Laws of Confusion is the second collaboration of Lydia Ourahmane and Alex Ayed, whose individual practices converge for this exhibition in a choreography of movements. Their methods accept the hurdles of chance or luck, responding to what arises out of journeying together and leaning into unplanned situations. The show is the momentary culmination of a sustained, ever-evolving, and at times chaotic process.
Sealed off from the outside, the gallery space of the Renaissance Society is filled with haze and muted light, becoming a closed environment where objects from disparate places are scattered throughout. These materials–gathered or made by the artists–bring out a number of conceptual undercurrents: blocked or interrupted communications, and hints of ancient pasts and pending futures, embodied in a mix of primordial elements, like water, clay, and wind, or newer technologies.
Earlier this year, as their process began, Ourahmane and Ayed took the surroundings of Cairo in Egypt as a starting point, gathering materials like clay, papyrus hay, and water from the Nile River. Only a portion of what they found there has actually made it into the exhibition space, such as the Nile water transported in a suitcase. Other efforts proved impossible, due to legal, practical, or ethical concerns. In response, the artists embrace these thwarted attempts, and the exhibition became a stage for making the “failed objects” appear: a slender glass vessel, a scale weighing soil, an illegible note.
In Laws of Confusion, as in much of their collaborative work, Ourahmane and Ayed contend with the friction between individual paths and wider narratives–geopolitical, mystical, speculative, technological. Other elements in the show, like raw lithium metal safely sealed in its original package, or black gloves used to manipulate reactive materials, conjure current states of communication and stand in for conversations the artists had with a University of Chicago molecular engineering lab. On a table, an “ultrasonic microphone defeater” scrambles the sound on any audio or video recordings captured nearby. As the exhibition brings out undercurrents of distortion or confusion, the materials are haunted by their own potential: what could have happened, or what might happen still.
Curated by Myriam Ben Salah and Karsten Lund.
Special thanks to the Amanchukwu Laboratory at the University of Chicago; the Arts, Science + Culture Initiative at the University of Chicago; and particularly to Chibueze Amanchukwu, Peiyuan Ma, and Julie Marie Lemon.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Lydia Ourahmane (b. 1992, Saïda, Algeria) lives in Barcelona. Alex Ayed (b. 1989, France) lives and works between Paris and Tunis. Their first collaboration, Risquons-Tout took place at WIELS, Brussels (2020–21). This is their first major exhibition together in the US.
Ourahmane has a current solo exhibition at Portikus, Frankfurt and has also had solo exhibitions at: Kunsthalle Basel; De Appel, Amsterdam; CCA Wattis, San Francisco; and Chisenhale, London, among others. Her work has been exhibited in the 34th Sao Paulo Biennial; Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Sicily; and the 2018 New Museum Triennial, Songs for Sabotage; as well as group exhibitions at WIELS Centre d’Art Contemporain, Brussels (with Alex Ayed); Louisiana Museum, Denmark; and the fifth edition of Jaou Tunis.
Ayed’s recent solo exhibitions include Transumanza, ZERO…, Milan; Roaring Forties, Balice Hertling, Paris; Soap Opera, B7L9 Art Station, Tunis; Exhibition 3: Alex Ayed, Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, New York. Ayed has participated in various group exhibitions including the 2021 New Museum Triennial, Soft Water Hard Stone; La psychologie des serrures at Centre d’art Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland; Children Power, at Frac Ile-de-France; and Jaou Tunis.