Reading Rämistrasse #37: Mitchell Anderson on Karam Natour at Salon Sommer

Karam Natour’s work plays games with its identity: pretending and being, finding pleasure in life and art’s grey areas. The centre of this absorbing exhibition, Blessing in Disguise, is a series of digital drawings on faux-aged paper. They feature a faceless nude male, with a superb chest hair pattern, appearing across a variety of situations that range from dreamy to absurd: impossibly stretched around an Egyptian sarcophagus (I will keep on watching over you, 2017), manipulating himself as a marionette (No God Over Your Head, 2015) or replicating Marina Abramovic’s Nude with Skeleton, 2002-2005 (The Powers That Be II, 2016). They are both very sexy and very sweet and they’re masquerades, costumed as ink-drawn relics, of universal feelings within singular affairs. They speak to the limits of reductive identity, something this queer Arab-Israeli artist gambols in as he quarries the abridged aesthetics of past and present global culture.

A figure manipulates itself as if it were a marionette

Intimate assumptions are looked to further with Nothing Personal, 2017; a difficult, provocative and lingering video. The single-shot work watches the artist draped across a single bed flanked by lighting (visually referring as much to the world of cam boys as to Christian art history) as he calls the Tel Aviv emergency hotline. It’s a prank in which he acts the tortured cliche of not being able to ‘get something out’ of himself in his studio, but as the team arrives and tries to help, one questions definitions of care, who deserves to receive it and when and how some provide it unquestioningly. His insistence on speaking English to the emergency workers and a crucifix hanging lonesome above the bed signify outwardly an otherness that colours the total interaction. It’s to be pondered ethically and emotionally long after the video ends.

A video projection of a figure lying in a room in a bed, emergency workers tend to him

Another extensive and endearing video, Repeat After Me, 2018, was produced during a large family gathering Natour organised or hijacked. One segment features an older relative directing the artist and his cousins in the cosmic dance of our solar system. The artist is the sun (obviously!), spirit fingers blinking, as his family spins and rotates around him. It’s a pretty good depiction of the paradoxes of individualism within sameness, the way one fits into social groups both intimate and vast, and the base narcissism of creation or any endeavour in which we receive support from the ones who love us. 

Karam Natour: Blessing In Disguise, Sommer Salon Zürich, 5 March–7 May 2021

Bilder courtesy Sommer Salon Zürich

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12.03.2021