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.
courtyard opens with Locus/Lacuna, a new commission by Nour Mobarak.
Inspired by Francis Yates’ book ‘The Art of Memory’, Mobarak tracks the architectural site of a personal memory as an incomplete "memory palace", an ancient mnemonic device, to develop the piece. This device relies on associating information to specific physical environments. The protagonist sets out an imaginary journey over which they visit specific locations – or loci – to recall information. The locus of this memory is the red plush seat. Yet, once entering, there are lacunas- absences in the recording of memory. Each of the tracks of this four-channel sound work underwent distinct processes of degradation and manipulation.
16 Mar 2022
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.
30 Mar 2022
Hemlock Forest by Μoyra Davey
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.
I’m constantly made fun of by friends, curators, and installers for the measurements I mark in the instructions for installing my own work; “ Please apply a 23.5 cm distance between the object and the wall or have the height be at 143.7 cm from the ground to the top of the frame...etc.” “Can’t you round these up?” I am often asked. But looking at the display of the masks, I know that what had struck me here was a set of delicate relations that, with the slightest change, can easily disintegrate. I judge the distance between the masks to be exact, the light to be positioned so it hits the heads at the correct angle and with the right intensity, resulting in what I deem to be perfectly proportioned shadows. The color of the wall and the placement of the caption far below further enhances the overall effect, as well as the use of white text on a black board.
When it comes to the caption text, and even though I have only the most rudimentary knowledge when it comes to Nō masks, I do not miss not knowing the exact year or location, nor not having additional information about use or context. Perhaps, those who wrote these captions knew that caption texts rarely add much in terms of information. They can however, when placed next to an object or image, obscure, detract from, make poor, complicate, enrich, contribute to, or illuminate that object or image. In this case they are what made me stop to look again where I might have casually strolled by, while instilling the feeling that every time I look and think about them in relation to the two masks, something I presumed to be solid shakes a little more.
In his book Face and Mask: A Double History, Hans Belting notes that the concept of ‘face’ has added to language, quoting, as examples, the expressions “losing face” and “saving face.” This recalls to mind what Jalal Toufic states in his book Two or Three Things I’m Dying to Tell you, about how the expressions losing and saving face can be taken literally in some cases. Although, I do not fully comprehend Toufic’s claim, I conjecture that if these two masks are still alive, as I feel them to be, they might be adequate tools to help one literally lose or save a face.
This text is republished on the occasion of Understudies: I, Myself Will Exhibit Nothing. An exhibition curated by Iman Issa at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. October 23, 2021 – January 9, 2022