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Four newly commissioned video installations by Aziz + Cucher premiere at Indianapolis Museum of Art
Aziz + Cucher, By Aporia, Pure and Simple, 2011. Multi-channel video, sound. Courtesy of the artists. Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN.- The Indianapolis Museum of Art premiered four newly commissioned video installations by the collaborative team of Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher in April 2012 that reflect the artists’ complex relationship with the political conflict in the Middle East. Developed by the artists following extensive research and travel to the region, the works in the exhibition explore the longstanding conflict between Arabs and Jews through digital animation, performance, sound, and video documentation. Marking twenty years of collaboration for the artists, Aziz + Cucher: Some People will be on view through October 21, 2012, in the McCormack Forefront Galleries.

Aziz + Cucher have been profoundly affected by outbreaks of conflict in the Middle East—the result of contested land ownership, extreme nationalist and religious ideologies, and historical prejudices. This personal connection to the region stems from their familial and cultural roots in the Middle East—Cucher’s entire family recently emigrated to Israel and his nephews serve in the Israeli army, while Aziz has cousins and extended family scattered across Lebanon—as well as the conflict’s broader impact on the world today. The artists have distilled their findings into four video installations titled The Time of the Empress, In Some Country Under a Sun and Some Clouds, Report from the Front, and By Aporia, Pure and Simple.

“Aziz + Cucher’s work speaks to the most pressing issues of our time. These commissions mark the first time Aziz + Cucher’s work has addressed the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, providing detailed personal insight into a challenging subject with global resonance,” said Lisa Freiman, senior curator and chair of the IMA’s Department of Contemporary Art. “Through these works, Aziz + Cucher seek to create a poetic and emotional space that brings together ancient tribal attachments to land with the realities of living in what the artists describe as a contemporary ‘age of global terror.’”

Until this series of works, Aziz + Cucher had kept the violent engagements between Israel and its Arab neighbors outside the realm of their artistic practice. However, the increasing conflict in the region and its hopeless display of destructive power affected both of their psyches in unexpected ways. After witnessing first-hand the terror of 9/11 in New York, as well as the subsequent barrage of images of violence unleashed by the catastrophic war in Iraq, they began to understand the 2006 war in Lebanon as emblematic of a cycle of tragic and absurd inevitability that continues today.

In 2009, Aziz + Cucher researched and traveled extensively in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Then during a residency in Berlin, the artists translated their thinking into four independent video installations:

• The Time of the Empress consists of three large projections of digitally animated architectural drawings in a constant cycle of construction and decay. These images are accompanied by a multi-channel sound environment in which female voices can be heard reflecting on the quotidian details of everyday life and the eternal and inevitable passage of time. The title of this work refers to a passage from Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian.

• In Some Country Under a Sun and Some Clouds presents a series of eight monumental figures, projected onto landscapes, and seemingly caught in a state of paralysis and indecision, endlessly repeating gestures that seem to prevent them from exiting history or entering some future and straddling the awkward divide between the comic and the tragic. For this work the artists collaborated with six dancers who perform a series of tasks and choreographed gestures recorded in front of a green screen and digitally inserted into biblical, timeless landscapes.

• Report from the Front is a single-channel video with soundtrack that turns an archeological excavation site into a potential battlefield whereby viewers are confronted with themes of land ownership, history, and the search for traces of belonging. This video uses documentary footage that depicts the ethnographic implications of archeological excavation from a distance, and without emotion. The forceful voice-over narration of an “archeological despot” adds a layer of humor preparing for the tragic and comical ending in the final video.

• By Aporia, Pure and Simple is a multi-channel video installation in which Aziz + Cucher appear in an absurdist, clownish performance that alludes to the daunting and seemingly futile task of engaging with existential questions as they piece together video footage from their travels for the exhibition. This is the first time that the artists appear in their work, suggesting Aziz + Cucher’s intense personal identification with the topics addressed throughout the exhibition.

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