Four Thousand Blocks
March 23 - April 27 2014
Opening Sunday, March 23 2014, 6 - 8 p.m
Ellie Ga, Projection Harbor, 2013
The New Yorker
Interview for The American Reader
Bureau is pleased to announce Ellie Ga’s exhibition Four Thousand Blocks; the centerpiece of which will be the eponymous three-channel video occupying the main space of the gallery. Ellie Ga’s current body of work, which has been in development for the greater part of three years, starts with one word: (le) Phare, French for lighthouse.
Pharos was the name of the small island off the coast of Alexandria near the western edge of the Nile delta where the fabled Alexandria lighthouse once stood. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the lighthouse of Alexandria was a Greek monument built in the 3rd century B.C. It has been described, in pared down geometric terms, as a rectangular tower rising into an octagonal shaft and capped with a cylindrical beacon. The lighthouse was destroyed in a series of earthquakes, but stood as late as the 14th century and has been diversely described and imagined ever since. In the mid 1990’s a team of French archeologists excavated the sunken granite stones of the lighthouse from the sea floor outside the harbor of Alexandria. In the winter of 2012 Ellie Ga joined a marine archeology program at Alexandria University and began a drift of research across the modern city, into its archives and libraries and among its underwater remains.
The exhibition opens with It Was Restored Again a work for two slide projectors. An anthology of images and descriptions, the piece establishes the historic diversity of accounts of the Alexandria lighthouse. Supplying myriad textual descriptions and iconographic depictions, It Was Restored Again combines medieval eyewitness accounts, myths and archaeological assessments alongside images culled from drawings, ancient coins, and various fantastical speculations. As the piece unfolds slide by slide, we see the elusive monument described repeatedly. As it is defined, the lighthouse slips away, layered by time, geology and politics.
Opposing the linear nature of It Was Restored Again, Ga’s three-channel video Four Thousand Blocks is built from a number of interwoven narratives and metaphors, harnessing the complexity of its tripartite structure. The left and right screens are dedicated to two scenes of obsolete language-making. One, the typesetter’s letter case; the other, the black and white darkroom. The viewer watches the artist’s private languages evolving from her hands, which painstakingly construct a text, letter by letter, while also fixing an image, revealing its latent form. On the central screen the main narratives of the piece unfold as Ga deals out transparencies on a light box while she recounts her experience of an artist lost in research.
As with her performative works from her Arctic series The Fortunetellers, Ga binds narratives together that synthesize subtly in their interstices. The artist introduces her audience to her routines and involves us in the discoveries made while living in Alexandria. The crux of the work is revealed as one story is related to the next. We follow her into the harbor on dive boats, chase after busy archeologists, learn of ancient translations of the Torah, and decipher political graffiti on the walls of the city. Along these diverse lines Ga connects to the ultimate mystery at the heart of the work: the history that is embedded deep undersea and the meaning and memory that is locked in the imperfections of language.
Ellie Ga (b. 1976, New York, lives and works in London) has been exhibited internationally, most recently at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Grand Arts, Kansas City, MO and New Museum, New York. She has presented performance works at The Playground Festival, Leuven, Belgium; The Kitchen, New York; Le Consortium, Dijon, France; and the Fondation Cartier, Paris, France. She is currently developing a new performance Eureka, a lighthouse play with The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) which will be presented in October of 2014. She will present a solo exhibition this June at Art Basel Statements and is the subject of a one-person exhibition at M-Museum Leuven in November 2014. This is her second solo show at Bureau.