Monday, November 24, 2008

David Hammon's "Six Projects in Alexandria"

Left: David Hammons, Elephant Chair, 2008; Right: Pink Tree, 2008 (photo:

David Hammons' Six Sites in Alexandria, a new series of site specific work in the Egyptian city of Alexandria opened two days ago, making it--I believe--the third project this master conceptual artist has created in the African continent since the past couple of years, most of it as a result of his productive relationship with my dear friend Salah Hassan, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Art History at Cornell University. Hammons was one of the three artists (with Magdalena Campos-Pons and Pamela Z)Hassan showed in 3X3: Diaspora, Memory and Place, the US official participation at the 2004 Dakar Biennale. And he also has collaborated with the Zoma Art Center in Addis Ababa.
Six Sites in Alexandria, is as compelling and radical as any of his signal works. Where in Dakar he conducted raffle draws during the Biennale, the prize being rams--the invaluable sacrificial animal for the Muslim Eid festival, in Alexandria, he disappointed his hosts at the Alexandria Contemporary Art Forum who had hoped he would produce some work in the gallery. Which makes you want to suspect that the Forum never got the memo about Hammons' work, or about the full implications of what it means for the artist to be one of the most radical conceptual artists of the past several decades. As it turned out, his work consisted of "things" he encountered in the streets of Alexandria: A chair chained to a post became "Elephant Chair" and an enigmatic tree with blooming spherical foliage and intensely green trunk turned into "Pink Tree," and an electronic shop with unruly, raucous noise morphed into a "Sound Installation", and so forth.
With these new series of work, and the twenty pages of "spirit writings" Hammons published in Hassan and Finley's new book (Diaspora, Memory Place, 2008), one appreciates all the more the profundity of that first statement in what one might call the 25 commandments of Conceptual Art, Sol Lewitt's 1969 "Sentences on Conceptual Art": "Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach."


BB said...

Dear Chika,
David did not disappoint us at all and we did know all about his practice before he came, it wasn't a blind date. We did expect the unexpected from him and had no illusions about a solo show at our space. We had almost know idea what he would do except that it would be outside the gallery and that was basically what was announced in the press release, so the concept that you are portraying here I'm afraid is not based on fact, I am sure Salah Hassan will back my words because he witnessed the whole thing. It was the audience that was disoriented and my be "disappointed" although i don't think that is really the right description of the feeling they had when they were taken on the tour of the six sites on opening night.

Chika Okeke-Agulu said...

Thanks for your comment and clarification. I stand corrected. What is more important though is that the Alexandria Contemporary hosted Mr. Hammons' work. My post was not meant to diminish the significance of the collaboration between the gallery and the legendary artist. My excitement about the project, and the fact that it happened in Africa, must have been all too obvious. I look forward to your future projects!