#ArtReview : Latifa Echakhch “Goodbye Horses” – Kunsthaus, Zurich – 16. November 2012 – 24.February 2013

Latifa Echakhch – Goodbye Horses
Kunsthaus, Zurich
16. November 2012 – 24.February 2013

Latifa Echakhch and her circus have alighted at Kunsthaus Museum in Zurich. Or have left.
And what we can see are simply the ruins of a show that has just ended.

As we descend the stairs to the exhibition room where the work of Ms. Echakhch’s is staged, a sentiment of melancholia is pervasive. A floppy circus tent greets us from below and all around objects and costumes with no owner lye abandoned, neatly scattered on the floor. This could be a post-apocalyptic scenario as well as the result of a voluntarily conceived and planned decision. It is hard to ascertain. At least at first glance.
In a space where each piece seems to be suspended and to create a still on its own right, installations of different dimensions and shapes populate the space on the ground floor of the Kunsthaus, in what is Ms. Echakhch’s first solo exhibition in Zurich. Some works are relatively small, whilst others stretch considerably in length and height, weaving together mute dialogues that tell us about solitude and emptiness.

“Circus” is the central motif of “Goodbye Horses”, as the work “Untitled (Circus Tent)” (2012) – the centrepiece of the exhibition – strongly suggests. The visitor gets a privileged overview from above: the sight can embrace the space filled with a bright red and yellow tent, an actual circus tent. In its desolate grandeur, the tent leaves space for childish disappointment. It feels like the clowns have just removed their make-up, the lions are back in their cages and the acrobats have dismissed their shiny dresses. But they were there just few minutes ago. The viewer feels like he had just missed all the action, being left with deflating expectations.
This three-dimensional modern drapery is echoed, in its classic yet contemporary display, by the space-enveloping sculpture “Untitled (Auguste and Clown)” (2012). Once more, the painterly element of gem-rich bold colours in the tones of bright yellow and blue, play an important part in this work: a circus ring is immediately evoked. We see the circle stretching away from us and abruptly breaking up in a chaotic pile just around the corner. Empty clown costumes lie there, on top of the fragments of circus ring, the one from funny and clumsy August and that of an unnamed more elegant interlocutor.

Throughout each and every work, the absence of the human body is the thread that ties the pieces together. Remains are all we can see from works as “Untitled (Five Figures)” (2012) or “Untitled (Two Figures and a Fauve)” (2012). The sense of abandonment is immense, remarking the concept of something that exists only through its absence.
In her display of the works of art, Ms. Echakhch has managed to combine them into an integrated whole. The bold colours seem to represent new additions to her repertoire; however, after a closer look, we can discern that her method is the same applied in earlier works, as “Fantasia” (2008). Familiar objects are emptied of their usual meaning to make space for new possibilities and reflections. Those items, so deeply rooted in our collective memories, are used in new ways, making them recipient of new meanings, reflections and interpretations.

Ms. Echakhch, French-Moroccan and Switzerland-based artist, emerged four years ago during the group exhibition “Shifting Identities”, an exhibition which profiled the changing face of Switzerland, organized also at Kunsthaus in Zurich.  Her work “Fantasia”, a group of bare flagpoles criss-crossing the space above a map of the world crumpled up into a ball, did not fail to draw some attention at that time. Since then, the artist’s profile and quotations have soared and she has managed to cement her reputation steadily through solo shows at the prestigious Tate Modern in London, the Fridericianum in Kassel, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, and through inclusions in the 2011 Venice Biennale and Sydney Biennale, as well as new representation by Tel Aviv powerhouse Dvir.

In a place where the dichotomy between appearance and substance has been staged, I found myself entangled in the different messages this critical exploration of the modern society is pointing to. In the era of Facebook and Twitter and digital social personalities, our shell is actually what we present and sell of us to others. The evanescent essence of our avatars overlaps and nearly overweights what we are to others. The feeling of awkwardness is reinforced by the realisation that  “Goodbye horse” is also one of the songs from “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) soundtrack, where a serial killer murders his victims and take away their skin to make a second-skin dress for himself. He is a freak, and what was the circus originally if not a collection of biological rarities and tricks of nature?

Indeed, as I leave the room and meet the hectic activity going on at Kunsthaus on a Saturday afternoon I feel slightly dizzy and weird. As I say goodbye to an exhibition that is about to be dismantled, I feel like saying hello to the rediscovered asleep awareness that no trade-off should occur between what we really are and what we want others to see us.