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reviews IllumInatIons
Light and enlightenment, in both an artistic and religious context, chime with one another in an easy harmony, but in
this exhibition of film and videowork, the camera’s illuminating gaze consistently fails to register light in return. Faith
is a conviction hidden deep under multiple folds of family, nationality, history and emotion, and is a troublesome and
abstract concept for representation. Perhaps this is why the curators of Illuminations have chosen films that are heavily
documentary in style, that rely chiefly on observing the customs and gestures of others.
In Contours of Staying (2004) the duo caraballo-farman films practitioners of the meditative practice Falun
Gong, controversially banned by the Chinese government in 1999, in a demonstration of their faith outside the Chinese
consulate in New York. It quickly becomes apparent that their failing struggle is as much against the blisteringly cold
elements as it is against the political climate. There is a strange incongruity between a practice with roots in ancient
tradition and the modern plastic coats and pastel skiwear that the participants wear, like pale blossoms in an otherwise
monochrome environment of snow and tarmac lit by a sulphurous glow. Most of the participants’ faces remain
hidden from the camera, however – perhaps a motif emblematic of the selection of artworks in this exhibition. In Dan
Acostioaei’s Crossroad (2005), for example, filmed in his hometown of Iasi, Romania, three simultaneous projections
observe the everyday gesture made by those who walk past sacred sites: crossing oneself three times. Each personal
expression or gesture is seen from a distance, and there is barely any indication of the beliefs or wishes of those who
make them, but the way in which the films are orchestrated implies choreography, emphasising that participation in an
organised faith is based on an agreed performance of dancelike conventions.
The two pieces which best capture the light of the Damascene moment are those which stray furthest from
this approach: Lida Abdul’s whirling and nauseating film Dome (2005), of a spinning boy in the bombed-out ruins of
Afghanistan’s National Kabul Museum, captures something of a nonsensical and elegiac faith in rebirth. The only work
in which words are spoken is Valérie Mréjen’s film Dieu (2004), in which eight Israeli men and women describe a pivotal
moment that led to their abandonment of strict Orthodox Jewish faith. Illumination strikes these souls hard, like the
lightning they fear will sear them as they turn on a light during Shabbat, or as they eat a strawberry yoghurt following
a chicken leg. Sadly, it is the human and sensual details of these stories which mark the most powerful element of this
exhibition. For surely faith is as full of stories of human desires, hopes and fears as faithlessness is. But as to these, we
are left in the dark. Laura McLean-Ferris
illuminAtions
tate modern, level 2 Gallery, london
14 decem ber – 24 February
caraballo-farman,
Contours of Staying, 2004,
single-screen projection, colour
video on dvd, 10 min 50 sec.
© the artists
151 Artreview
march_REVIEWS.indd 151 5/2/08 13:45:11
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