For his project on display at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, interdisciplinary artist Gregory Abou decided to go to “nowhere” – far away from civilization and familiar life. Born in 1974 in the town of Melun near Paris, Abou decided in 2009 to head northward, “to the most northerly place possible,” well outside western, central Europe, away from the urban masses and the artistic milieu. Instinctively, he chose the Swedish island of Gotland, whose name brings to mind “God’s land.” This is a large and fertile island, where many species of plants and animals are preserved. In his search for that “nowhere” – or, if you will, for a “somewhere” – Abou moved away from civilization, armed with his camera. He reached the island by boat across the Baltic Sea, and recorded the journey on video.
The context of Abou’s work has to do with the shattering of illusions about life in our world and about the perfection of the Earth, and with profound disillusion with the trends of globalization and progress. In the unpeopled open spaces of Gotland, at the end of summer, finding himself in front of a mountain and a structure (a metal trailer) the precise nature of which we are uncertain, Abou set up his camera and photographed the scene. At the end of winter he returned to Gotland, to the same spot. After photographing it again, he videotaped how the harsh winter winds ripped apart an enlarged print of the photograph he had taken on the previous occasion. On returning to Paris, he devoted himself to try and preserve the remaining pieces of the photograph. On his third visit to the site, he set up a large frame, attached a large print of the photograph he had taken during his second visit, and set fire to it.
Gregory Abou’s work features the Gotland scene on two different occasions: the end of summer, and the snowy winter. It is subjected to the ravages of wind and fire, which tear out openings from it, through which the local landscape can be seen. The interdisciplinary features in Abou’s work bring together direct documentation and performance to conceptualize a place, with all its profound complexity and the absolute sense of nature and its inherent looming end; somewhere seemingly far-flung and well outside our experience, which nonetheless has a bearing on our own existence, as well.
At the same time, Abou’s work engages with the belief in the eternal dimension that is embodied in the very nature of the artwork. For the future of the work is not guaranteed (not even in the dark storerooms of the museum), and for all the efforts that have been and are invested in its preservation, there is no real guarantee that it will indeed exist forever. Abou highlights what we usually refuse to contemplate: the potential end that the future holds, the stage beyond the artwork’s demise.