For his second solo exhibition at Helena Anrather, Nicky Nodjoumi presents a suite of recent paintings and works on paper. Expanding on his longstanding interest in news media as both performative tableau and raw material, the artist has developed many of the works in We the Witnesses from collaged newspaper photographs. The imagery populating the show—architectural destruction in Aleppo, a wooded countryside, discordant configurations of politicians and celebrities—reveal the artist’s multivalent understanding of landscape as physical terrain and sociopolitical context. In these works, Nodjoumi captures the contradictions through which landscapes provide backdrops for political theater while simultaneously offering direct testament to the ways in which the world is transfigured by violence and power.
Four collages span a wall near the entrance to the gallery. Here Nodjoumi intricately layers printed materials across the horizontal plane of the paper, selectively revealing various strata through his careful cut-outs. These incisions produce beguiling juxtapositions: between an arid landscape and brawling politicians, between a standing odalisque and a cropped view of tin rooftops, between a couple having sex and a pair of flags draped side by side in diplomatic ceremony. The cut-outs themselves, however, also act as a form of imagery rendered in absentia. In one, two politicians form a gutted frame for the copulation just below, unveiling the repressed libido that suffuses their ever so mannered métier. In this way, each image becomes strange and unstable by its coordinate position in Nodjoumi’s cartography, its claim to self-sufficiency replaced by a vectored relationship with people and places near and far. The news, in Nodjoumi’s hands, is a type of stage set subject to his tactical dramaturgy.///
Other works in the show appear suspiciously harmonious by comparison. A bouquet of wilting flowers, a lakeside vista, and a crumbling building are the subjects of Yellow Roses, Landscape with splash, and Here is Aleppo, respectively. While unified compositionally, each of these works capture processes of entropic decline. The roses, as we know, will soon wither and die (as they did in Nodjoumi’s studio, where their demise marked the days and weeks of quarantine). Bucolic nature scenes now compete with the ever-present footage of forest fires, floods and air pollution that dominates the news cycle. A fallen building serves as a shibboleth for a city, country, and region suffused with political instability. If Nodjoumi’s collages activate us through their formal complexity, these paintings achieve a similar transitive exchange by gesturing towards an increasingly precarious and fast-arriving future. Both Nodjoumi’s paintings and collages exploit and explore the crackling buzz of static that surrounds an image as it hurtles through the mediasphere, mapping its unspoken linkages and testing our abilities of association and interpretation. In either case, the act of witnessing Nodjoumi’s work is framed as an inexorably ethical enterprise, a means of forming a public through interrogating habitual vision.