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Unmasked
by Muhammad Yusuf February 08, 2018
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Carbon 12 gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, has begun the art season with an exhibition by German artist Michael Sailstorfer, marking his second solo exhibition there. His ‘We Love Them All’ (Jan. 20 – Mar. 4) tackles issues through amorphous ceramic masks, pockmarked with glaze drips and marbling.

A continuation of his 2015 metal mask series, the current show nods at Oceanic and African Art, with slits to recall mouths, surface manipulations to indicate eyes, and pointed protrusions that suggest noses.

The art historical references in the ceramics can be interpreted as Classical Primitivism. But the masks can also be seen as futuristic, humanoid interpretations. The aesthetics thus incorporates both the past and the future - an inspired stroke.  

Each mask captures the interplay between historical realities and can be linked to ceremonial exorcisms and the protective function of masks, qualities bestowed on them by Primitive Man. But one can look at the masks sans déjà vu, a feeling which is possible when primordial masks are seen. The inertia and the “been there, seen it” feeling is whipped away due to the bold and confident faces the masks display. They have a certain degree of sass as they look at the present and the future.

They can be seen as representing the status quo: after all, what else is there in them that have not already been extracted by musty scholars, cultural anthropologists, know all experts and a host of squabbling lecturers? However, there is much more to Sailstorfer’s masks than are dreamt of in received wisdom. Radiating from their ancestral forms, are ruminations on contemporary production, future possibilities, history and symbolism.

There is a rough individualism to them. Each mask has a personality, brought about by the stylisation of cut and glaze. Sailstorfer’s message: though the masks may have been mass produced in times gone by as also today, originality can be found in homogeneity. He pushes the boundaries of pre-existing, historic realities and makes us time travellers, taking us on an artistic journey on catamarans and spaceships. The magical and material charm of the works echoes and re-echoes in the exhibition.

He lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Active since 2001 with an educational background from Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Munich) and an MA in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College (London), he is represented by multiple international galleries and with over 180 exhibitions.

He shows in the Americas and heavily across Europe, with works in private and public collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Sammlung Goetz (Munich), and S.M.A.K. (Gent).

His works are a playful and mischievous exploration of industrial materials that surround us, how we function in relation to them, and on how he can eviscerate all dear held perceptions and push thought out of its comfort zones. He is known for his installation based works.

Speaking with forked tongue

An exhibition strips the message to lay bare the meaning. Muhammad Yusuf reports

Green Art Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, is showing (Jan. 20 – Mar. 7) the works of Berlin-based Venezuelan artist Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck. In ‘Instrumentalized’, Balteo-Yazbeck brings together two bodies of work – in a way, he says, of confronting what he calls the “propagandisation” of human rights. He argues that human tragedy is now used as a tool by governments, artists, NGOs and other public bodies to advance specific ideological agendas.

His work is part of an on-going series, brought to fruition after years of research. It includes ‘Chronoscope 1952’, a re-appropriation of broadcast images from the Longines Watch Company-sponsored public affairs show of the same name which ran during 1952. Covering issues such as the Korean War, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the draft of the United Nations Human Rights Charter, the re-worked show, projected in a single-channel video in front of a stately Chesterfield sofa, attempts to make patent both the prevalence of propaganda in furthering an American democratic ideology, and the complicity of the Media in that endeavour. 

‘Instrumentalized’ is a series of objects that behave like paintings and sculptures. Unlike ‘Chronoscope 1952’, with its strategy of laying bare the political narrative, ‘Instrumentalized’ retreats into itself, and aims to foreclose any intended or unconscious reading from the outside.

The artist graduated in Fine Arts from his native city of Caracas, Venezuela, where he has exhibited his work extensively. He moved his practice to New York from 2000 to 2010, and is now based in Berlin.

Solo exhibitions include Autocratic Nostalgia: Venezuelan Contemporary Landscapes, Henrique Faria, New York, USA (2017); Electoral Autocracy (Venezuelan Case), Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna, Austria (2016); Diplomatic Entanglements at Rochester Art Center, Rochester, MN (2015); Modern Entanglements at Green Art Gallery, Dubai, UAE (2015); Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect at Galerie Martin Janda, (2013); Corrupted Files at Galeria Luisa Strina, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2012); Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect at Henrique Faria, New York, NY (2010) and A little bit of heaven at Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2008).
 

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