13 May to 11 June 2016
Speaking for the Dead
Being Kazimir Malevich
Susan Fereday’s Speaking for the Dead offers an otherworldly encounter in a domestic setting. The exhibition responds to a series of 1930s studio portraits of unnamed children on their first day of school, collected by Fereday during the seven years she lived in Germany. Most of the children in these photographs understandably look nervous. In Germany the start of school marks the beginning of Ernst des Lebens (the serious side of life), as a child leaves behind their previously unstructured life at home to encounter the discipline and challenges of formal education. The children hold Schultuete: cardboard cones filled with sweets that are traditionally given to compensate a child’s anxieties on this long-anticipated day.
The children in these photographs almost certainly witnessed Germany’s dark history under National Socialism and its unspeakable crimes. But what do we know about their lives, their deaths, their experiences, their trauma? When we confront history it is a story that is always already told: a set of inherited interpretations, of mashed-up moments, of forgotten details, of lives lost in the backward recounting of grander narratives.
The cones the children carry resemble the metal hearing trumpets used in nineteenth century séances to listen to the voices of the dead. What language do the dead speak? What stories can they tell? While photographs are themselves silent things they are also occasions for looking and for listening. In a photograph, we look to listen to the dead. People who have lived through trauma carry a kind of double burden: first the trauma, and then the ineffability, the insufficiency of words to describe it. For the traumatised dead the burden must be even greater. The dead must also find a medium.
Sanja Pahoki’s exhibition Being Kazimir Malevich has been inspired by a profound moment at the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg when the artist found herself in front of paintings by the Russian painter, Kazimir Malevich. Pahoki says: A black square was next to a black circle which was next to a black cross. I felt incredibly alive in that moment and thought that I was seeing the world in a new way. I got Kazimir and he got me.
In Being Kazimir Malevich Paintings, Portals, Photography, the Punctum, Pilgrimages, Priests, Potatoes and Parents are combined to create Sanja Pahoki’s new suite of work at Sarah Scout Presents.
Pahoki utilises everyday mediums and materials such as photography, neon, video and text to manifest her nuanced reflections on everyday life – observations that continually hover between melancholy and anxiety. Existential issues such as the nature of self and the passing of time are underlying themes – usually interposed with the artist’s humorous aside – while individual works constitute elements of a larger self-portrait, documenting and archiving Pahoki’s relationship to those people and things most important to her.