Who: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
What: And yet my mask is powerful
Where: Carroll / Fletcher
When: 9 September – 29 October 2016
Digital images are often described as ephemeral, as if the ones and zeros that build pixel upon pixel are really the only thing distinguishing them from film strips and reality. A whole generation of artists – many awkwardly titled post-internet – have concerned themselves with pointing beyond the screen, touching on the blurring lines between the digital and the physical.
“And yet my mask is powerful” is a new exhibition by the collaborative artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, at Carroll / Fletcher gallery, London. The exhibition is in three rooms on the ground floor; the first room contains a series of masks, plants, notebooks, and junk, all displayed as if laying out material for a research presentation; the second has a small video installation, and the third ramps up the energy with a 5 channel immersive installation that is nothing short of captivating.
Weaved throughout the exhibition is a simple, curious and evocative narrative; a journey through the West Bank, and the hacking and 3D printing of the “world’s oldest masks dating from the beginning of the Neolithic Era”. Immediately it suggests the mask as a metaphor for identity, the blurring line between the digital and the physical, the ownership of history, the implications for open source technologies on artistic production and the art object, and so much more. In the coming days and weeks after I visited, what struck me was how fresh the actions felt, this being especially as so much of art with reference to technology is increasingly feeling trapped within the clichés of its own genre.
The actions I’m referring to are both physical and digital actions. The first room showcases the research, yet this is more than an artist statement which outlines the ideas. The research takes the form of clicking, browsing, downloading and printing of search results, screenshots and JPEGs and PNGs. It’s the sourcing, the online searching. This sense of searching isn’t contained merely behind the screen, there’s a real sense of the hunt for information. We see two protagonists walking through a thick forest, visiting ruins and looking across an empty horizon, with this journey occasionally punctuated with striking words and phrases.
There’s a subtle connection here between the act of searching through a browser and walking through a forest, but the journey doesn’t stop there. The translation of the mask itself is a form of journey, a transformation through technology with a direct reference to the impacts ownership and control have on circulation. The distribution and circulation of the copy is clearly a kind of journey, but which couldn’t have begun without the initial digitalisation, hacking and printing of the original, “oldest mask”. This series of technological processes and infringements on copyright are actions which have rendered the object as easily accessible as a digital file is.
-Chris is an artist and art critic, who lives and works in London.