‘It is difficult to disassociate one part of my life from another. I have strived to live it all seamless … art and life together, inseparable and indistinguishable. The ideas I discovered and embraced in my youth when my idealism was full blown I have not abandoned in middle age when idealism is something less the blooming, but wisdom is starting to bud. The ideas of self-determination, self-respect and self-defense that governed my life in the ’60s I find just as valid and self-urging today.’
Augustine Wilson, The Ground on Which I Stand, 1996
‘The Ground on Which I Stand’ is an exhibition investigating the impossibility of separating art and life and how their relationship is fundamental in shaping our vision of society. The title is based on a speech given by the great American playwright August Wilson (1945-2005) on the occasion of the Theatre Communications National Conference in New York in 1996. A key part of Wilson’s statement was about the difficulties he was having in separating his concerns with theatre from his concerns of his life as an African-American.
The two artists exhibiting in ‘The Ground on Which I Stand’, Nir Alon and Gazmend Ejupi, share with Wilson an interest in theatrical forms of representation as well as a constant research of an identity. Both have a hard time defining the concept of home (Alon was born in Israel from a Kosovar mother, and lives in Germany; Ejupi was born in Kosovo, and lives in London) and live a cultural and geographical duality that, if on the one hand it had enriched their lives, on the other hand it had the unexpected side effect of relegating their private world to a secondary role. This issue is not confined to their career only, but it is extended to their life too, with the multi-faceted aspects of their background pigeonholing them in a cliquish position where their personal views are often overlooked in favor of their political ones.
This hybrid identity generated a sense of perennial displacement, which is reflected in their practice. Alon’s sculptures are the result of a dialogue between the artist and the place in which he is invited to show. Made of materials collected on site, such as books and pieces of furniture, they challenge the notion of the artist’s research as an area detached from the viewer, inviting to interaction and sharing while showcasing aspects of the culture in which the work is exhibited and their relationship with the artist.
Gazmend Ejupi’s video installations are somehow complementary to Alon’s practice. They are moments in time and space, snapshots of the artist’s memory focused on daily life episodes like a power black out at his parents’ flat or a couple of friends sitting in a narrow space engaged in conversation. These reports of the mood of the city where he was born are filtered through a close/distant perspective, indirectly examining the environmental and social changes which naturally define transition periods in life. By capturing unwillingly weaknesses and strengths of people as individuals and the society as a whole, Ejupi’s videos deal mostly with his personal story. Shot within one single frame, they are like moving paintings, revealing the artist’s predilection for one of the most traditional art forms while conceptually transcending the readymade-documentary style they initially were part of.
In Alon and Ejupi’s work there is no sanctification of the ordinary, nor any form of narrative. Brought together by the choice of investigating their own identity, and the desire of doing so by dealing with daily objects and situations, they adopt different representational modes, which go from spatial openness to claustrophobia. Human presence and geographical provenience, two themes central in both artists’ practice, are here mostly noticeable for their intangible presence.
Issues like diversity, nostalgia and absence are addressed in a way that deliberately undermines cultural and geographical belonging. The fine but relevant separating lines between personal and collective, territorial and affectionate, are explored at its full, inviting the audience to take a step that goes beyond the perception dictated by these notions and getting a better understanding of the ground on which we stand.
Text by Michele Robecchi