montage work in which he thematises the global asset of water with pictures from the driest region in Turkey: located in the south-east of the country, it is due to be flooded as part of a dam construction project. For her part, Amal Kenawy turns her drawings and the way they degenerate into nightmares into dense, oppressive animated films, such as in her work The purple artificial forest. Meanwhile, contributions by Lebanon’s Atlas Group present fictitious historic events as if they had really happened.

The exhibition also defines art from the Middle East as including works by Swiss artists such as San Keller, Chalet 5, Davide Cascio and Michael von Graffenried, all past artists-in-residence in Cairo. A selection of films from various countries shown in the exhibition provides an insight into the diversity of the region’s film culture. The cinematic supporting programme compiled by trigon-film includes works ranging from traditional narrative cinema and desert ballads to genre film and the reductionism of the Modernists. The works tackle societal and existential issues and conflicts, as well as the quest for identity and cultural roots.

Du issue 793 – In Search of the Orient: in association with the Zentrum Paul Klee, this issue focuses on Paul Klee’s oriental journey and the culture of the present-day Arab-Persian region.