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Cleveland Museum of Art presents The Unicorn

The Cleveland Museum of Art presents The Unicorn an exhibition on view through November 30, 2013.

Martin Soto Climent, À Mon Seul Désir (detail), 2013. 108 photographs, digital prints on fine art paper; 9 x 12 inches each. Courtesy of the artist. © the artist.
Martin Soto Climent, À Mon Seul Désir (detail), 2013. 108 photographs, digital prints on fine art paper; 9 x 12 inches each. Courtesy of the artist. © the artist.

The Unicorn is an exhibition about the difficulty of producing the past. The works of Neïl Beloufa, Daniel Gustav Cramer, Haris Epaminonda, Shana Lutker, and Martin Soto Climent share the processes and practices involved in the construction and reconstruction of the past. These artists do not regard the past as something permanent that occurred in one way or another. Rather, the past confronts us as something malleable, fragile and fleeting, something that is constantly reordered. Accordingly, we encounter recollection in various places as fragmentation, patchwork, kaleidoscope, or dissonance.

The title of the exhibition refers to Martin Walser’s novel of the same name, published in 1966. In Das Einhorn (The Unicorn) a man receives a commission to write a book about love. His reporting about and meditation on his relationships with women leaves him with the revelation that what he has experienced really cannot be represented retrospectively and certainly not repeated. The mythological figure of the unicorn can also be understood as a metaphor for the exhibition, apart from its use in Walser’s novel. A mythical, fictive creature comes into being through the combination of various animal attributes. This is a creature that has excited the human imagination for thousands of years across many diverse cultures. In this sense, the unicorn can be understood as a metaphor for artistic practices that operate at the interface between documentation and art, truth and myth, fact and fiction.

Neïl Beloufa’s video work Untitled (2010) is based upon an anecdote that the artist heard concerning a villa near Algiers. A group of terrorists found shelter on the deserted property for three years and then disappeared again. The sparsely furnished film set and the scenery, constructed from affixed photographs of the actual villa, purposely reveal their own artifice. Nothing appears to be genuine; even the people in the film are actors who make entrances but do not speak. The sound consists of the recorded interviews the artist conducted with the former owner of the villa, the gardener, and other people from the neighborhood. Through the installation, specially constructed for this exhibition as a projection room, Beloufa has added a further level of perception that translates the constructed quality and fragmentary character of the cinematic plane onto the spatial.

The Infinite Library is a continuously growing archive of books that Daniel Gustav Cramer and Haris Epaminonda have jointly been working on since 2007. The books are made up of one single book, two identical books, different editions of the same title, or two or more differing publications that are taken apart and then rebound in new sequences and combinations. By the deconstruction of the original publications and the re-assembly of their pages as a new book, the artists expand the principle of authorship. The book no longer functions as the vehicle or transmitter of knowledge (organized in some manner or other), of a message or of a story. Instead, the logic of the original sequence of pages is broken, and the fragmented contents resulting from this process are rearranged. The fundamental character of a book as a succession of pages remains; at the same time, new contents and meanings arise that are independent of the author’s original intentions yet are built upon those same intentions.

The Bearded Gas (2013) by Shana Lutker makes reference to the events of the evening of July 6, 1923, which may be regarded as the end of the Dada movement, and which mark the beginning of a series of physical confrontations involving the Surrealists. During a reading by Pierre de Massot in the Theatre Michel in Paris, André Breton jumped up onto the stage and, with his cane, broke de Massot’s arm. In the sculptures and stage setting of The Bearded Gas the facticity of the historical occurrence is intermingled with the subjective thoughts and experiences of the artist, as well as with the deconstructive impulses of Surrealism itself. These impulses call into question not only the demarcation between art and life but also between dream and reality.

Martin Soto Climent’s installation À Mon Seul Désir (2013) is inspired by a series of six tapestries from the late 15th century known by the modern title The Lady and the Unicorn. It is assumed that five of the six tapestries represent the individual senses. The sixth tapestry, which bears the inscription “À Mon Seul Désir,” evades exact interpretation. It is probable, however, that it describes a sixth sense, one best understood as inward and comprehensive. Climent’s photographic installation is organized in labyrinthine narrative strands. Each strand is allusively dedicated to one particular sense and all of the strands come together in a fictive center that represents a sixth sense––more than the sum of the five familiar senses. Much in the way that memory functions, the photographs do not tell a linear story and do not follow a single narrative. Instead, the strands are comprised of various images (thoughts) that overlap, fit together as new images, cover up, and at points obliterate other images.

Curated by Reto Thüring

The Cleveland Museum of Art at Transformer Station
1460 West 29 Street
Cleveland, OH 44113