Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City is an exhibition full of history that is so relevant today. Al-Hadid’s solo show is currently on view through September 24, 2017 at San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, California. Liquid City is like a micro-cosmos of a world, in which the observer has carefully assembled her sharp point of view towards the core. It features an art-historical study on a matter that is hybrid and timely in the world, where archaeological sites and cultural homes are disappearing in front of our eyes. The subject is immense, but in this exhibition, the history gets rewritten in more pleasant terms.
The exhibition focuses on Al-Hadid’s creative process by bringing together works and related primary source materials. One example of this fruitful exchange is a large sculptural installation titled Nolli’s Orders (2012), which refers to Giambattista Nolli’s landmark 1748 map of Rome. The artist has included a reprinted folio of Nolli’s map and works on paper by old masters, to support the idea for the sculpture. The two-dimensional papers are an interesting contrast to the three-dimensional sculpture, perhaps showing how the process evolves from sketches to more complete forms. The constellation addresses how works are fluid and in-between states before their final spatial configurations.
Sculptural centerpiece Nolli’s Orders brings Al-Hadid’s installation idea to the museum space. With the multiple references, the sculpture addresses an idea of a city as public and shared space. Showing private and public structures of contemporary life, it anchors the idea of the sculpture into city with piazzas and fountains. Cities have been shaped around sources of water, around which the people have gathered and shared their belongingness. The conflict, which this work implies, is embedded in the idea of not belonging. It touches on the private spheres in which people feel uncertainty and alienation from firm structures, lacking the real connection to the architecture of the city. Resulting in the shapes as structures without roots, narrative and story?
The idea of the sculpture continues also in Al-Hadid’s two-dimensional works, which aesthetically relate to its colors and patterns. On the other hand, Diana Al-Hadid has employed yet another ephemeral pattern and style on their surface. In these works, the historical evidence is present as influence of ruins. The dripping paint creates the delicate surface as if showing traces of archeology as rendering marks. During her graduate studies, the artist was influenced by Hellenistic history that is visible in the ruins near Aleppo. She also explored Moorish layers in Spanish cathedrals.
Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City is displayed in the SJMA’s central skylight gallery, and as such fits to the space eloquently. The work questions boundaries of the space. Putting together the reference materials is brilliant, as all surrounding works add to the monumental scale of the sculpture. The visual of the artist’s own works is compelling, interwoven, giving a context to a deeper thinking of history. Al-Hadid’s thinking is full of vivid ideas of fusing materials into new order, rewriting history from today’s point of view. How the artist got interested in the borderlines and beloningness/alienation thematic, comes from her own background as an immigrant to the United States. The artist was born in Aleppo, Syria, but was brought up in Ohio, US. Being contradicted with different experiences was a nourishing source for imagination and thinking. The theme connects many fragmented ideas across continents, beyond physical and social realms, and certainly travels across the world with its relevance. The works in the exhibition are far from being literal.
More information about the exhibition at San Jose Museum of Art: http://sjmusart.org/exhibition/diana-al-hadid-liquid-city