Adel Abdessemed is known as the enfant terrible of French art, most notably for his recent statue in front of the Centre Pompidou in Paris ‘celebrating’ Zidane’s infamous headbutt from the 2006 World Cup Final.
Though this exhibition is based across two floors it essentially boils down to three installations, all revolving around the central theme of war and conflict. Downstairs we have a large copper pot sat atop what appears to be a large bomb, complete with gas cylinders and sticks of dynamite.
There are mobile phones strapped to it and a countdown on an LCD screen. This raises the tension as visitors will wonder what happens when the clock hits zero or one of the phones receives a call or message. But the countdown simply reset when it hit zero, leaving us feeling both relieved and disappointed – perhaps this work is a reflection of how we view war from the safety of our armchairs; when we aren’t in personal danger it doesn’t feel real.
Upstairs we find ‘Cri’, a life size replica of the famous image of Vietnamese children fleeing a napalm attack. It’s made out of ivory suggesting that both humanity and nature suffer in union during times of war. Surrounding this sculpture are scribbled drawings of soldiers with unrecognisable features, an acknowledgement that soldiers are instruments of fear irrespective of their allegiance.
Lastly we have a video of labyrinthine smears across four walls as a homage to the HM Maze Prison hunger strike where prisoners smeared the walls with their excrement. It’s fast paced and erratic to project the intensity of this event but feels at odds with what was in fact a lengthy and slow protest.
This is a portfolio of art with a powerful message but it has resulted in a dichotomy of both emotionally charged works and those that feel underdeveloped.
Adel Abdessemed: Le Vase Abominable is on at David Zwirner, 24 Grafton Street, W1S 4EZ until 30 March. Admission is free.
On 7th March, there will be a guided tour of the exhibition by Jonathan Watkins, the director of the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, from 6.30pm. Attendance is free but there are limited spaces and pre-booking is required. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place.