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Walead Beshty

April 20, 2006 - July 23, 2006

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In 2001, Walead Beshty happened upon a short article in a German newspaper about the Iraqi diplomatic mission located in former East Berlin. Due to shifting political regimes, it is now a space occupied by countries whose sovereignty is either defunct or in question. Abandoned for over ten years, this embassy turned squatter's haven now offers only glimpses of its past life of ambassadors and dignitaries. Beshty traveled to the mission repeatedly, collecting photographs, speaking to former Iraqi officials, and even taking up residence for a short period.

Beshty's installation acts as a portal to the mission and includes a brutalized bag of embassy ephemera that bears the marks of an inspection by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; waiting room furniture; reading material; and a telephone line that connects museum visitors to a phone at the mission in Berlin. The image of the mission's facade is a composite of two photographs, one spanning the transition from night into day, the other from day into night; other photographs record the impressions of books left after a recent fire. The larger works document the scars on Beshty's camera film left by airport x-ray machines and security checkpoints in its movement across international borders. Their vaporous discolorations add an unexpected beauty to the office debris.

Beshty's work explores not only the history of photography, but also the way in which photography shapes our understanding of history. He makes this enduring relationship visible by bringing together images of ambiguous places, altering them, and exhibiting them as documentation. Beshty invites the viewer into a surrogate of a place that, though real, by legal definition does not exist. This tenuous link between what is authentic and what is reproduced parallels the medium of photography itself, which captures moments in time that our eyes are trained to believe truly occurred. Beshty's work offers us a chance to experience the sense of uncertainty that this place engenders, lying unsteadily on a line between past and present, fact and fiction, day and night.

About the Exhibition

The following are excerpts from a conversation between Walead Beshty and Aimee Chang about Beshty's Hammer Project based on the abandoned Iraqi diplomatic mission in Berlin.

 

Walead Beshty: In 2001 a friend showed me a short blurb in the newspaper about a fire in the abandoned Iraqi diplomatic mission to East Germany (GDR). It was right around the time when the U.S. was going into Afghanistan and the current war with Iraq was about to happen. The newspaper article indicated that it had been abandoned but that it was still filled with debris, which squatters had used to start a fire that had gotten out of control. I started to research it and ended up visiting the site soon after, finding out that it had been abandoned sometime between the Berlin Wall coming down and the first gulf war. The site itself was given by the GDR to Iraq in perpetuity, which was unusual, so even after reunification it continued to be Iraqi soil. It is something of a snapshot of the end of the cold war; it seems that everything had been left behind in a hurry. It made me think of the stories about the abandoned colony at Roanoke. I returned several times and produced a preliminary work about the site with Eric Schwab, which we published in 2003. More

Aimee Chang is Exhibition Coordinator and Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum.

 

Hammer Projects are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, Fox Entertainment Group's Arts Development Fee, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and members of the Hammer Circle.

Support for this Project was also provided by ART2102, Los Angeles.

 

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