Featured in
The Venice Issue

Sarah Brahim Dances Into the Present

At Bally Foundation, Lugano, the artist uses dance as a way to move beyond loss

BY Talia Kwartler in Exhibition Reviews | 13 FEB 24

Occupying Villa Heleneum – the former residence of Parisian dancer Hélène Biber – the Bally Foundation provides an ideal setting for ‘Sarah Brahim: Sometimes We Are Eternal’, an exhibition that emphasizes the corporeality of movement and its connection to memory through a series of multi-channel videos, installations and photographs featuring the artist alongside collaborators and family members.

Sarah Brahim, The second sound of an echo, 2 channels video, 2023. Picture by Andrea Rossetti JPG
Sarah Brahim, The second sound of echo, 2023, two-channel video. Courtesy: the artist and Bally Foundation, Lugano; photograph: Andrea Rossetti

Curated by Vittoria Matarrese, the show borrows its title from French philosopher Alain Badiou’s reflection that ‘sometimes, we are eternal’, which speaks, in turn, to Spinoza’s notion, from Ethics (1677), that ‘we know by experience that we are eternal’. The idea that some memories remain while others are lost is the key theme of the first work visitors encounter in the exhibition, the two-channel video The second sound of echo (2023). It features the artist’s father beating two rocks together – the rhythmic sound of which travels throughout the galleries – and Brahim as she paws at her heart and then flings her arms back to the beat of the music. The mournful tone of the video is suggestive of ‘the tragic loss of a loved one’ alluded to in Matarrese’s essay accompanying the exhibition, which also informs us that the works on display are the result of the artist ‘retrac[ing] the past ten years of her life’.

Sarah Brahim, Duet with time, 2023, 6 channels video. Courtesy: the artist and Bally Foundation, Lugano; photograph: Andrea Rossetti
Sarah Brahim, Duet with time, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Bally Foundation, Lugano; photograph: Andrea Rossetti

One of the strongest works in the exhibition is the six-channel video Duet with time (2023), which uses dance to explore shifts in space and time. Two dancers – one male, one female – become surrogates for the artist, as if they are two parts of herself. In the video, the dancers move amongst architectural spaces, from an abandoned building overgrown with plants to a quiet backstreet and a city centre. Through these changing surroundings, the dancers’ measured movements contrast with both the stillness of the built environment and the bustle of the city. Taken together with the title, the video highlights how time can move differently for people depending on their personal experiences. At the end of the video, this emphasis is made clear when the dancers climb up and down a ladder in a studio, the action a seeming metaphor for moving through various phases of life.

Sarah Brahim, No wrong sounds, 2023, sculpture and sound piece. Courtesy: the artist and Bally Foundation, Lugano; photograph: Andrea Rossetti

On the second floor, the staccato notes of tap dancers, from the installation No wrong sounds (2023), form another auditory undercurrent that sometimes feels at odds with the meditative nature of the works on display. This was especially true for Adagio (2023), a two-channel video of the artist walking along the beach. One half of the film is projected across an entire wall, on which we see Brahim moving deliberately with a camera held at her chest, lifting her feet with the careful calculation of a trained dancer. It takes her almost the entire duration of the 17-minute video to make it from one side of the projection to the other, in stark contrast to the speed of the waves crashing onto the sand. On the opposite wall, a small monitor plays the scene Brahim captures as she walks, offering us the artist’s own perspective.

Sarah Brahim, She said, it's always two bodies, 2023, installation view.
Sarah Brahim, She said, it's always two bodies, 2023, video on sculpture. Courtesy: the artist and Bally Foundation, Lugano; photograph: Andrea Rossetti

The show ends with a two-channel video, He said, we must forget (2023), which repeats certain motifs from earlier in the exhibition. Made from images and footage Brahim collected over the course of a year – including rocks, ladders, landscapes, cityscapes and dance floors – this lively film quickly alternates between subjects, diverging markedly from the slower rhythms of the rest of the show. It makes for a symbolic conclusion to the artist’s institutional debut, in which the artist explores her own personal history before entering back into the world, enlivened and dancing.

Sarah Brahim’s ‘Sometimes we are eternal’ at Bally Foundation, Lugano, is on view until 28 April

Main image: Sarah Brahim, Adagio, 2023, film still. Courtesy: the artist

Talia Kwartler is a curator and art historian based in Berlin.