Iman Issa

Bielefelder Kunstverein, Germany

To battles won and lost. To savagery. To presidents and their directives. To slavery. To religion. To many years with peace. To many without. To exploration, expansionism, capitalism. To many dead men. To fewer dead women.

Our desire to memorialize significant figures and events is curious. It is an attempt to make permanent something most likely characterized by impermanence. It is also an impossible task, since no monument can make physical the environment in which it came to pass. Displaced from context, set static within change, such forms can never attain a permanence of meaning. Like us, they live, breathe, fluctuate – vulnerable to each and every societal whim.

bkv_dok_issa_15_2.jpg

Iman Issa, Material for a sculpture commemorating an economist whose name now marks the streets and squares he once frequented, 2011, vitrine with various objects, vinyl text on wall. Produced by Bielefelder Kunstverein & Spike Island, Bristol. Courtesy: the artist and Rodeo Gallery, London; photograph: Philipp Ottendörfer

Iman Issa, Material for a sculpture commemorating an economist whose name now marks the streets and squares he once frequented, 2011, vitrine with various objects, vinyl text. Produced by Bielefelder Kunstverein & Spike Island, Bristol. Courtesy: the artist and Rodeo Gallery, London; photograph: Philipp Ottendörfer

Iman Issa’s exhibition ‘Material’ visualises the fluidity of such reliquaries of history. Collected within Bielefelder Kunstverein are ten faceless monuments known to the artist since childhood. The sites are invoked via a series of ambiguous wall texts (doubling as the works’ titles) proposing alternatives to their original designs, each accompanied by a maquette. These components sit at a disjoint. Take Material for a sculpture recalling the destruction of a prominent public monument in the name of national resistance (2010), and the recalcitrance that such a statement summons. The maquette is a delicate mahogany triangle, akin to the perch of a holy book, a tassel pinned to its tip.

Disassociation and aesthetic reduction characterise each of Issa’s pairings. Material for a sculpture representing a monument erected in the spirit of defiance of a larger power (2012) takes the form of a lounging wooden obelisk. Another, an ode to a bygone era of luxury and decadence, resembles a brass kink of Kufic script. A commemoration for a victorious army that initially appeared inferior sees a lone thread pulled taut against a wall. Its reflection winks below in a mirrored shelf, itself dissected by two blood-red lines.

While Issa’s propositions refer to actual monuments, ascription is avoided. Revolutions remain dateless; fallen soldiers, anonymous; nations, placeless. But with a knowledge of the artist’s Egyptian heritage, some can be mapped. Material for a sculpture commemorating an economist whose name now marks the streets and squares he once frequented (2011), for instance, a neat vitrine of effects, refers to Talaat Harb, who founded the Bank of Egypt in 1920 and, following the declaration of the Republic of Egypt in 1953, saw his name emblazoned on numerous thoroughfares in Cairo. Appropriately, the vitrine contains cardboard squares of black, green, red and gold, the colours flown by the Republic until 1958.

bkv_dok_issa_22.jpg

Iman Issa, Material for a sculpture commemorating a singer whose singing became a source of unity of disparate and often opposing forces, 2011, wooden sculpture, c-type print, two white plinths, vinyl text. Produced by Bielefelder Kunstverein and Spike Island, Bristol. Courtesy: the artist and Rodeo Gallery, London; phtograph: Philipp Ottendörfer

Iman Issa, Material for a sculpture commemorating a singer whose singing became a source of unity of disparate and often opposing forces, 2011, wooden sculpture, c-type print, two white plinths, vinyl text. Produced by Bielefelder Kunstverein and Spike Island, Bristol. Courtesy: the artist and Rodeo Gallery, London; phtograph: Philipp Ottendörfer

Why, when such histories lie dormant, are Issa’s proposed alternatives so visually and referentially distilled? A first suggestion: When we encounter monuments to significant pasts long passed, rarely do intricacies of design or dedication linger – time dulls such imprints. A second: We inherit monuments just as we inherit guilt, and the tenor of the former, as with the latter, alters in intensity and inflection with time. Three works exemplify this: a monument recognising ‘a nation’s pioneering development and continuing decline’, another for a blind man who became a renowned writer, and an alternative design for a monument that has become an embarrassment. The first is a coupling of wall-set speakers; the second, a television; the third, two spherical lamps on a walnut table. Like the monuments before them, the works intermittently flicker into life, bearing themselves to some while remaining concealed in the presence of others.

The monument will always return to the ground from whence it came. (Physicality, like social consciousness, is mutable.) Its trunkless legs will buckle. The dust will spoil its features. In this sense, the only true monument is no monument at all, but the lingering presence of the event – an essence that continues to shape that and those which come after. Out of sight, but not mind; open to reconsideration, reinterpretation, redesign: a delicate mahogany triangle, a tassel pinned to its tip.

Main image: Iman Issa, Material for a sculpture proposed as an alternative to a monument that has become an embarrassment to its people, 2010, wooden sculpture, alternating lights in 30 second intervals, vinyl text. Courtesy: the artist and Rodeo Gallery, London; photograph: Philipp Ottendörfer

Harry Thorne is assistant editor of frieze and a contributing editor of The White Review. He is based in Berlin, Germany.

Issue 193

First published in Issue 193

March 2018

Most Read

In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018