Exhibition at Arnolfini focuses on work from the past six years by Elias Sime

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Exhibition at Arnolfini focuses on work from the past six years by Elias Sime
Elias Sime Eregata እርጋታ. Gallery 3 at Arnolfini, Bristol, October 2023. Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini. All rights reserved.

BRISTOL.- Arnolfini opens its autumn season for 2023 with Eregata እርጋታ, the first major solo European museum exhibition of one of Ethiopia’s leading contemporary artists, Elias Sime, introducing audiences to a man and maker of extraordinary craftsmanship and collaborative spirit.

Recently the subject of a major touring exhibition in North America, and a prominent artist in the Venice Biennale 59th international exhibition with The Milk of Dreams (2022), Sime’s approach to both life and art feels vital in the present moment.

Eregata እርጋታ will primarily focus on work from the past six years, including Sime’s monumental Venice Biennale commission Veiled Whispers (2022), alongside intricately woven abstract topographies from the landmark series Tightrope (2009 – present), key works from his ethnographically inspired stitch, yarn and button series, and the tactile fragility of Bareness, a large-scale ceramic installation from 2014.

The exhibition’s title Eregata እርጋታ emerges from the artist’s language, Amharic, translated by Sime as closest in meaning to the calmness and tranquillity of the English word serene. Yet, for all its suggestions of calm to a western ear, for Sime eregata reflects a recognition that our minds are never truly still or silent: “we struggle to stop and sleep because our brains are constantly stimulated by technology – we are constantly moving faster not slower.”

However, Sime’s work flows against this tide, embracing a notion of ‘slowness’ – “My art is slowing it down. The work forces me to slow down.” – as he takes years to transform carefully sourced materials, imbuing them with new life, to explore both local and global issues around sustainability, materiality, and the impact of technology upon society.

Collating pile upon pile of electrical wires, computer keyboards, broken cell phones, and circuit boards, Sime hoards these resources until he has assembled enough to commence a new body of work, evoking the suggestion that ‘his works are an act of patience’. Objects are stripped down into individual components, such as ‘threads’ of wire, which are subsequently woven, layered, and re-assembled into abstract forms suggestive of vast landscapes, topographies or cityscapes viewed from above.

The finished works possess a tactile quality, reflective of both the hands that have made them (Sime works with a team of studio assistants) and those of the object’s previous owner. Materials often relate to the act of communication – such as in Tightrope: Echo!? (2021) where protruding megaphones perform a dual function, broadcasting memories of the clatter of hands upon now silent computer keys – and prompting us to think about the role of both communication and interpretation within our own lives.

The notion of memory, or history contained within his choice of materials, is key to Sime’s practice, as he finds new ways to repurpose materials (whether old or new) extending their short lives, whilst also reminding us of their technological redundancy, a timely commentary on the short-lived and ephemeral nature of western technology, and its subsequent impact upon our environment.

Eregata እርጋታ also seeks to explore Sime’s relationship to his own environment, most notably the inspirational collaborative project Zoma Museum, in the artist’s home city of Addis Ababa, named after young artist Zoma Shifferraw, who died of cancer in 1979.

Founded by Sime and long-time collaborator and anthropologist Meskerem Assegued, this international arts centre embodies the patience and ambitious scale that is so central to Sime’s practice, encompassing exhibition spaces, a library, elementary school, edible garden, farm, café, and an artist in residence and project spaces, expanding outwards since 2019.

The buildings embrace ancient and enduring Ethiopian building techniques, made from mud and straw and sculpted by Sime into intricate patterns and textures to create a menagerie of ants, spiders, and caterpillars, amongst others. They embody both Sime and Assegued’s shared holistic approach to art and life, in which traditional and ancient rituals and traditions are drawn upon in the making of his work.

Bringing his work to a wider audience, Eregata እርጋታ presents Sime as an artist firmly ‘situated between the local and global’ who weaves together materials, memories and human lives, reminding us of the vital and inherent interconnectedness of our communities.

A programme of live performance, talks and screenings will complement Eregata እርጋታ, as well as workshops, community and family activities.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a new publication Elias Sime: Eregata እርጋታ , featuring commissioned essays by curator Andria Hickey, Chief Curator The Shed, New York, and architect Nana Biamah-Ofosu, exploring Sime’s work and Zoma Museum. The book will be available from October 2023 from the Arnolfini Bookshop.

Eregata እርጋታ, will tour within Europe concluding at Kunstplast Düsseldorf in 2025.

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