The Start Project: Layal Abdullah

Through the Christmas holidays, we were challenged with reinterpreting the ideas of a fellow students’ from their blog. I was given the blog of Layal Abdullah, another second year Art student at the University of Reading. For more information about any of her works, please visit the above link. Within this blog post, I have put several words and phrases in bold, as I feel these encaspulate her work of this term, and helped me to concentrate when designing and producing a piece to reinterpret her ideas.

I was able to view the projects and works that she has taken part in throughout the autumn term of second year, including the Summer Project and an Artist Presentation.

“My art work is all liked to my past in Yemen and all tell the devastating story of the on going war in Yemen.”

Tania Bruguera was the artist that Abdullah linked to within the summer project coming into second year, as she felt ass though she connected strongly with her ideaology on art as well as the political influences that Bruguera had. Abdullah looked primarily at the piece ‘Surplus value’, and found the historical journey of the concentration camps to be interesting. These went from labour camps, through to concentration camps and then execution camps.

This was then transferred into three stages of Yemen through her own artwork. The first stage was when Yemen was safe and stable, and representaed rich beauty, however soon began its first stages of political instability and protests. The final, and current stage is the civil war, which began in 2014 and has killed over 40,000 people and displaced over 3.15 million. This all began because of an election vote for a new president, which turned into a political rebelion by the young and uneducated generation, which then lead to the civil war. Abdullah then layered three images of her own which represented each of these times. Playing around with this layering, she was able to show the story of how the war came about through the visibility of each image.

Abdullah then looked into the Balqis Residence, Dubai, which is a residential area on Palm Island with buildings built in the traditional Yemeni architectural style. This is improtant personally for Abdullah as she has found that Yemen is no longer known for its beauty, however it is still being remembered and captured worldwide.

A visit to MERL (Museum of English Rural Life, Reading) was then described where she explored rural English table traditions and focused on the comparison to todays table traditions. She was able to link some of these traditions to around the world including that of Yemen and Morrocco.

‘The Dinner Party’ was then designed and created by a group of students, including Abdullah. They were interested in combining three different ideas:
1. Interested in interpreting positive/negative features of life on a farm. Good food with bad noises, and bad food with good noises.
2. Combining cultures.
3. Edible plates (?).
Making the piece more interactive was also a key part of this project, and the artists decided to make the participants use gloves and different utensils, including that of farming tools and chopsticks, to ‘eat’. There was also heavy research into Persian, African, Chinese, Japanese and Italian plates. These were smashed up to make more unique and jumbled plates and glasses. Audio was played on headphones for the final showing of the piece.

Abdullah also completed a group project of an artists presentation on Yayoi Kusama, whose artwork includes primarily polka dots and net motifs. Kusama’s work also highlights psychedelic colours through the use of repetition and pattern. Kusama influenced pop art minimalist and feminist art movements. Her mother was physically abusive and her father would often cheat, which put her off of sex and men for a long time. At age 10, she began to experience hallucinations, especially that of dots and flowers that spoke to her. This is when she began to cover surfaces with polka dots. For their presentation, Abdullah and the group made people read out facts that were on polka dots, and stick them on the wall. Th participants were then able to recreate similar artwork without actually viewing the work of Kusama themselves.

Immersive experiences was then highlighted within Abdullah’s blog, hinting at the notes of sound, visuals, scale, breaking barriers between the artwork and the viewer, the viewer activating and completing the work, and an alternative focus or perspective. This lead her to look at surrealism and immersive experiences.

There was a large influence from a visit to the V&A museum, London, in which photos concentrated on tables, circle paintings, decorative pottery, flowers and religious meanings. For the formative assessment, Abdullah also looked further into Rachel Whiteread, with her piece ‘house’, cast in concrete and Ilya Kabakov, who created wide scale installations of propoganda posters.

Abdullah recreated one of the tables from the V&A, and linked it back to her own culture from Yemen. This piece was to look at the beauty and the culture, while newspapers new to it looked at the war and destruction. Three architectural sites were chosen and created with mixed media. Geometric patterns that were included on the table were inspired by the stain glass windows, which were a signature of Yemen’s architecture. Flowers were also added to symbolise mans beauty and also the natural beauty that was held in Yemen. Arabic religious text allowed her faith to show throughout the piece. All of this was diplayed on the floor, along with pillows and throws holding traditional patterns from home, Yemen.

Oreet Ashery

The first introduction to Oreet Ashery was an introduction to her ways of presenting. In a short announcement, she exclaimed that she normally creates an individual presentation for each show and school she visits. This time, due to the amount of work that she has been doing and the time she had, we had a culmination of all the previous works.

Ashery identifies herself as a writer and an artist with many ideas, including that of ‘where does the artwork begin and end?’, that often makes appearances in her works. Themes that also underlie Ashery’s work includes; communities, interduration, motivation, future, gender-materiality, and bio political fiction including identity and sexuality.

Within one of Ashery’s pieces, knitting needles are used with microphones to create a chorus of metal rain, mixed with the acoustics of an electric guitar and drum set. There were 80 of the knitting needles in total, each creating an individual sound that was mixed live during the performances. It is not obvious within photographs, however a false sloping floor was created which created both the sensations of doom and death. Within this piece, the audience, knitters and metal band shared the same floor space, creating a mixture of confusion at some points, as it was not known who was part of the performance.

This piece was a juxtaposition as it is not every day that you see a metal band surrounded by knitters. Knitting by hand was a symbol of a labour of love, and also a labour of help. Ashery explained that some of the performers knitted their way out of depression, which is somewhat shown in their knitting and expression for the duration of the performance. The knitters were not specifically told what to think, but they did have to keep focus with no smiling and expression as part of this. Some of the knitters were also transgender, highlighting one of the aforementioned themes. This was also very different for Ashery as she had never come across this group of people before (transgender knitters). All in all, the performance is around 20 minutes of knitting, with only one small song performed by the band.

Ashery also wanted to explore the amplification of the knitting needles through this piece before looking more into gender. By looking further into this theme of her work, Ashery created 12 episodes of short films, ‘Revisiting Genesis’. This runs for a total of one hour and thirty minutes. Through this, it was also explored how artists represent themselves in a digital world and a digital afterlife. There is also the interest of online distribution and targeting towards audiences. A whole exhibition was built around ‘Revisiting Genesis’, exploring the sets and characters within each episode. Music was also bought into this project.

In 2014, Ashery completed a performance in the Tate Modern, looking at the delicacy of Jade cloth with collages. She has always collected materials and designed ponchos and headgear. This lead into a fashion show element, which like ‘Revisiting Genesis’, went on to be exhibited. This set of work once again had the elements of labour in her work.

Moving further away from this, Ashery found herself dressed as a man, along with 3000 other men, protesting as an immigrant in Berlin. This protest looked at gender materiality and gender intervention with dressing like a man, and the ideologies that lie behind this.

Throughout her work, Ashery also engaged in somewhat recurring history. This included a knitter from the above performance had her portrait tattooed onto her chest, and the use of technology [a sound man was using an iPad to mix the sounds in the performance while one of the children was playing a princess game next to him]. Through her work, a potential community was unintentionally formed. As people began talking more and more, they soon added each other on Facebook after coming from all around Sweden just for this performance.