Pascal Hachem at The Mosaic Rooms

17 November 2017

© Copyright 2017 contemporary art society. Ali MacGilp

There are two solo exhibitions in London that you may have overlooked during the Frieze frenzy that are closing soon, Fatma Bucak at Pi Artworks and Pascal Hachem at The Mosaic Rooms. I would urge you to see both.

Both artists reflect poetically on the current political climate in their native countries with visual metaphors, found objects and subverted domestic rituals. Their homelands are, respectively, Turkey and Lebanon, both deeply affected by the ongoing conflict in their shared neighbour Syria. These artists pose questions around the use and abuse of memory for political ends. Although rooted in specific contexts, both exhibitions resonate strongly in what feels to me to be a divided and directionless Britain.

Hachem’s installations meld easily with the elegant spaces of The Mosaic Rooms in Earls Court, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting contemporary culture from the Arab world. The object that spoke to me most in the lexicon of everyday tools he has repurposed in this exhibition was the clothes iron. In the main gallery sit two large piles of flour. Embedded in each is a black iron, attached to one another by a metal cord. Facing back-to-back, they take it in turns to plough in opposite directions. When the end of the cord is reached the other takes over. The irons are caught in a Sisyphean, symbiotic relationship: War and Peace, Left and Right; the work’s title is back to square one.

A pair of spoons in another room offers a clue, on the left one is written ‘you always want what the other has’, on the other is a black spot. Flour is of course the main ingredient of bread, the food of life, staple of the Arab diet.  If the flour is representing the people, the iron is the government. The irons move back and forth flattening and displacing the flour but they cannot fully control it. The artist interrogates the daily instability he experiences in Beirut. Since installing the exhibition, the Lebanese prime minister has resigned under unclear circumstances and has yet to be replaced.

Hachem asks how an individual or society remembers its past. In left under, a set of mechanised wire brushes sweep the wall, scratching quietly, revealing concealed layers of paint. I am at once reminded of the contradictory idea of sweeping truths under the carpet and scratching the surface to find the truth beneath, unveiling past crimes. His use of repetitive actions creates a sense of distance and hints at the impossibility of remembering the past in the face of successive events. The body is replaced by a motor and there is a tension between the familiarity of the objects and their uncanny movement.

Exhausted aphorisms floated through my mind; Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; Einstein’s “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Hachem’s works are open-ended and nebulous, as suggested by the exhibition title’s deliberate enactment of forgetting.