Upon entering the ground floor of David Zwirner’s gallery space in London, visitors are immediately greeted by the surreal image on a massive explosive device, upon which rests an equally enormous gold vase. This is Le Vase Abominable, the sculpture by French-based, Algerian born artist Adel Abdemessed that serves as the title piece for the artist’s current show, exploring dichotomies of violence and creation through poignantly composed sculptural, video, and drawn works.
Throughout his current show, Abdemessed continually revisits sites and images of armed conflict, working between personal memory and culturally ubiquitous symbolism to create his works. He explores thematic elements of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the conflicts in the Middle East, and the Vietnam War, threading new lines of inquiry into the representation and symbolism of war victims and victories.
His eponymous work, which commands much of the building’s ground floor space, is an exercise in juxtaposition, forcing viewers to consider the close ties of financial conquest and the modern war machine through their precarious interrelationship.
Complementing Abdemessed’s enormous vase atop a bomb, the artist has also created a selection of smaller vases, each constructed from a material that, at one point or another in political history, was the source of fierce conflict for control of its exploitation. Salt, gold and gum all make their respective appearances, lending a sense foreboding to the works themselves. Arranged like trophies, the vases enter into an ominous dialogue with their larger relative atop the explosives, underlining the tensions of economic and political control that push states to the brink of destruction.
Upstairs, visitors are greeted with more chilling works, in particular a recreation of the oft-cited photograph of a Vietnamese child coated in napalm, and running from her village, naked and screaming. Cast in ivory, the weight of suffering and human terror of the child is transformed into pure economic value, an object of fine art to be bought and sold. Given this conversion of meaning, Abdemessed’s work asks difficult questions of its viewers, and even of its artist, who no doubt profits from the sale of these works, but also uses the work as an illuminative force to emphasize new aspects of culturally engrained struggles.
Taken as a whole, Le Vase Abominable challenges the viewer to revisit the assumptions and meanings afforded to various sites of conflict worldwide, and to reassess their understandings of said struggles through a wider lens of diversified causes. Once again proving his ability to provoke both raw emotion and cogent thought, Abdemessed’s presentation of work will be on view until March 28th.
Adel Abdemessed at David Zwirner