In 2000, artist, writer and tutor at the Royal College of Art released the book Chromophobia – a study of attitudes to colour in Western art, society and philosophy. Batchelor’s own art often involves repurposed materials in intensely bright and saturated colours, toying with colour’s capacity to affect perception and similarly to be affected or moulded by our gaze. Feeding from and into his practice, the central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse – a fear of corruption or contamination through colour – lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge colour, either by making it the property of some ‘foreign body’ – the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological – or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic. David Batchelor
Dubai gallery, Isabelle Van Den Eynde, opens an exhibition on 19 June by artists Abdelkader Benchamma and Jessica Mein titled Chromophobia. A nod to Batchelor’s study, both artists explore public visual culture and its capacity to manipulate reality. Presented in the context of a city made up of incongruous aesthetic languages – it’ll be interesting to see how effectively these works explore the subject. In Dubai, the myriad appropriated styles, colours and forms of visual dialect not only smother innate local aesthetics but culminate in a clunky car boot of mismatched identities. Giant billboard adverts for Du (who have a monopoly on broadband services) loom into our journeys along the Sheikh Zayed Road. A small shop front for a Black Stallion Barber with a neon rearing horse logo is overshadowed by super sized pictures of Arabia’s X-Factor judges for 2013. If you live in Dubai, you’ll either get in line with excessive consumerism and the promise of what life can look like or you’ll spend your time avoiding the main stream and seeking out the pockets of authentic experiences – this exhibition could be one of them.
Jessica Mein is one of the few non-Emirati artists living and working from Dubai – which in itself makes Fat Nancy smile. Mein’s hometown, São Paulo, was the first city outside the communist world to put into effect a radical ban on outdoor advertising in 2007, with the mayor stating that ‘The Clean City Law came from a necessity to combat pollution…We decided that we should start … with the most conspicuous sector – visual pollution’. Mein’s bold and abstract collages comprise salvaged billboards sheets that she hole-punches and collages by hand, and represent an interruption to the city’s elimination of billboards, repurposing those memories as contemporary art. Mein reconstructs the billboards by collaging cut out circles of colour from the discarded material, unmooring these visual indicators from their original purpose and reconstituting them as art.
Abdelkader Benchamma’s ‘Blue Beam Project’ draws into the visual realm conspiracy theories of a NASA satellite project that purports to use projections to instill a global panic. Benchamma uses video projections and delicate, detailed drawings to reveal how such invasive use of technology capitalises on the contagious qualities of fear and paranoia to reconfigure social relations and human perception.
Both artists retrieve images from their original social realms and challenge their intent and effects. It will be interesting however, to see how two very different or even opposed mediums and styles, are brought together in one space towards a coherent exhibition. Next up we would like to see an artist using Dubai’s visual culture as their source material with comment on the intent and effect on local society and perception … Any takers? (Don’t forget Fat Nancy’s credit line).
Chromophobia runs from 19 June – 28 July 2013
Jessica Mein (b. São Paulo, Brazil) lives and works between New York, São Paulo and Dubai. She has exhibited internationally, in solo exhibition as well as group at the Julia Stoschek Foundation, Germany, Museo Tamayo de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico; and The Street Files Biennial El Museo del Barrio, New York, among others. Her MFA is from Hunter College, New York, and her BA is from Duke University. Her work has entered numerous collections, including that of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Julia Stoschek Collection, Germany.
Abdelkader Benchamma (b. France 1975 to Algerian parents) lives and works in Montpellier. He completed his studies at the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris in 2003. In 2011, Benchamma participated in the ‘Future of a Promise’ exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and was commissioned for the ‘Told Untold Retold’ exhibition at the Mathaf Museum, Doha, Qatar. He has had solo exhibitions across Europe as well as in Asia, and has works in public collections, namely the FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, the Musee de Beaux Arts-Orleans and Artotheque de Pessac in France. Benchamma is currently participating in the exhibition ‘The Immigrants’ at the Venice Biennale, curated by Frederico Luger.