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Toronto
Letticia Cosbert
Kader Attia & Emeka Ogboh at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
April 04, 2018

The FOMO I long harboured after missing last year’s Venice Biennale (and every other year, for that matter) was swiftly mitigated by the arrival of The Power Plant’s winter 2018 exhibitions featuring two Biennale alumni: Kader Attia’s sprawling installation The Field of Emotion and Emeka Ogboh’s The Song of the Germans. I had overheard conversations about Attia (born in Paris, raised in Algeria) and his standout installation at the 57th Venice Biennale and, while I did not know much about Ogboh (based in Lagos and Berlin), I was intrigued by the premise of his ten-channel audio installation which made its debut at the 56th edition.

There is much to say of Attia’s The Field of Emotion, which occupies the majority of the gallery’s first floor and is separated into two wings. To the right, I made my way past a series of gruesome collages (Untitled, 2018), each frame containing photographs of a disfigured man and a corresponding wooden mask, carved in his lacerated likeness. Proto-Cubist in their composition, the collages introduce and problematize the clash between modern western culture and traditional (read: African) societies, as Attia merges the results of colonization (war and trauma) on the one hand, and cultural appropriation (modernist art movements and capitalism) on the other.



Kader Attia, J’accuse, 2016 (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

I continued along the corridor, past a procession of wooden planks (Some Modernity’s Footprint, 2018) reminiscent of ships, railroads, and passageways, finally coming upon a room of seventeen towering wooden busts (the same men in the collages?) propped up on copper stilts (J’accuse, 2016). Walking through this necropolis of WWI soldiers, with Abel Gance’s antiwar film of the same title blaring in the foreground, I marked the vivacity of each bust and their seeming awareness of the film’s message: war is atrocious and relentless.

The second wing of Attia’s exhibition is less bitter in taste, but still biting. A dark room screens Reflecting Memory (2016), which is a 45 minute video featuring mirror illusions, interviews, and profiles that are entirely too enchanting to sufficiently describe here. The exhibition continues down another corridor where there is a large empty room, cold and unwelcoming except for the fluorescent lights above that draw attention to the cold concrete floor and the small groups of people chatting amongst themselves. It took me some time to realize the metal sutures beneath my feet (Traditional Repair, Immaterial Injury, 2015), but I soon became obsessed with following these markings in the ground to their inevitable dead ends, zigzagging along a futile journey.



Kader Attia, Traditional Repair, Immaterial Injury, 2015 (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

Unfortunately, I do not have nearly as much to say about Ogboh’s The Song of the Germans, featuring a choir of African immigrants singing the German national anthem in their individual native tongues (Igbo, Yoruba, Bamoun, More, Twi, Ewondo, Sango, Douala, Kikongo, and Lingala). The concept is not complicated and quite accessible, but falls short of its goal of “addressing questions of belonging.” In fact, the work, contextually, seems more appropriate in the Arsenale di Venezia (where it represented Germany) than its current location on The Power Plant’s second floor – in the periphery of Attia’s pensive installation. The mere translation and recitation of Germany’s national anthem offers no palpable critique of colonization, nor does it engage meaningfully with questions of European immigration and globalization. As I sat on the bench listening to these voices sing of the Vaterland, I discerned only a misinformed and misplaced sense of nationalism.


Kader Attia: The Field of Emotion continues until May 13.
Emeka Ogboh: The Song of the Germans continues until May 13.
The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery: http://www.thepowerplant.org/
The gallery is accessible.


Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto-based writer and editor, and is currently the Digital Content Coordinator at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. She studied Classics, earning a BA from the University of Toronto and an MA from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Katzman Contemporary, Younger Than Beyoncé Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti.

 

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