08.06.–08.09.2024

Opening: 07.06.2024, 18h

Delving into both biographical and collective history, in the exhibition A Century, Tarik Kiswanson unearths the complexities of historical events of the last hundred years of war, destruction and regeneration and how these resonate across generations and geographies. His  practice spans media ranging from sculpture to drawing and film, and from sound and spatial interventions to poetry. Across various corpus, each work serves as a vessel that carries intricate narratives and transports traces of the past and the present.

Composed of a series of recently conceived sculptures, Kiswanson’s exhibition unfolds in separate chambers formed by two high walls that divide the main gallery of Portikus. As if freed from the constraints of gravity, the first work, which gives the exhibition its title, consists of four entangled wooden walking sticks levitating in midair. The sculpture’s construction, in which all parts are tied to each other in a complex interplay, evokes the whirlwind of historical events that inextricably link and bound one another. The canes Kiswanson included in A Century (2024) originate in a personal collection dating from the 1930s until today. Made to provide support to injured or aging bodies, these objects also hold special meaning for the artist as metaphors of ruptures and traumas of turning points in history.

As with many of Kiswanson’s sculptures, the impression of weightlessness that is conveyed contrasts with the weight of the stories the objects he works with carry within them. As if frozen in time, a black cloud of ink flows out of a British imperial fountain pen in a transparent cube of resin. The centerpiece in The Rupture (2024) is a golden Onoto pen manufactured in 1924, the same model used by King George V, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and high-ranking British officers, who were decisive actors in the pivotal events of the last century. The solemn relic invokes, among others, the chronology of decisions resulting from the Mandate for Palestine and Transjordan Memorandum signed by Churchill in 1922. The work’s transparency counters with the blurriness of the resin work The Silence (2024) presented in the same space. Here, a blue helmet with UN lettering is floating upside down. While the owner of the headgear is unknown, it’s the founding of the United Nations in 1945 to secure international peace that immediately comes to mind. In Kiswanson’s hands, the helmet holds multiple significations and serves as an allegory for the ramifications related to the organization’s political rulings, which are also intricately linked to his family’s exile from their homeland, Palestine. Having fled Jerusalem, by way of Tripoli, Tunis, and Amman, his parents settled in Halmstad, Sweden, in 1982, where Kiswanson was born in 1986. 

Conversely, a different impetus delineates Anamnesis (2023), a metal model of a floor plan cast in a block of hazy resin, based on the artist’s and his sisters’ spatial memories of their childhood home, a small two-bedroom apartment in a social housing complex in the suburbs. Built to accommodate migrants arriving during the late 1970s, the poorly constructed high-rise building was torn down in the early 2000s. As the title underlines, the ability to recall the past informs the subject of his conception of sculpture where the question of time is key.

The understanding of objects as carriers of meaning is further highlighted in Foresight (2024), a pair of wooden chairs that appear to be intertwined: a straight-back chair by the American Japanese furniture maker George Nakashima (1905–1990) and a Tübingen chair by the German architect Adolf Gustav Schneck (1883–1971), both dating from the postwar period. Drawing on the designers’ fraught biographies, Kiswanson seeks to reflect on how times of turmoil can generate scars in the reception of their work. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor in 1941, by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, United States citizens of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in internment camps. Nakashima, along with his wife and daughter, was held in the newly built Minidoka War Relocation Center in the Idaho desert. Hundred kilometers away in Nazi Germany, Schneck, previously an affiliate of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, joined the National Socialist Party. Although during the process of denazification, he was labeled a follower, Schneck played an important role in the country’s reconstruction efforts, illustrative of Germany’s inconsistent and conflicting past. While both chairs in Foresight were produced during the same time, the personal circumstances of their makers could not differ more, evoking the problematics of association and the collision between silence and violence.

While several of the works in the exhibition can be read as a timeline of selected ruptures across the last century, with Cradle (2023), Kiswanson underscores the inevitable need for reconstruction and renewal. Levitating on the wall, the sculpture takes the form of a cocoon created after the artist’s own body measurements and is a leitmotif in his practice, which alludes to notions of rootlessness and regeneration. Coated in white paint, its color attuned to the light and architectural setting, the work appears as a shelter or a refuge for rebirth. For decades, Kiswanson has given particular attention to the ways in which the movement and perception of visitors can be altered within exhibition spaces. By transforming Portikus’s gallery into a large-scale sculptural environment where different works have been meticulously placed, the artist draws on the rhythmic breaks and punctuations of poetic language to engage both the mind and body of the viewer. 

Tarik Kiswanson (b. 1986, Halmstad) is a visual artist and poet based in Paris. His work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions, most recently at Oakville Galleries (2024), Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2023), Salzburger Kunstverein (2023), Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2023), M  HKA-Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp (2022), Hallands Konstmuseum, Halmstad (2022) and Carré d’Art-Musée d’art contemporain, Nîmes (2021). In 2023, Kiswanson was awarded the Prix Marcel Duchamp. In October 2024, he will present a solo exhibition at The Common Guild, Glasgow.

Curated by Liberty Adrien & Carina Bukuts

Poster design: Roland Brauchli

A Century is made possible by the generous support of Hessian Ministry of Science and Research, Arts and Culture, Feith Stiftung, and Institut français Deutschland. We would like to thank carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid, and Sfeir Semler Gallery, Hamburg/Beirut for their support. Additionally, we extend our gratitude to The Common Guild, Glasgow for co-producing with Portikus The Silence and The Rupture (both 2024).