a part of me
that wants to hide”
In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno writes about the ‘gesture’ in art as that which obscures the interpretations it also provides. The above words by UAE-based artist Khalid, which appear in the comments section generated by his delivery app, point to the less visible, lyrical aspects of artistic interventions in the everyday. His new work, Receipts II, is exhibited in three groupings, each of which form one-third of a poem that plays with ambivalent conditions of knowing and recognizing the other.
The works on display in Coded Gestures at NIKA Project Space are process-driven and iterative. At times governed by gaps, glitches and hidden structures of meaning, they interrupt and reference external events. In Trampoline (2015), Mona Ayyash explores the pre-performance of Olympic athletes. Neatly framed within the pixelated grid of a trampoline, she extricates time — the moment before a jump transforms into something else — and multiplies it via different bodies. Minja Gu, on the other hand, draws out movement in durational and non-competitive forms. 42.195 (2006), her exhaustive documentation of a solo undertaking, includes photographic extracts of a marathon she performed in silence over two days, shown here, and 11-hour footage.
An alienation from, and over-identification with, routine, labor-intensive processes, is a thread that emerges from the non-Western societies referenced in this show, gesturing toward the intersection of post-Socialist environments with a Neo-liberalist Gulf. Alexander Ugay stages learned motions of factory work outside the sites of their production. More than a hundred thousand times (2019-20) performs a group of Korean migrant workers from post-Soviet countries, with the single, displaced laborer — subject to the brutality of industry — seen as representing and reimagining the dissolution of an exploited community. Elsewhere in Unknown Return (2023), Ugay uses AI to re-visualize this community in archival form, precisely around the 1937 Korean deportation, where multiple architectures of a mass exodus are created and algorithmic inputs adapted to produce accurate results.
Throughout the exhibition, a comment is being made on non-productive forms of labor in repetitive vocabularies that can be seen as either emancipatory or oppressive in our output-driven, capitalist era. Fatma Al Ali’s modular experimentations with building blocks in My Mother Told Me Not to Collect Bricks (2020-23) can be read in different ways, from the formation and breakdown of material systems of construction to gender performativity. Her artistic gesture, unlike Ugay’s, is a refusal of controlled outcomes, gleaned as unique imprints on non-identical blocks, always allowing for the possibility of failure and the interaction between the single unit and the whole.
Minja Gu further creates systems of entanglement between the individual and collective through carefully arranged classifications that catalogue boiled potato skins, banana peels and ice sculptures of food remnants. Inside the Belly of Monstro (2020-ongoing) is a mixed media installation that focuses on residual forms in societies of excess, seen through the lens of her own consumption over two years. Like her new iteration of House Tea de la Maison de la Casa, the tea gathering she repeats over and over again in communal acts of performance, she interrogates the forms of newness that can arise from social orders, incorporating traces of an occurrence that points outside itself.
There is a subtlety in the way Ayyash’s dangling apple, never truly captured, speaks to Gu’s frozen apple cores, crystallized like a still life. The artists’ gestures, couched within their artwork, engage with a language of the unseen via secret texts and corrections to algorithmic codes, choreographed man-machine relationships and sports as counter-movement.
The exhibition begins with Khalid’s first in a series of daily visual accounts of sunsets printed in the gallery in real time. It ends with the last printout that completes the grid of 73 A4 papers produced throughout the course of the exhibition. Seen from outside, exhibited inside, it is a testament to the daily recording of a ubiquitous event.
In his Notes on Gestures, Agamben emphasizes the primacy of the gesture over the image, claiming that “the mythical fixity of the image has been broken. It is as if … a mute invocation were raised towards the freeing of the image in the gesture.” This exhibition foregrounds the potential freeing of contemporary artistic gestures from their sources, pointing towards images that are ever-evolving and elusive.