On Two Japanese Nō Masks (18th Century) captioned at the Rietberg Museum as: “Deigan, Nō mask of the spirit of a middle aged woman, Japan, mid-Edo period, 18th C and Manbi, Nō mask of a beautiful young woman, Japan, mid-Edo Period, 18th C.” by Iman Issa

I happened upon this display while visiting the Rietberg Museum in Zurich in 2018. I remember being captured by the two masks and their placement next to each other. Not having immediately read the caption, I attributed the subtle distinction between them to their being of different characters or affective states, but I would not have guessed what the caption denotes; that the distinction is of the more unsettling and shared nature of aging.

I tried to examine their features carefully, in an effort to accurately pinpoint where the distinction between them lies. The eyebrows are slightly thinner, the eyes having a fainter outline, the face a tiny bit narrower, the hair subtly rougher and closer to the skull, the color ever slightly fainter, and the shadow more pointed. But most importantly the shape of the mouth which defines the expression held by each. While the Manbi mask of the ‘beautiful young woman,’ exhibits curiosity and is essentially a ‘smiling mask ‘, the Deigan mask, qualified as belonging to the spirit of a middle aged woman, has an expression that is a mixture of awe, confusion, horror and resignation. It is an expression I recognize feeling myself, yet have no precise word for. The elusiveness of what allows both expressions to come forth is what has the most ominous effect on me. I’m further intrigued by the attribution of beauty to only the mask on the right. I would not have guessed it, nor necessarily agree with it, but I am overwhelmed by the contradictory thoughts that plague my mind as I try to make sense of it.

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On Using “I” and First-person Narration by Iman Issa with Moyra Davey

For several years now I’ve been engaged in an itinerant conversation with Moyra Davey. It began when I wrote a short paragraph on her film Les Goddesses for Artforum concerning her use of first person narration. At the time, I was thinking a great deal about what it means to use oneself as the source of one’ s work—trying to make sense of the “I” through which we choose to speak and articulate positions, sentiments, and facts. Moyra’ s film appeared to pierce through these issues head on and became a new lens through which to view the rest of her work. Her photographs, videos, and writings completed over three decades started to form a coherent whole in my mind, and I was eager to revisit her work from my newly found angle. Until now, I’d never had the chance to properly unpack these ideas. This conversation is an attempt at doing that.


Iman Issa: One of the key moments that brought me further into your work was seeing Les Goddesses in 2011, both at the Whitney Biennial and during your solo exhibition at Murray Guy. At that time, I was struggling with the use of what one might describe as the “personal voice”. I felt uncomfortable with the enormous leeway an artist can have when using such a voice. As if it gave one license to draw connections between different elements and narratives with no justification beyond the incontestable claim of subjective inclinations. At that same time, I was convinced that certain elements and topics could only be accessed with it. Seeing your work was revelatory; I felt it was using the personal voice differently. How would you describe your relationship to that voice?

Moyra Davey: Fundamentally I’m interested in storytelling, although I don’t often put it like that. Some background on Les Goddesses: I had just moved to Paris for ten months and was flooded with memories of when I lived there at the age of eighteen, and had hugely struggled with the city and the people I knew at the time. I wanted to write about what I considered “unspeakable” memories. That was the idea, the “agenda”, even though a big part of me thought it was impossible. A well-known writer, whose name escapes me, counseled that I should write from a place of the greatest discomfort. Knausgaard is able to do it via auto-fiction.

For myself, I can only imagine that via fiction—a novel, a story—genres I have never tried. Les Goddesses was an attempt to get close to painful material, and I came up with this device of linking my story to these historical, literary women: Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. This was something of an enabler; a way to create parallelism and give the ‘muck’ a foil.

But Borges points out that people “long for confessions”, and viewers have told me the same, that they prefer the grittier, autobiographical material in my narratives. Les Goddesses became somewhat of an idealized portrait of my family. And so in this new video that I’ve just begun to edit, tentatively titled Hemlock Forest, I’m asking what it would mean to revisit Les Goddesses, but to show us (my sisters and myself) as we are now, not via photos taken thirty-five years ago when we were in our heyday. I cite what you wrote in Artforum, about Les Goddesses having a “desperate” quality. I thought you hit the nail on the head.

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Hemlock Forest by Μoyra Davey

Moyra Davey, Hemlock Forest, HD video with sound, still, 41 min 15 sec, 2016
Co-commissioned and co-produced by Bergen Kunsthall & la Biennale de Montréal. Courtesy the artist & greengrassi, London

Hemlock Forest was presented at courtyard, Thursday 31 March–Sunday 3 April 2022, 7pm (CET)

Haris Epaminonda, Lyrical apparitions that commune with the past by Dominic Eichler

Haris Epaminonda, Tarahi V, still, video PAL 4:3, video, sound, 3.10 min, 2007

The ghostly folds of a curtain, a couple strolling backwards on a sun-dappled path, the limpid eyes of a disconsolate diva: these are just some of the suspended moments captured in the video works of Haris Epaminonda. In the last few years, the artist has produced a series of radiant, emotional, audio-visual vignettes, which are long enough to soak into the viewer’s consciousness yet short enough to assume the qualities of a vision: they come and go fleetingly, but linger in the head like an afterimage. Reality is kept at arm’s length, its absence not particularly noticed, while the present is lost in a fictionalized past.

Most of Epaminonda’s recent video works are based on re-shot excerpts of film and television footage – principally the Greek soap operas and kitsch romantic films from the 1960s that used to fill up Sunday afternoons in the artist’s Cypriot childhood – which she then subtly reworks. Sometimes local celebrities appear in her films, but, in contrast to the early works of Francesco Vezzoli or T.J. Wilcox, they don’t do so in order to emphasize a phantasmal communion with their constructed identities. The scenes that she chooses to work with are not instantly recognizable from the original narrative, so the culled images are effectively stripped of their initial meaning and context. These out-takes are then edited and adapted in a variety of ways: the film’s speed and direction are changed, sections are distorted, its colour is intensified, or a poignant soundtrack, such as a piano composition by Alexander Scriabin, is added. Most significantly, she also superimposes footage to make surreal composites: an indoor scene, say, might also have traces of fireworks glimmering through it. While these are all common manipulation techniques of digital video, Epaminonda uses them with captivating sensibility. In Tarahi V (Turmoil V, 2007), for example, in a scene that recalls elements of the work of both René Magritte and Alfred Hitchcock, we see the back of a well-dressed, motionless couple staring out into a blue sky where a pair of coffee cup-ring shaped clouds appear.

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courtyard is an exhibition space.
A place of gathering and experimentation, defined by the projects, contributions and events it hosts at a given moment, and driven by the associations that emerge from these. Visitors are invited to wander across the open space.


Curated by:
Panos Fourtoulakis

Design and development:
Ghazaal Vojdani and Julia Novitch