Frieze Projects: Asad Raza Creates Intimacy Through Mythology

Frieze Projects
Rachel Rose, Frieze Artist Award, Frieze Projects 2015. Photograph by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.

Among the 164 galleries from 27 countries taking part in the contemporary art section of Frieze London, we also find Frieze Projects – the art fair’s non-profit programme, which features, often, emerging artists commissioned to draw visitors into temporary, mobile and evolving environs. Last year, one of them was Adam Linder, who created “Some Proximity”, a live performance that raises questions about the real-time embodiment of the economic labour of choreography. This time around there’s a new breadth of artists including collective AYR, Rachel Rose and Asad Raza, who attempt to transform, subvert and interact with the structural and cultural dynamics of the fair in the midst of the shopping and schmoozing.

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Rachel Rose, Frieze Artist Award, Frieze Projects 2015. Photograph by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.

Jeppe Ugelvig looks into Asad Raza’s contribution

In an easily overlooked back door of the Frieze London 2015 bookshop, American artist Asad Raza has created an immersive performance in a cave-like setting, evolving over the span of the art fair. The darkly lit space was only occupied by cut-off tree stems as the fair opens at 11am Tuesday morning – until suddenly, a group of performers entered from a hidden door, distributing themselves across the room. “So recently, I wanted to take up swimming,” a young man begins to explain with a certain urgency, and we sit down to momentarily break away from the hectic art fair and immerse ourselves into Raza’s world of modern-day mythology.

Frieze Projects
Asad Raza, Frieze Projects 2015. Photograph by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.

With this newly commissioned work, Asad Raza explores the social potential of oral history-making in the contemporary, creating a ritualistic space for intimate story-telling at the heart of London’s art market. Inspired by the worship of the Greek god of nature, Pan, and the caves dedicated to him in ancient Turkey (he recently visited the area near modern day Ephesus, where these ancient caves are integrated seamlessly into the landscape of nature), the performance takes up the oldest form of story-telling, oral history, which was popular for centuries before the written word came to being. Based in New York, Raza works across choreography, performance and installation to create temporal, immersive pieces: he contributed to the 2014 Venice architecture Biennale and recently created the dramaturgy for Philippe Parreno’s Armory piece H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS” (2015). However, speaking to Raza outside his Frieze installation, the artist claims to be neither a choreographer nor dramaturge: “I’m not really anything, but do a bit of everything, depending on what needs to be done,” he says.

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Asad Raza, Frieze Projects 2015. Photograph by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.

The mythological contextual backdrop reveals itself as the performers, a group of young people mainly from London, confronting the art-cruising audience with personal narratives intertwined with the myth of the God of nature. “For me, Pan is a personified articulation of the embeddedness of humans inside a context of non-human animals, plants, matter and forces,” he told Frieze’s curator Nicola Lees before the fair. Yet, simultaneously, Pan also becomes a symbol of the, at times, anxious encounter with nature, as an uncanny otherness within the natural (the word “panic” is derived from the myth of Pan). “Have you felt panic recently?” one performer asks me after telling me about a recent trip to the public swimming pool: “yes,” I respond hesitantly, “perhaps right now?” The anxious encounter with nature is only emphasised with the presence of freshly cut tree-stems (on which the performers are placed) sourced from Regent’s Park, that must compromise annually as it houses the giant spaceship-looking tent that is Frieze London. While it’s not easy to create a space of intimacy in Frieze, Raza has succeeded in creating a moment of transcendence and reflection – between culture and nature, mythology and history.

Asad Raza, Frieze Projects 2015. Photograph by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.
Asad Raza, Frieze Projects 2015. Photograph by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy of Lewis Ronald/Frieze.

But amid all the talking (with the audience, with each other and with themselves), the performers break with oral performativity with repeating moments of pure pre-linguistic movement – in sync, they move delicately through the duskily lit room, changing places in some form of rotational system, reflecting about the usefulness of the spoken word. With this, Asad Raza reiterates the importance of human interaction and unmediated communication in a time of digital hyper-connectivity.

Text by Jeppe Ugelvig

Read more of our Frieze coverage

Frieze London 2015 takes place in Regent’s Park, London, until 17 October

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