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Museum Musings: NTU CCA presents Siah Armajani’s Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy.

Screenshot 2019-06-01 at 1.59.16 PM
Siah Armajani, Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room #3, 1988. Installation view of the exhibition Siah Armajani: Follow This Line, Walker Art Center, September 9 – December 30, 2018. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Photo by Bobby Rogers. 

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Singapore presents Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy this July, the first institutional solo exhibition in Asia of Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani. Considered a leading figure creating art in public space, Armajani merges architecture and conceptual art in his sculptures, drawings, and public installations that range from bridges to gardens, and outdoor structures such as gazebos for public use. His intrinsically interdisciplinary works dwell on political, social, economic, and philosophical considerations, inspired by democratic ideals and values, as well as by American vernacular architecture. Principles such as the “nobility of usefulness” and “art on civic scale” have guided Armajani’s lifelong practice, which continuously calls for critical reflection and communality.

Taking centre stag is the large-scale installation Sacco & Vanzetti Reading Room #3 (1988). which will unfold along its several comprising elements, such as two rooms, tables, chairs, and racks with books, magazines, and pencils noticeably arranged like spikes. The work’s title refers to the two Italian-born American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, whose verdict of armed robbery and murder steered global protests. Armajani has dedicated several works to the two, who were executed 1927 in Boston although believed to be innocent.

The Reading Room is designed as a functional and inviting space for the visitors of the exhibition to use, but feels nevertheless ambivalent, provoking a certain uneasiness that echoes the title’s reference to systemic injustice. The dozens of books populating the space are by or about the poets, philosophers, and political activists Armajani has dedicated different works to over the decades of his practice, as for instance Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Dewey, Emma Goldman, Hafez, Frank O’Hara, Sylvia Plath, Ahmad Shamlou, Henry David Thoreau, Alfred North Whitehead, Walt Whitman, and Nima Yooshij. Many are part of his Tomb series.

Initiated by Armajani in 1972, the Tomb series include drawings and models, of which seven are on view in the exhibition. A model and a drawing are devoted to Arthur Rimbaud, while the larger model references Heidegger, whose essay “Building Dwelling Thinking” (1954) inspired the artist to develop one of his most emblematic concepts—the bridge. In his writings, Heidegger conceives the bridge not only as a maker of place, but also a creator of neighbourhood, as it unites two separate places with that which divides them. Armajani has used this typology throughout his career to embody multiplicity and question difference and distance, understanding the need and difficulty of connecting between cultures, classes, and generations. Street Corner No. 1 and No. 2, two large bridge models, will be presented, as well as twelve small metal sculptures made of generic kitchen utensils, that are displayed for the first time.

Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy. marks the exhibition format in itself as civic structure at the threshold of everyday life and artistic engagement. The social aspect is made prominent by an open call to various groups and organisations to inhabit the exhibition space at different times, appropriating and responding to the installation. Through readings and workshops using the provided books as material, the conversational and educational potential of works of art, as Armajani calls for, can be explored.

The exhibition is accompanied by a film programme in the Centre’s “Single Screen,” with Armajani’s early experimental films from 1975 serving as departure point. Armajani’s computer-generated short films are point-and-line animations of mathematical computations that create an abstract relationship between language and mathematics. The ideas presented already include visual, spatial, and architectural concerns that the artist continued to inquire. Taking in consideration this more formalist approach of the artist, the series will expand along computer-aided film experiments, as well as focus on several of the artist’s key strands and typologies, such as line structures, bridges, houses, and gardens.

Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy. runs from 20th July to 3rd November 2019 at NTU CCA. For more information, visit their website here

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