Curator: Isabel Carlos
The first exhibition of Lida Abdul (Kabul, 1973) in Portugal presents Time, Love and the Workings of Anti-Love the new installation of the artist featuring the photographic camera, three hundred passport photos and sound: a voice that delivers a poignant text as beautiful as painful. The voice, or its absence, is something pre-eminent in Lida Abdul's work.
In the video In Transit, 2008 - which integrates the exhibition together with White House, Dome, 2005, and White Horse, Brick Sellers and War Games, 2006 -, a group of children play around a carapace of a derelict soviet airplane. The word 'carapace', which derives from the animal world, is not written here because of the lack of a mechanical term, but because the image of the half-destroyed and holed airplane - which incidentally is introduced to us in a still, as if a photo, in order to stretch out and fix our gaze on it -, bears more resemblance to a wounded body, to a skeleton.
But returning to the absence of voice, In Transit has a text that flows as subtitles and acts as thoughts, like a voice-off without voice coming from a narrator - male or female -, a voice that makes us wonder if it might represent the thoughts of the artist herself on the activity of those children around the remains of the plane: tied ropes that struggle to shift the vehicle, prompting it to fly, and the cotton-patching of its holes, many of those we figure out to be the consequence of bullets, as if someone was trying to heal and reawaken a dying body.
The sound we hear is mainly of the wind in a clearing, which incidentally occurs in other videos of Lida Abdul, thus emphasizing the gloomy vastness and abandonment.
"Anything is possible when everything is lost" is one of the first sentences/subtitles which appears in In Transit and can be a perfect synthesis of a significant part of the work and of Lida Abdul's attitude regarding her own life as an exiled. As it happens in White Horse, all is possible, even when a man with a rather incomprehensible gesture commands a horse to stand still in order to ease the task of being painted.
All is possible even when an Afghan woman based in California comes back regularly to her homeland and, in conditions of isolation, persists in recording a landscape and a people that live there still after three decades of war.
The deterritorialization of the body implies the reterritorialization of the face but, when we refer to a country at war, the deterritorialization is pushed to extreme and absolute boundaries, not only on the body, but also on landscape, architecture and on living beings in general.
The images that come to us from the Afghanistan media are the ones of war and soldiers, not of its inhabitants and their way of living. By showing us this facet, Abdul's work operates a kind of redemption and it is not by mere chance that white is a colour that runs through most of her works, the colour mainly of redemption, the colour of peace and longing for purification and the colour of mourning until Middle Ages in Europe.
By wanting to redeem Afghanistan, Abdul urges us to see a culture and a people of whom practically no images reach us, but she does it not through a creation of images with pathos that simplistically establish an emotional identification of the viewer with a work - for instance, she does not show images of pain or suffering but rather somewhat "unreal" actions: ropes pulling down a ruin, children lining up in order to exchange bricks for a banknote, or a boy staring at the sky inside a roofless house.
Ruins are a recurrent feature in the artist's work; they come up in her videos as relics, as remains of something which was once important and ceased to exist. Consequently, they are not a mere object of contemplation but demand an action instead: try to move them, to paint them. At the beginning of her path, Lida Abdul frequently resorted to performance and to self-portrait; however, in White House, it is still her who paints in white the remains of a wall and a man's black shirt in what we can consider to be a filmed performance.
The affinity between ruin, performance, photography and video is not - in a first approach - as purposeless as we might possibly think. Photography and video have always been associated with performance by its need of registering. Susan Sontag's statement that all art aspires to the condition of photography and that all photographs are memento mori, assumes complete sense owing to the practice of the performance given its ephemeralness and its happening in an singular moment. Photography is vital to performance since it is through it that we can study and document what happened, and also because it is the only way to avoid total disappearance of such transitory and unique moments. Photography and video are thus for the performance a sort of ruin or a relic, what actually remains of an action that occurred; they establish a relationship of absence/presence; "the photographer, willingly or not, is engaged in the task of aging reality, and photographs become themselves instantaneous antiques". This quality of relic, of ruin, totally remodels the collective attitude towards the nature of art. Art no longer transcends history, but rather admits its historicity, its implication in time, its appurtenance to a given moment and context. Lida Abdul's work is the living proof of that and her images show how when all is lost, all is possible.