If you work at a construction site and an unfortunate event such as a brick falls on you, the incident is taken as an occupational hazard. Such thoughts have inspired the Swiss-American curator Alexandra Stock to name the exhibition, at apexart which is an exhibition space in New York, “Occupational Hazards” as they are considered incidents where you cannot lay the blame on one person in particular.
Occupational Hazards is an art show that is dedicated to the artwork from the Middle East that did not transcend borders. The show addresses the very frequent phenomenon of work that is destroyed during transit.
The exhibition shows works by artists from Middle Eastern countries including Egypt and Kuwait. Moreover, the exhibition shows work of other artists who has traveled through the Middle East and North Africa region.
“There is a unifying element of this exhibition, this is what we’re all dealing with in one way or another. And this is just an array of instances where it played a bigger role in the artist’s work,” Stock told Communicate.
The conversation began after the Egyptian designer Ahmad Hammoud’s Passport for the Stateless work has been marked by Egyptian customs as it was shipped into Cairo. The work was designed as a model to symbolize citizenship and statelessness and displayed in Dubai. On its way back, the art work was torn and marked with red lines across the 32 pages.
Hammoud posted a photo of the work on his Facebook page. The incident has brought attention to his work that went on display in other cities outside of Cairo.
Originally named ‘Art in Custody’ as its working title, Occupational Hazards was finalized with the realization that damaged or missing artworks are a regular occurrence that artists usually deal with – an experience that is part of the occupation.
“Artists sometimes compromise in a way or they revisit their artworks and consider the options that technology has in terms of bridging a gap and minimizing this anxiety of letting go of a physical object,” Stock added.
The idea, Stock told Communicate, not to romanticize or sensationalize the issue: the work that is damaged en route with no one specifically to blame, makes it nothing more than a work hazard. The exhibition that has shown the work of 14 different artists from six Middle Eastern countries, had none of the artists present.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon when two world class[come together],” Stock added.
There are various reasons why the art work has failed to make it to its final destination, despite being shipped through tracking technologies.
“That’s part of the big frustration, the mystery because you feel technology is as reliable as it wants to appear or as reliable as its ideal state would imply. But then you also have incidents where it just kind of clashes with reality,” Stock explained.
Preserving a damaged artwork varies between artists. The personal connotations associated with artworks may sometimes hinder the artists from revisiting them, thus leaving them to be abandoned, whereas others might remodel a new piece of art from the damaged parts.
Woes of handling a physical object and increasing usage of online application has led to a shift in artists consideration. Now art can be sent, reproduced and enhanced digitally.However, sometimes even technology clashes with the reality of artists.
While specific art shippers provide extensive security and are reliable, their expensive costs render them unattainable for regular artist, who have to rely on regular freight. Although the galleries and exhibition spaces share costs with artists, certain artists are still cut off due to capacity limitations. However, the bigger concern, as opposed to artwork mobility, is the mobility of artists themselves. Often artists themselves are denied visa, hence missing the increasing opportunities worldwide.
“You just become more aware of these things as the art world gets more and more interconnected,” Stock added in reference to the frustration that artists in the region might face over the loss or damage of their work. She explained further that this awareness helps them [artists] prepare on whether they would risk sending their work physically or digitally.