about the exhibition
Power Play: Adel Abdessemed, Mircea Cantor, Claire Fontaine
May 03–July 15, 2007about the exhibition and the artists
Power Play features videos, photographs, and sculptures by Adel Abdessemed, Mircea Cantor, and Claire Fontaine that propose resistance to traditional power structures. The works were created in the last several years in Paris against a politically explosive backdrop of growing tensions within the city’s immigrant populations. The artists employ different strategies to protest an institutionalized power dynamic that encourages inequality and fear in the marginalized, and has led to riots in the streets.
Adel Abdessemed’s generous and poetic videos, drawings, and sculptures combine exuberance with a modesty of means to produce works of challenging ambiguity. The projection God is Design (2005) animates black and white drawings of human cells, Western geometric structures, Eastern arabesques, and Jewish and Islamic symbols. Each drawing folds into the next to pivot between iconographic ornamentation and political statement. The piece organically brings together opposing imagery to emphasize that what we share is more important and beautiful than how we differ.
Abdessemed’s Notes sur l'Entraînement (2006) is composed of seventeen charcoal sketches of people with their backs to the viewer and their arms raised overhead. Installed in a continuous line, the work suggests either a group joined in worship or an interrogation. Through this economical work, Abdessemed confronts the way our prejudice and expectations shape reality.
Resistance is at the core of the work produced by Claire Fontaine, an artist duo founded in 2004. Working with ready-made objects, Fontaine converts everyday material into sculptures, installations, videos, and texts to be used as weapons against political impotency. If you see something, say something (2005) consists of a rucksack ominously sitting in the corner bearing the slogan of a post 9/11 campaign imploring citizens to be vigilant (or vigilantes). The bag is the sort we are told to be suspicious of, but inside we find candy rather than explosives. Fontaine undermines the tools of power—slogan and image—to reveal the futility of such exhortations.
Fontaine’s Untitled (Identité, Tradition et Souveraineté) (2007) appropriates a potent symbol of power—a country’s flag. The work is composed of three poles bearing France’s flag, yet the tones and proportions of the blue, white, and red have shifted. Fontaine further drains their ability to invoke nationalism by hanging the dirty flags near the floor rather than as pristine banners held aloft. The French flag, which once stood for the people’s triumph over the monarchy, is here revised to reflect current sentiments that French citizens have ceded control to a right-leaning state.
Mircea Cantor’s videos, sculptures, photographs, and design projects combine a postmodern aesthetic with a Dadaist spirit to play with logic and embrace chance. The film Deeparture (2005) features a wolf endlessly stalking a terrified deer in the charged space of a white gallery. Close-up shots capture the wolf licking its teeth and staring at its wide-eyed prey, but the expected kill never comes. Both animals have been subdued by the enclosing walls of the art marketplace. Cantor posits here that dominance/submission power relationships are natural, but that examining such systems can decode and recalibrate the inequalities.
Cantor’s Talking Mirror (2007), created for this exhibition at Artpace San Antonio, encapsulates George W. Bush’s Texas and the perception that the United States is fighting wars over oil. A white cowboy hat, placed upside down on a roughly hewn pedestal, is filled with oil, an icon of Texan wealth. Like the talking mirror in the Snow White fairy tale, the glassy surface reflects what it sees: wealth and power as a function of control over territory and natural resources.
The works in Power Play protest sociopolitical conditions by confronting and acknowledging the role power plays in every facet of our lives. Adel Abdessemed, Mircea Cantor, and Claire Fontaine propose that a close examination of how authority gains strength reveals (and defuses) policies of deliberate exclusion.
Curator of Education and Exhibitions