Ikon gallery first, and dove right in.
Seeing One’s Own Eyes is the current explosive exhibition by MadeIn artists collective. It is FUN! I went through, so absorbed in the objects that I didn’t read any of the blurb beforehand. What did I get excited about? Bombastic wall hangings, shodily made with chopped up kitch fake fur and sequined textiles, all tackily glued and stitched together. The colours are loud and the cartoons show people you will recognise from newspaper headlines. The text is as in-your-face as the imagery. The whole thing works! This is art that is cheap and cheerful, big and bold, and as amusing and meaningful as pop art can get.
There’s an instructive video by gallery director Jonathan Watkins on how he met Xu Zhen, one of the founding artists of MadeIn.
At this point, you can -like I did- realise that it’s all a fiction. These artists have nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East or a country at war. They are Chinese artists using made in China sarcasm to share with art consumers of the world, who are – of course – deeply interested in big issues like blood for oil and war in far-away countries full of invisible terrorist camps…
To give respite from the bomb-blasts on the second floor, the third floor welcomes you with some quiet anihilation, a breathing pile of rubble. Calm is the name of this surprising room of living destruction. You can watch 45 seconds of it:
I was lucky to see MadeIn’s exhibition the day after I visited Contemporary Art Iraq in Manchester’s Cornerhouse. The latter is, clearly, art made in Iraq. The Iraqi artists share their daily stories and creative pursuits without loud protesting of their county’s situation. Not that they ignore it, they just get on with life without making a song and dance about things. Had they done so, they might have come up with some strident, controversial artwork of the sort the tabloids would discuss. But it could pigeonhole them as protest artists, which is not for every artist to be.
Since Documenta 11, in 2002, there is a tendency for much contemporary art to function as documentary,* but living amidst irrational ruination for years, their museums plundered, current Iraqi artists do what artists do: make art, quite simply. MadeIn are taking on the documentary agenda and parading it in fancy-dress. It’s a fun party. But along with a good party, there’s nothing better than a soul-baring conversation – away from the pandemonium.
* See Materialist Feminism for the 21st Century, by Angela Dimitrakaki, in Oxford Art Journal, vol. 30, 2007.