Khalil Rabah: Pages 7, 8, 9
February 2–April 25, 2013
Opening: Saturday, February 2, 6–8pm
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12–6pm
311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002
e-flux presents Khalil Rabah: Pages 7, 8, 9, an oblique survey of Khalil Rabah’s work from the last ten years, and the artist’s first solo exhibition in the US.
Khalil Rabah’s Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind (2003–ongoing) is an elusive national museum that was established, in the words of its newsletter, “to inspire wonder, encourage discovery, and promote knowledge.” With departments spanning fields such as botany, geology, and paleontology, the Museum through its newsletter assumes a cheerful naturalism as it describes botanical research encountering territorial obstacles in the field, or considers the legal rights of trees and other natural objects. As a playful reading of the political reality of Palestine that also implicates the blissfully remote framing mechanisms of the natural history museum, we encounter a complex geological and geopolitical wink when its Earth and Solar System Department announces its fascination with how our world is “constantly being remolded by powerful forces beyond our control.”
For his exhibition at e-flux, Rabah presents the Summer 2011 issue of the Museum’s newsletter, which takes on three new forms: a printed copy of the twenty-four-page document stacked on the exhibition floor for visitors to take; a glaring red neon sign of the cover’s headline, In this issue: Statement concerning the institutional history of the museum, installed nearby as a stand-in exhibition title; and a new series of paintings based on pages of the Museum’s most recent newsletter, suspended in sliding archival racks. Here Rabah explores ways of both spatializing and personifying the Museum and the ideas it represents at an important moment of institutional reflection. Staging the display of these highly abstracted physical forms in a schematic representation of an art institution’s gallery and storage space, Rabah enacts a warped, cyclical process of materialization and dematerialization, ultimately implying the impossibility of an idea becoming form in the first place.
In a gallery adjacent to this storage space pages 7, 8, and 9 of the twenty-four page Summer 2011 newsletter have been extracted from the Museum archives to become a series of paintings, giving them and their content prominence over the remaining twenty-one pages. The three pages on display report on the Botanical Section’s recent international conference in Palestine, Conservation in the 21st Century: A New Geo-Political Science, which feature a debate on the intertwined destinies of architecture, education, and politics; and the Education Section’s news of victory in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court for five olive trees that had been refused recognition and citizenship by both the United Nations and the Canton of Geneva. In discussing contemporary issues of exile, naturalization, and the rights of stateless beings, the paintings paradoxically articulate the Museum’s own resolutions on these topics. In order to ask what the form of a territory or subject of study must be, the Museum inverts the question: What is it not?
Khalil Rabah was born in 1961 in Jerusalem and studied architecture and fine arts at the University of Texas. Rabah is a co-founder of Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem in 1998 and of the Riwaq Biennial in 2005, and is also the founder of The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind. He is also a member since 2010 of the curriculum committee of Home Workspace Program, a pioneering educational initiative in Lebanon launched by Ashkal Alwan. Rabah has participated in several biennials including the Istanbul (2005), Liverpool (2008), Venice (2009) and Sharjah (2010) biennials; as well as group exhibitions, most recently at the Queens Museum of Art, Brooklyn (2009); Mathaf Museum of Modern Art, Doha (2011); Arnolfini, Bristol (2011–12); Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) Marseille (2012); and the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012). His solo exhibitions include Review, Beirut Art Center (2012), The Third Annual Wall Zone Sale, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah (2004); 50,320 Names, Brunei Gallery, London (2007); United States of Palestine Airlines, Home Works, Beirut (2007); and Art Exhibition, Ready Made Representations, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg (2012).
Khalil Rabah would like to thank: Omar Abdoui, Josh Altman, Suad Amiry, Julieta Aranda, Laura Barlow, Kelman Duran, Reem Fadda, Foundation for Arts Initiative, Jimmy Johnson, Prudence Katze, Brian Kuan Wood, Lilly Lewis, Lutz Meyer, Rana Nasser Eddin, Rasha Salti, Stephen Squibb, Andrée Sfeir-Semler, and Anton Vidokle.
For further information please contact laura @ e-flux.com.
Khalil Rabah: ‘Pages, 7, 8, 9’
A decade ago, Khalil Rabah, a Palestinian artist born in 1961 in Jerusalem, founded the fictionalPalestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind. It was, and remains, an ambitious institution, with departments of geology, paleontology, anthropology and botany, all overseen, in a notable feat of disciplinary multitasking, by Mr. Rabah.
Credentials aside, his all-purpose stewardship makes logical sense, given that the museum resides wherever Mr. Rabah resides, usually in the West Bank town of Ramallah. It also, however, travels. In the past it has reconstituted itself at a series of hospitable art biennials: Istanbul in 2005, Venice in 2009 and Sharjah in 2011. At present, it is parked at e-flux’s very modest gallery space in Chinatown. Or rather an element of it is: a back edition — summer 2011 — of the museum’s seasonal newsletter.
Presented in a super-large-type format — each page is a 3-by-5-foot oil painting in a sliding metal rack — and fully illustrated, the publication provides an overview of the institution’s permanent collection (objects described as “irreplaceable, priceless and found almost anywhere and at all times”); a report on its recent exhibitions (among them a photographic display of more than 50,000 “historic” buildings in Palestine); a list of new acquisitions (“repatriated” tulip bulbs from the Netherlands); and a sampling of stock from the museum shop, which seems to specialize entirely in olive-related products.
Mr. Rabah’s real-fake museum is basically an ever-changing conceptual essay on colonialism, destruction and survival. It’s funny, mournful, bitter, perverse, pro-nationalist, anti-nationalist, illusion-deflating, consciousness-raising, politically piercing and free. Would that other museums in the city exhibited even a fraction of its qualities.
Many artists attempt to rewrite history, but it’s safe to say that few have done so as successfully as Khalil Rabah: not simply rewriting, but writing from scratch, a history of a nation and culture, filling in the pages the books left blank (or scribbled hastily in pencil). The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, currently in residence at e-flux, is an institution created as an artwork. A museum arranged “to create knowledge and inspire discovery…to provoke curiosity and deepen our understanding of natural and cultural worlds.” This is a comprehensive attempt to write the remaining chapters of Palestinian history in the languages of Western Europe, in the style of a Western European museum. The last complete chapter is dated 1948, when the state of Israel was created and the Palestinian narrative was disrupted.
A bit of history on this museum of history: Rabah was born in 1961 in Jerusalem, and is based in Ramallah, Palestine. Often bending institutional frameworks and established systems, he’s shaped organizations like Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, the Riwaq Biennial, and the Home Workspace Program, which provides interesting alternatives to educational programming in Lebanon. A previous artwork, United States of Palestine Airlines, London Office, was a storefront installation of a fictitious airline office, its airplanes covered in the logos of other airlines, its travel routes scrawled erratically over a map, with clocks frozen at different times, all set up in an empty office. The artist’s background in architecture is evident here, engineering experiences that leave visitors confused by the activity (or lack of it) in familiar situations.
The current iteration of the exhibition is titled “Pages 7, 8, 9,” bringing to life the 24 pages of the Museum’s newsletter. Each page is a large oil painting individually fitted in a large rack, and visitors are welcome to pull out each frame and examine the paintings, much like posters on display at a frame shop. Pages 7–9 are extracted and on display as a “painting show” in an adjacent room. Rabah has said that these pages are an important summary and point of reflection on the Museum’s ten-year history: an allegorical report on botany, and the case of five olive trees granted Swiss citizenship, as they’ve fulfilled the naturalization process by “residing” in Switzerland for the past twelve years. The complete newsletter is also printed, copies of which are stacked in boxes in the gallery and are free for guests to take.
Previously installed as part of the 2005 Istanbul Biennale, the Museum was situated apart from most other pavilions and set up inside a small structure that everyone was excluded from entering, and displaying a show curated from wares from its permanent collection titled “Palestine before Palestine.” With museum as medium, these fragments of Palestine are inherently framed as historical facts, weaved together as evidence of objective history, regardless of where and how many of these threads have been cut short. The collection of antiquities and curiosities delicately proposes that we question the inevitable politics of representation and citizenship, the tangible presence of absence in these gaps; in this way, the museum is at once object and concept.
A symposium with the artist about the exhibition will take place at e-flux in the Lower East Side this Saturday. You can read more about it here.
“Khalil Rbah: Pages 7, 8, 9″ is on view until April 20th at e-flux 311 East Broadway New York, NY. A symposium, “Some Thoughts Regarding the Erection of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind” with Khalil Rabah, Suad Amiry, Reem Fadda, Rasha Salti, Anton Vidokle and Brian Kuan Wood is tomorrow (February 16th) at 3pm.
MAKING UNIVERSES, Khalil Rabah: Pages 7, 8, 9
On 2nd February 2013, e-flux‘s exhibition space on Manhattan’s East Broadway hosted Khalil Rabah’s first solo exhibition in the United States. Khalil Rabah: Pages 7, 8, 9 presented the artist’s work from the last ten years in a very curious manner. The exhibition was contextualized by a symposium entitled ‘Some Thoughts Regarding the Erection of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind’, a day-long program of presentations and critical discussion on Rabah’s practice and the projects he is affiliated with, namely, The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind (2003-ongoing), a work that is and is not about Palestine.
On the day of the symposium, Rasha Salti, independent writer and curator, provided a historical survey of the political and artistic state in Palestine after the Nakba. Reem Fadda, associate curator of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and curator of the UAE Pavilion in the 2013Venice Biennale gave an in-depth lecture about Rabah’s work, picking up from Salti’s historical grounds of the social and political spectrum of Palestine, stressing that it is nature, the body and architecture that are the key elements to reading Rabah’s work. Finally, Suad Al Amri, architect, writer and founder of RIWAQ, was joined by Rabah to attempt what she called the impossible mission to have Khalil talk about his work. The day concluded with a performance by e-flux founder and editor Anton Vidokle and co-editor Brian Kuan Wood, dressed in furry wolf and dolphin suits respectively, reciting a poetic and philosophical dialogue to each other: an uncanny scene accompanied by a dramatic Valkyrie-esque soundtrack playing in the background. They closed with a list of questions regarding Rabah’s work: What happens when an artist stops producing works and instead produces a museum? What happens when an artist stops producing a museum and instead produces worlds? What happens when an artist stops producing worlds and instead produces a kind of consciousness that is itself capable of producing worlds? And what happens when these worlds become tired of producing only themselves, then decide to start producing humans and other forms of life?
The exhibition presents Rabah’s oeuvre over the past ten years as a constellation of three segments in the e-flux space, outlining the skeleton, veins and skin of his artistic project. The summer 2011 museum newsletter looks as a typical promotional museum brochure laid out in a standard type and image format. Not only are its contents divided into clear categories pertaining to The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, including an editorial statement concerning the museum’s institutional history and sections on education, anthropology and botany, to name a few, but the newsletter itself is the source and initiator of the other art objects appearing in the exhibition space. The summer 2011 issue is highlighted throughout, spawning various incarnations of itself. It has been reproduced as large oil paintings, quoted in a neon sign, and bound up in an anthology of all the museum’s newsletters combined for sale at e-flux for $20 a copy.
In conversation with Rabah, he expressed his intention to create an inward institutional critique on how a museum can become a body in his work as a whole. Act I: Painting (2011) consists of twenty-four oil paintings of each of the pages from the summer 2011 museum newsletter. Each painting is installed on sliding metal racks, the kind you find in the climate-controlled storage of a museum. Pages 7, 8, 9 are extracted from these racks and hung on the wall around the corner in a secluded viewing space. Act II: Moulding (2012), is a glowing red neon reads: ‘In this issue: Statement concerning the institutional history of the museum.’ Act III: Printing (2011) are boxes containing the twenty-four page newsletters. Rabah explained how the newsletter-in its various formats-can ultimately produce an anatomy or an architecture for a museum. In other words, his exhibition and the format of the newsletter itself, display the rhetoric of institutional language in parallel to the structural or even the architectural.
The exhibition is and isn’t about Palestine. Rabah positions these works as if they exist in a parallel universe where the word Palestine, and the existence of its museum is not politically controversial, rather a normalized existence such as The American Museum of Natural History in New York. The exhibition and the symposium propose an austere formality-although after witnessing both, it is evident how the artist manipulated their conventional structures. With the exhibition, Rabah has formalized and institutionalized the museum by representing it through the rhetoric of the museum newsletter and continuing to deconstruct the gesture of the newsletter by way of various forms – Act I Painting, Act II Moulding, Act III Printing. In turn, the symposium asserts itself as an academic authoritative forum on the museum and the work of Rabah; the use of the word symposium making reference to an institutional conference.
Although the museum’s actual existence has been a question posed to Rabah since its inception, focusing on this issue would be missing the point. In this manifestation of The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, the museum appears in its own newsletter, thus institutionalizing itself and evidently confirming its existence. The artist has constructed this museum and the world(s) surrounding and emerging from it. As participants in this construct, we accept the reality and function of this museum. Indeed, this is what Rabah’s work is about. Khalil Rabah: Pages 7, 8, 9 upturns the familiar structures of a museum by way of copulating them with new forms. The metal racks, oil paintings, newsletter, signage, rhetoric, PR and symposiums are reformulated to present this self-generating institution. The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind is not a cabinet of curiosities filled with extinct objects, or a lamenting holding onto the past.
Within this artwork lies a grand gesture; one that has produced a formula for new worlds and an alternative discourse that breathes new imaginations and possibilities for the past, present and future of the museum both a physical thing and as a notion. The beauty of institutions is that they do not rely on a single figure to keep them going. Once erected, they can continue existing on their own, continuing their establishment. In Rabah’s words: ‘Something gives life to something else: one world is born and so it begins to speak for itself.’
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Khalil Rabah at e-flux, through Apr. 20
How does a culture without a museum preserve its own history and tell its own story? That’s just one question implied by Khalil Rabah’s at once funny and poignant ongoing project, the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Mankind. With departments spanning fields such as botany, geology and paleontology, it exists principally as a newsletter, whose pages Rabah has reproduced for this show in large paintings. Just as Palestinians want a state, the artist told A.i.A. during a visit to the show, they want a museum, but it’s no simple matter, as this slippery project demonstrates.
Read the full post here