By Alice Gale - Feeny, Fine Art Student from Nottingham Trent University and an Intern with the Public Programme Team
For the past few months as an intern, I have experienced a fluctuation of events and consistently eye-opening experience involving on ground-level, many-a-cup of tea in front of a computer which led to some wonderful meetings, moments of anxious participation whilst singing in Persian, the occasional backing vocals in a Korean and Polish; I could continue.
But maybe it’s important to elaborate on the occasion that led to the Persian Singing.
Hiwa K, the Kurdish Iraqi artist began the neoliberal discussion group and 70’s cover band Chicago boys... while we were singing they were dreaming whilst on his residency at The Serpentine’s Edgware Road project: The centre for possible studies. Hiwa spent a day with me, as I acted as city guide, the day before their first rehearsal. Firstly, I would use the word guide loosely. Between the downpours of rain, we seemed to consistently miss buses and decided against buying an umbrella; my influence I’ll admit. At one point, we passed a hairdresser’s that Hiwa pointed out. Traditionally, it’s the local that points out to the tourist, destinations of interest; however my inability to speak Kurdish limited my awareness of this particular business.
The ramble up Mansfield Road to The New Art Exchange and Polish Centre (which I found impossible to find), was in the hope of finding individuals to collaborate and discuss with; those who may bring local insights into topics that occupy the Chicago Boys: migration, privatisation of public space, education cuts, to mention a few. The definitive point, when all tour-structure was lost came as we lost ourselves, for nearly an hour, in The Forest Field graveyard.
“This is not putting aside the stories...
This is not a picture of the decadence of human”
Talaah by Googoosh was taught to me a day before the Chicago Boys event on May 14th, by CB member and (powerful) singer, Helene Kazan. I should refrain from relishing in the feeling of singing with such a wonderful band but at the same time, cannot deny the joy I felt to be so welcomed to participate for the occasion of this event. The songs were chosen by the group for their weighty, political and personal resonance. This aspect felt by far the most important and pertinent aim of the group and influenced my overall experience of singing the songs.
Hiwa K was one amongst many of the group to present an interjectory insight between the cover songs. A video was shown of a protest involving Hiwa himself, alongside fellow Kurdish civilians in Sulaimaniya. The action caught on film, was not only utterly moving in terms of its political resonance but because of it’s terrifying proximity to the date of the Chicago Boys event, having happened only weeks before. The video saw protesters clutching bullet shells, chanting in the direction of the riot police that were just down the street. One older man stood in front of the younger protesters. Hiwa translated his chant that could be described as self-sacrificial, in honour of those younger behind him. Amongst the action, Hiwa K reiterated a performative, yet calm form of protest, playing Man with a Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West on harmonica, with megaphones strung around him. This was oddly conflicted by the reality of what was happening around him. Halfway through the footage, protesters began to cover their mouths with cloths to prevent the inhalation of tear gas released by the riot police. Following this, gun shots were clearly heard. A man half-covered in blood was lifted by the crowd; his foot suspended by others hands. To me, it was horrifying and at the same time, undeniably distant from The Space at Nottingham Contemporary. My overall encounter with the Chicago Boys project was all the more surreal for this necessary insight.
My experience of the current exhibition during my time as an intern has differed dramatically to that of a visitor (that I once was and will be once more.) In the run-up to my Wednesday Walk-Through, I have viewed the work time and time again. Not enough perhaps. What I find most important about it as a whole, is the repetitive use of the replica; the translations performed in order to speak about certain topics and ideas that are perhaps too politically difficult or close to home in the case of the artists. Through the use of animals, marionettes, architecture and children, Huang Yong-Ping and Wael Shawky seem to draw in an audience, to otherwise tricky topics. Shawky has used the term translation to describe the role of an artist. To me, Shawky does this exactly. With aesthetic consideration, he retells events that would otherwise be purely factual. In this translation we are given a go-between through its transference into a new medium. In Shawky case, video is key. In many ways, the medium is the most understandable to us now and therefore frames the historical events so they may be consumed as we consume media.