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Kunsthalle Basel Opens an Exhibition by Lili Reynaud Dewar
Reynaud Dewar, Black Mariah, 2009. Film still. Courtesy the artist; Mary Mary, Glasgow. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

BASEL.- Kunsthalle Basel presents Interpretation, a new project by the French artist Lili Reynaud Dewar (born 1975, La Rochelle, France).

“Interpretation,” the title of Lili Reynaud Dewar’s exhibition, is to be understood in both specific and general terms. More specifically, it is borrowed from the title of a composition by Sun Ra, an African-American musician, composer, filmmaker, and author of typewritten pamphlets that convey his unorthodox ideas on religion, society, and politics. Born Herman Poole Blount in 1914, Sun Ra changed his “slave name” to Sonny El Ra in 1952, which later became Sun Ra. His diverse practice influenced free jazz and inspired a musical avant-garde, but he might be best remembered for his unique scenic presence and the brilliant iconography he created for The Sun Ra Arkestra, the band he led from the 1950s until his death in 1993. Drawing from sources as various as freemasonry, the Bible, Egyptian solar mythology, and 20th-century avant-garde art, Sun Ra was a quintessential multidisciplinary artist. He famously claimed that he was of extraterrestrial origin and that African-American identity was a myth, thus crafting his public persona as a statement of emancipation against the prevalent segregationist and racist politics in the U.S. in the 1950s and ’60s.

If the title “Interpretation” — a track from Sun Ra’s 1971 album The Solar-Myth Approach: Vol. 2 — points to improvisation and experimentation as guiding principles for a new music, it also evokes the interpretation of myths or dreams of the future. In Reynaud Dewar’s current exhibition (and her larger oeuvre), however, the idea of interpretation is a way of utilizing historical cultural material and aesthetic objects; it is a productive form of understanding that transforms familiar content so that it might be communicated in new ways.

Finally, the “interpretation” of an existing script or score is an essential element in any performance, Reynaud Dewar’s included. The artist often conceives her installations as sets for performances, which are either presented live for the audience or staged for video recordings that are later incorporated into exhibitions. Her installations might include sculptures, texts, visual signs and photographs – but also musicians and actors, whose expressivity is limited and who often play the roles of “speakers” as they read texts aloud. As the artist has remarked, “I position the characters as I might place objects, to the point that one could say that girls are painted and the objects are wearing too much makeup.”

For Reynaud Dewar’s new work at Kunsthalle Basel, the main space on the upper floor has been given over to a geometric wood-and-mirror structure and a throne-like chair covered with African fabrics. Both invoke the spirit of Sun Ra’s stage props, while simultaneously referencing the Memphis Group furniture of the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, which Reynaud Dewar considers in critical accord with Sun Ra’s extravagant attitudes. Inside the geometric structure, pre-recorded video shows the artist’s mother, Mireille Rias, dressed in an elaborate costume, à la Sun Ra. Seated on the exuberant chair, Rias relates the story of a Sun Ra concert she attended in Saint-Paul de Vence on August 3, 1970, as she listens to the recordings some forty years later. If the video represents her personal experience of Sun Ra’s work, it also depicts the concert in relation to the socio-cultural context of that time, when ideas in music and art were invested with revolutionary meaning and “Free Jazz!” was a call for social change. In a new series of drawings, Lili Reynaud Dewar used pencil to copy the original texts from Sun Ra’s pamphlets onto sheets of grey cardboard. Monumental in their appearance, the drawings do not imitate the auratic quality of Sun Ra’s typewritten A4 originals. The historical text becomes a concrete message, instead of being presented merely as an archival document.

In the past, Reynaud Dewar’s projects have explored the beginnings of cinema (Black Mariah, 2009), the life and works of Sottsass (In Every Room There is the Ghost of Sex, 2008), the obsolete knowledge of shorthand-typists (The Power Structures, 2009–10), and former slave communities in 19th-century Jamaica (The Center and The Eyes, 2006). Such projects involve intense research and extend beyond the frame of autonomous, one-time exhibitions. By making use of remote, sometimes antagonistic historical material, as well as drawing on her personal background, Reynaud Dewar’s work consistently questions the very notion of origins, and the relationship between one’s identity and one’s work.

Lili Reynaud Dewar’s exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel includes original texts and music by Sun Ra. It has been developed with Mathieu Bernard (costume design), Sam Supa-Sonic (sound system) and Mireille Rias (story). The artist wishes to express her admiration to John Corbett and Anthony Elms for their book The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets (2006, WhiteWalls).

Kunsthalle Basel | Lili Reynaud Dewar | "Interpretation" |

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