Didn’t Start The Fire presents four artists’ varying approaches to recent and present day imperialism. Centering on the use of monolithic forms, the exhibition brings together works by Haig Aivazian, Nader Sadek, Kamau Amu Patton, and Yui Kugimiya.
Haig Aivazian‘s Why Should Fear Seize the Limbs Before the Warning Sounds? commemorates figurative fires, appropriating symbols from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and both Gulf Wars. Three wood sculptures recall the rigidity of statuary systematized by ancient and recent imperial regimes. While the sources from which they borrow are associated with monumentality, the three forms—representing a torch, a concrete barricade, and a trapdoor podium—are figureless and small in scale. Occupying separate plinths, they trace the theft of flames from the Greek mountains of Olympia to their release onto the oil fields of Iraq.
In Nigredo in Necromance, Nader Sadek’s music video for a song from his 2011 death metal album ‘In the Flesh,’ a narrative of crude oil, romance and despair plays out a series of generational archetypes. Set in the woods at nightfall, the piece finds its principal protagonist fingering his guitar as it transforms into a flesh-like, ink-leaking version of itself. As the music intensifies, so does the spill until eventually the black liquid covers the surrounding forest. The video’s props, all created by Sadek, are made of petroleum-based rubber and human hair, a material combination that foreshadows the silicon-skin-kiss in the piece’s final scene.
A soundscape of corporate language, Kamau Amu Patton’s Apple_Genius_Bar_2013 steadily builds itself into a tower of dissonance and static before disappearing and starting over. Recorded using in-store display computers while waiting for service at an Apple Store Genius Bar, the nearly seventeen-minute piece is a layered collage of customer service discussions and Mac device sounds played at varying speeds. Several vignettes, including one of an employee stating that ‘they’ are going to ‘run an inspection matrix,’ are repeated in conjunction with the Mac 'empty trash' sound and the “click-tap” of keyboards, suggesting invisible landfills of defective ghost devices.
In her six painting tableau, The the the, the the the, Yui Kugimiya animates plain forms and questions the stories that prop up the obelisks of 20th century abstraction. Hanging in a two-row grid, the small oils-on-canvas feature abstract shapes in fields of red, orange and pink. The alternating tones and leaning forms lend the discrete plastic spaces a processional quality. From left to right, the abstract shapes traverse consecutive pictorial planes. This trajectory is interrupted by the edges of the stretchers where the color fields fray to reveal brown and green hues while each raw underpainting critiques the ensemble’s fiction of continuity.
Buttressing one another in the exhibition, the works frame imperialist realities and contextualize their political landscapes. As the chorus from which the show’s title is borrowed states, today’s political fires and their subsequent American monoliths seem to have been “burning, since the world’s been turning.”
About the Curator
Nadia Ayari is an artist whose projects focus on political landscapes and painting armatures. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in London, UK; Dubai, UAE; Cairo, Egypt and New York, USA among other cities. She is currently based in New York where she co-runs S2A, a project space and collective.
About the Artists
Haig Aivazian (b. 1980) is an artist, curator and writer, using performance, video, drawing installation, sculpture and text, his works weave together personal and geo-political, micro and macro narratives in its search for ideological loopholes and short circuits. Aivazian holds an MFA from Northwestern University and is a Skowhegan alumnus (2011). His work has been exhibited in France, Germany, Austria, Lebanon, the UAE, Brazil, Canada, and the USA. Refugee Olympics, part of the FUGERE project, was commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 9 (2009). Other parts of FUGERE were exhibited in a solo show in Sfeir-Semler gallery’s Hamburg space (2013). He is currently based in Beirut.
Nader Sadek (b. 1981) earned his BFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He works as a sculptor, conceptual installation artist, set designer, music video director, musical event curator, musician, and writer. He has achieved notoriety for his grotesquely colorful flesh paintings, masks, and video props, as well as his politically charged Islamo-gothic cross-hatched drawings (Faceless) and viscous black petrochemical sculptures (Worry in the House of Thieves and Baptism in Black). Sadek also curated and collaborated with several of his childhood musical heroes on In The Flesh, a conceptual death metal album hailed both inside and outside the heavy metal press.
Kamau Amu Patton is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York. His work issues from an ongoing involvement with the generative intersection of sound, light, and electronics. He received his MFA from Stanford University in 2007 and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Sociology. Patton has exhibited his work in solo exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Queens Nails Annex in San Francisco, Machine Project in Los Angeles, and Tilton Gallery in New York. He has worked collaboratively on artist projects at the MoMA in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Patton was a 2010-2011 A.I.R. at The Studio Museum in Harlem. His work was shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the fall of 2011 as part of the 2010 SECA Art Award exhibition, in 2012 as part of the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival, and in 2013 as a part of the Machine Project Field guide to LA Architecture.
Yui Kugimiya (b. 1981) earned an MFA in painting from Yale University School of Art in 2007. Since 2004, she has participated in numerous international exhibitions mainly in the USA, Mexico, and Japan. She is currently based in Brooklyn.