For a long time now Saâdane Afifs working method has primarily consisted of commissioning artist friends, curators and critics to write texts on the basis of project sketches, thereby translating his work into the register of another medium. These contributions usually find their way into the corresponding exhibitions as wall texts that lend a built-in reflexive layer. Some of them also serve as song lyrics which Afif then sets to music in collaboration with musicians. For The Fairytale Recordings (2011), Afif availed himself of eight texts by Lily Reynaud Dewar, Tom Morton, Mick Peter, Ina Blom and Tacita Dean, though all of them had already been commissioned for earlier exhibitions.
During a performance at the opening, Afif had the opera singer and actress Katharina Schrade stand on a small round pedestal and translate all eight texts into a recitation, song or pose. Whilst each new text began with such a pose one with arms outstretched, another looking into the distance, yet another with an elongated right arm and pointed index finger stretching forcefully into the air she spoke the last words of each text into one of eight ceramic vases which were distributed around the room and elevated on plinths. The lids of these vases were then sealed, their borders adorned with a sort of caption to the work and each of their tops crowned with a figurine showing Schrade in exactly the same pose she had struck at the beginning of the corresponding recital. Figurines such as these especially of actors have a particular tradition in the craft of porcelain manufacture and can be found, for instance, in the catalogue of the Nymphenburg company, which produced Afifs vases. All in all, it was a closed circuit a loop leading from performance to porcelain, from movement to stasis and from a moment to eternity. Sound recordings in the manner of the elves; an impossible fairytale daydream.
The Fairytale Recordings thus delivered what can now be designated as Afifs signature style: a highly self-reflexive game with his own work, a permanent translation from one medial register to another and a constant feedback from one exhibition to the next. Loops everywhere. Except the texts employed here seem to have been deposited once and for all: the vase as sealed storage; the vase without a doubt and with less fairytale quality as urn. It’s all the more finite if one recalls that ceramic figurines have always been said to have a certain association with death. And so The Fairytale Recordings can also be conceived as a sort of postscript to Afifs Marcel Duchamp Prize exhibition at the Centre Pompidou last year. The only wall text he used in Zurich (Tacita Deans) was originally created for the Paris exhibition, but there is also a more direct link: the burial motifs. Here the vases/urns with their figurines; there a figurative coffin in the form of the museum itself, made to order in Ghana.
From coffin to urn, then. This would be the ultimate logical step, so to speak, already going well beyond the seemingly advisable. The urn is the coffin in potency. Is this someone tolling his own death knell and bidding farewell to a productive period of work that nevertheless gradually came to be perceived as a limitation? Possibly, but not necessarily. With this exhibition, if not earlier, the auto-creation that served Afifs permanently changing art work for so long seems to have mutated into a sarcastic, sensual self-cremation. Welcome to a world where the gallery is a cemetery, the exhibition a grave and its concept a corpse. Welcome to the world of the living dead. To be continued or not.
Translated by Jonathan Blower