Love Me, Love Me Not

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, 1 Heydar Aliyev Avenue, Baku. www.heydaraliyevcentre.az. Tel.: 012505 6001

I am a great admirer of architect extraordinaire, Zaha Hadid and her master pieces. They always strike me as sinuous, elegant and somehow organic as well as being supremely functional. Nowhere more so than at the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku. This stunning generously undulating building, elevated and set in a dedicated landscape of lawns and water features, is a definite Baku Must See. Both exterior and interior offer a thrill to the senses and one can only marvel at the clever construction and beautiful design.

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From 4th April to 25th May 2014 the centre is hosting the ‘Love Me, Love me Not’ art exhibition, the Azerbaijan entry to the 55th Venice Biennale 2013 and produced and supported by YARAT, a not-for-profit art organisation based in Baku. The exhibition is quite small, featuring recent works by 16 artists from Azerbaijan and its neighbours, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Georgia and the collective, Slavs and Tartars. Curator Dina Nasser-Khadivi explains the concept like this: “Each piece in this exhibition has a role of giving the viewers at least one new perspective on the nations represented, with the mere intent to give a better understanding of the area that is being covered. Showcasing work by these artists in a single exhibition aims to, ultimately, question how we each perceive history and geography”

 

Art, like Beauty, is always in the eye of the beholder, always entirely subjective. How we perceive each individual piece depends on how we respond to it, intuitively or intellectually or both.  Does it engage us? Does it provoke a reaction, positive or negative? Does it throw up questions or show us something in a different light and encourage us to reconsider our own thoughts on any given subject? Or does it maybe give us a particular pleasure, a sense of discovery and joy which allows us connect to a work of art in a meaningful way, to ‘get’ it?  Its role, so I believe, is to bear witness to a time, a place and the prevalent Zeitgeist, to tell us something about the historical, cultural and emotional environment that informs the artist. It doesn’t have to be pretty or match our interior design ideas and it certainly doesn’t have to be true to life to evoke our engagement. It does, however, have to be a true expression of the artist’s view of his/her world without and within. Technical skill certainly helps with this expression. In the end, we each individually make what we are looking at, or listening to, or feeling,  mean something very personal to ourselves, irrespective of the often far too overanalysed ‘message’ which the artist may or may not be giving us. So, within this context, how did this exhibition work for me? Well, I found it enjoyable, stimulating and well worth a visit. The works are well presented within the space available but are not necessarily very cohesive overall. Their connection with the exhibition title, Love Me, Love Me Not, remained a mystery to me.  Some of the work I found enthralling and fascinating, some a little pretentious, some quite amusing and other items a bit bland in that they offered me nothing new. Two works particularly stood out for me:

  • Faig Ahmed’s ‘Untitled’, 2012, a thread installation reminiscent of his other work with carpets, marrying up the traditional Azeri carpet craft and design with an innovative contemporary expression. To quote the catalogue: ‘The installation deconstructs the elements of the carpet: the fabric, the patterns, and the weaving process. These components are reorganised in a form of spatial graffiti. Within the architectural space, the functional carpet is reformulated into a network of colours, threads and angles…..The audience becomes physically tied to, and intertwined in the woven space, transforming the process of viewing into the process of participating.” This work does not, perhaps, resonate with me quite as much as his other work which I greatly admire but it is, none the less, fascinating to look at, experience and contemplate because it is a work of art which emerges from centuries of Azerbaijani heritage.
  • Shoja Azari’s film, ‘The King of Black’, which is based on the 12th century illustrated poem ‘Haft Paykar’ (Seven Beauties) by the Azerbaijani poet Nizami. This, an allegorical story with a strong fairy tale flavour, is presented against a background of a dreamlike setting of manipulated traditional miniature paintings within which the actors play out the eternal quest for paradise and the moral consequences of desire and impatience. The merit of this work lies in its successful translation of enchantment which is both the cornerstone of the ancient story and the effect of the film on the modern day viewer.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition is beautifully presented and well printed but much of the written content is in an almost ridiculously fluffed up, flowery language, which is sometimes pretentious verging on the unintelligible. I can only put this down to an unfavourable translation. Reading it or rather labouring through parts of it, is as jarring and uncomfortable as plucking petals from a daisy. The exhibition, however, offers some interesting and thought provoking insights as to where this region is at in terms of expressing itself through the contemporary artists it has chosen to represent itself internationally. The entrance fee is AZN5 per person. Please check on the website for opening times.

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