PROGRESS MI 07, Zurich (CH) 2011

Galerie Gregor Staiger is pleased to announce its first exhibition with young Swiss-Tunisian artist Sonia Kacem (*1985, lives and works in Geneva). Kacem studied at the Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design in Geneva and completed her Master’s Degree earlier this year. Her artistic practice draws from early installation and process art, incorporating elements of chance and a possibility of change through the degradation of materials. PROGRESS MI 07 marks the artist’s first gallery exhibition.
Kacem collects much of her work material from the street. Discarded auto parts, worn fabrics, unidentifiable objects with appealing shapes – anything that catches her eye and triggers a sculptural response, having the right shape, color, volume. She may take a hammer or saw to it or leave it as is. Importantly, the object should not be loaded with meaning. Indeed, Kacem places a high value on ambiguity, communicating with a formal language that does not touch on popular turns of phrase and avoids distinct concepts. She refers to Roland Barthes’ ideas of the Neutral (which he presented in the eponymous lecture series at the Collège de France in 1978). “I define the Neutral as that which outplays the paradigm, or rather I call Neutral everything that baffles the paradigm”. Instead of functioning within a system wherein meaning is created through binary oppositions, the neutral presents a mode of expression that is less socially determined than formally constructed or deconstructed.
Installation is perhaps ideally suited as an artistic practice within which formal vocabularies may be explored without bumping into too many metaphorically laden references, where an experimentation with space may be indeterministic and noncommittal. Kacem installs her work on site, having an idea and elements to populate the space, a repertoire of objects and materials. This strategy, as well as the arrangement of the materials in heaps or piles, reminds of Robert Morris’ Continuous Project Altered Daily (1969), which unsurprisingly figures as a cornerstone in Kacem’s artistic research. Her installations are not subjected to daily interventions, this may rather be the case in her studio practice, but the work can and should not be installed the same way twice. The installation is as much a response to the space as it is distribution of objects.
PROGRESS MI 07 contains a large piece of paper from a roll, a piece of fabric, a broken car fender, the contents from a vacuum cleaner bag whose make gives the title to the exhibition, and a few more small objects. Posed against the wall is a large somewhat crumpled piece of fabric recuperated from the trash of a store selling sun blinds and treated in epoxy. These elements appear somewhat miraculously transformed into a topography that is more than an assemblage of refuse but at the same time does not pretend to be anything else. Barthes’ take again: “I don’t fabricate the concept of the Neutral, I lay out Neutrals.” The installation negotiates beauty and disorder, the material and ephemeral within classic sculptural concerns of volume in space. It is a function of composition – formalist, ambiguous, unpretentious and aesthetically complex.

Gregor Staiger