For over twenty years, the Paris-based, Algerian conceptual artist Adel Abdessemed (b. 1971) has made use of a wide range of media, including sculpture, video, drawing, performance, and photography.
Le Vase abominable is the artist’s third solo show with David Zwirner since joining the gallery in 2008.
In the exhibition of new work, cultural references become inseparable from themes of war, violence, and spectatorship. The ground floor presents the eponymous Le Vase abominable, a two-meter tall copper pot positioned on top of a replica of a large explosive device, a carefully crafted bomb, whose relationship to the vase remains ambiguous. Nearby is a group of five smaller, similarly shaped vases each made from a different material, including gold, gum, and salt. Their repetitive yet incongruous appearance highlights a recurring dichotomy in the artist’s work between décor and fetish, which appears further intensified by the materials used.
On the floor above, a group of works takes their point of departure in the well-known reportage photograph of children fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War. Made entirely in mammoth ivory, Cri depicts the young girl in the center of the image, running naked with her arms outstretched and her mouth open in a scream. Her life-sized figure is accompanied by a series of drawings featuring soldiers in full gear—they may represent those surrounding the children in the photograph, or any other armed conflict. An animation, entitled State, is projected onto all four walls in a separate room and features labyrinth-like drawings which recall Republican prisoner protests at HM Prison Maze in Northern Ireland during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fighting for their right to wear their own clothes on the basis that they were not convicted criminals, they wrapped themselves in blankets rather than the provided uniforms and refused to leave their cells, which in turn were not sufficiently cleaned. They consequently smeared the walls with their own excrement, beginning the so-called “dirty protests.”
Born in 1971 in Constantine, Algeria, Adel Abdessemed studied at the École des beaux-arts de Batna and the École des beaux-arts d’Alger, Algiers (1987-1994), before traveling to France where he attended the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon (1994-1998). He was an artist-in-residence at the Cité internationale des Arts de Paris in 1999-2000, and the following year at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program in Long Island City, New York. After living in New York, the artist moved to Paris, then to Berlin, then back to New York. He now lives and works in Paris.
In 2012, his work was the subject of a major solo exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Adel Abdessemed Je suis innocent, which was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the museum and Steidl.
David Zwirner Website