This exhibition marks the first time that London-based artist Uriel Orlow presents two recent films together in the UK: Remnants of the Future (2010–2012) and Plans for the Past (2011–2012).
Back to Back refers to the manner in which the works are projected — simultaneously as one piece — as well as to the movie industry term for the process of filming two or more films within one production. Though they were not filmed at the same time, each anticipates and acts as a counterpart to the other. They are linked by a focus on the fates of two towns in the South Caucasus that share a name, Mush, and together form an installation that ruminates on forgotten tragedies and disrupted destinies.
Remnants of the Future is a haunting portrait of Mush, a large-scale housing project in northern Armenia initiated after a major earthquake in 1988 left thousands of people homeless. The construction was abandoned when the Soviet Bloc collapsed in 1991, leaving a readymade ruin without a past or future. Plans for the Past in turn explores the Mush that provided the name for its Armenian counterpart. Once a flourishing town in Eastern Anatolia (now modern day Turkey), it became the site of massacres and deportations during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Traces of previous attempts to erase an entire people are still visible in the scarring on domestic and religious buildings.
Orlow spends weeks on location, and the films resemble beautifully composed documentaries. The artist, however, also weaves fictional elements into the videos: electronic soundscapes of dying stars mingle with everyday noises, whilst folk songs sit alongside the computerised voice of a time traveling character from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s satirical play The Bathhouse. These interventions draw attention to the artist’s or historian’s role in constructing a version of reality and the power that such an act holds.
By evoking unresolved pasts and unrealised futures, Orlow acknowledges history’s simultaneity with our present and the intricate web that connects time, space and representation. Accompanied by drawings, photographs and research materials, the exhibition as a whole reflects the artist’s wider interest in what he terms “the blind spots of history” where, in the overlooked aftermath of localised conflicts and catastrophes, inhabitants adapt to the challenges of daily life with ingenuity and dignity.
Uriel Orlow was born in Switzerland and currently lives and works in London. He studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and The Slade School of Art, London and philosophy at the University of Geneva, graduating with a PhD in Fine Art in 2002.
Orlow’s work was presented at Manifesta 9 (2012), the 54th Venice Bienniale (2011) and 8th Mercosul Biennial in Brazil (2011). Recent solo exhibitions include Uriel Orlow: Time is a Place at Kunsthause/Centre PasquArt, Biel (2012), The Short and the Long of it 9.0 at Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto (2012) and There is Nothing Left at Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, Egypt (2011). His work has been included in numerous international group exhibitions, including Anarchism without Adjectives at Extra-City, Antwerp (2012), Unseen Blows at Seventeen Gallery, London (2012) and The Gate of the Invisible Must be Visible at Casa del Lago, Mexico City (2012).
Orlow received the 2012 Swiss Art Award at Art Basel. He is currently a senior research fellow at University of Westminster and speaks frequently at art colleges and conferences. The artist is represented by Blancpain Art Contemporain in Geneva and his work is distributed by LUX.