Conversation with Khaled Barakeh

Greatest Hits, Installation view, 2010

Didem Yazici: Even though your recent works are closely connected to Conceptual art and historical references, you mentioned about the idea of creating a work that is not related to history. How did you get interested in disconnecting from history?

Khaled Barakeh: The question started in a discussion with some friends: Is it possible to produce an artwork that is disconnected from history? Personally, I would like to say that it is almost not possible. The moment the artwork is done, it belongs to the last minute and becomes a part of history. In general I don’t think you can experience contemporariness in artwork unless you are watching a live performance. Remember that we are who we are because of who we were. You cannot disconnect the link between the tenses; it is like the use of present perfect in English. However, I want to try this experience by making an exhibition that is completely disconnected from the past. How would it be possible – for instance – to leave out the meaning of the materials as we understand today? It is a challenging question. This is a challenge I’m accepting for myself as well as pose to others.

You mentioned the concept of disconnecting from history through an exhibition or an art work, what about the position of memory in that context?

One of the future projects I am planning to do is dealing with this topic: Inviting artists to produce an artwork made for aliens whom they do not share a common history with.
Here, I want to try a strategy and think about the mindset of understanding history in general and art history in particular: What if we woke up one day with complete amnesia? How would we deal with the present or the future? What kind of work would we as artists make? What kind of medium would we use? Is it possible – for instance – to use paper without the history of paper itself? How could we – as a real audience – perceive and understand the work? How could an alien audience perceive or understand the work?

I think in this case, the catalogue designer, the web designer, the curator and the artists would be challenged. What kind of visual language would you use in that framework? Also think about the space itself, how would you deal with it in the tradition of making an exhibition, how would the curatorial plan function?

Since almost all of your works have a strong reference to history, it is interesting that you want to try out an experiment with rejecting memory and history. Can you talk about how you connect your works with history and with your personal memory?

When I was a kid I believed in a utopian world. Every time I watched a football match, I always naturally took the side of the losing team. Maybe as a political Syrian prisoner said once: “I am with the victim everywhere; at a scientific conference or in the public toilet”. But as I grew up and I began to understand the world I noted that things do not really work like this, and history is full of holes because those who have the power wrote it. Since then I was interested in developing alternative histories with my work. Maybe to negotiate what was presented as fact in history, and find what has been left out by those facts and to make that exclusion a part of history again. It is like when you go to a therapy session, you basically talk about your childhood to understand the reasons for your issues. There, you go back in time in order to make changes for the future. This way of thinking can also be applied and understood within the art context. I think, in order to create changes for the future, we should always question history. For instance, Post-war Europe somehow managed to create a new collective memory to deal with the effects of the war. Perhaps, this can be linked to my practice: disconnecting the past and building something that is brand new.

You usually make a connection between everyday life and art. Understanding art as part of life seems crucial to you. In our previous conversations, we talked about the book Life is Art Enough by Anita Backers..

I don’t want to present my artwork or myself as a product, as a sort of commodity. First of all, I am a human being and then an artist. Life is art enough… and my art is part of my everyday life.

The way I connect myself with everyday life is through the practice of art. This is why I don’t like the struggle of being an artist. To put my career before my life is not my interest. My art is about how we deal with each other, how we make food, communicate…

This is a very productive idea; your observations on everyday life. Art is not something that you go to a museum to see, but a life itself.

I agree.

Khaled Barakeh

Graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University (2005)and holds an MA degree from Funen Art Academy in Denmark (2010). His works have been presented in Kunsthalle and Museum Brandts, and Ovegarden in Denmark, Occupy Space in Ireland, French Cultural Centre in Damascus. His work has also been shown in other countries such as Italy, England, Lebanon, Jordan and Malta. Currently he is studying MA in Simon Starling’s class in Stadelschule in Frankfurt.


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