Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ellie Ga at Bureau

Four Thousand Blocks, Three Channel Video, 23:40 
            Ellie Ga’s exhibition Four Thousand Blocks consists of four pieces in a number of different media addressing the history of a lighthouse. Ga created a three-channel video, which almost feels like a documentary, featuring photographs, film, interviews, and sound recordings of her experiences and investigation of an ancient ruin, the Pharos of Alexandria. Ga’s work explores the landmark—one of the seven wonders of the ancient world located on the Nile delta in Egypt.  It was a Greek monument built in the 3rd century B.C., which was later, damaged by a number of earthquakes. Ga unfolds these historical facts and other in-depth research while enrolled in the Maritime Archeology Program at Alexandria University.
            The highlight of the show is the video, shown in the back of the gallery. The screen on the right shows footage of typesetter’s letter case, to the left is of a darkroom in which the artist develops photographs, and the center screen contains footage of the artist’s journey towards understanding the mystery of remaining of the lighthouse. Ga is clearly interested in archival aspect of obtaining as much information of the remaining, with the aid off archeologists and natives of Pharos.   In the center screen she uses a light-box and lays down transparencies of drawings, photographs, documents and other ephemera collected in Alexandria. In a way, Ga is trying to emulate the idea of a myth by layering images over each other. The central screen is like a storytelling device, and at the same time a diary entry from the use of both personal and historical memory. 
Right screen of Three Channel Video
            While Ga narrates in the central screen, she continues to insert letter into the letterpress holder constructing text on the right screen.  In the beginning of the video, Ga tells the story of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, the inventor of writing and measurement of time as a lunar deity. The legend entails a dialogue between Thoth and the King of Egypt concerning Thoth’s invention of writing. He claimed  “it will make humans wiser and improve their memories”. The recipe for memory has been discovered.  The king replies, “ What you have discovered is not the recipe for memory, but the drug of reminding. With your invention they will be taught, but they will not be wise.” Alongside the video in the gallery, Pharmakon, a letterpress on paper is a text of the dialogue between them and a brief description of Thoth. Accompanying the piece, Projector Harbor, a gelatin silver print of dice, which also depicts Thoth invention of magic and dice.  Adjacent to the photograph is the work It was Restored Again, which consisted of two slide projectors showcasing text and iconographical images of the history of Pharos of Alexandria.
Projector Harbor, Gelatin Silver Print, 2013
            The theme of translation is evident in every piece in the exhibition especially seen in the three-channel video. Firstly Ga narrates about the various symbols that were carried on from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece. Secondly, the site in which the ruin once stood was a place of translation translating the bible into Greek. Thirdly, in her video, Ga conducts interviews with Egyptian archeologist in which translation became a problem.
            Ellie Ga’s interest in lighthouses branched from her past work The Fortunetellers. In that work she began to trance the etymology of lighthouses leading her back to the island of Pharos in Egypt. Ga’s obsession with archives and the use of mythology, philosophy, and archaeology is entwined in all her pieces. During her voyage to Alexandria, Ellie Ga learned a volume of information and through her experiences she reveals a vast amount of hidden history to the art world. 


  1. I liked this show a good deal, It seems like we've been to a few galleries with artist that are engaged in this research project practice (Emily Jacir I'd say could be another) however I can't really tell if you liked the work or what your concluding judgement on it is. I think it might help to lead through the review the way the gallery set up the works starting with projector, then the three smaller prints/photographs and finally the video installation that translates the bits of information from those pieces into her larger exposition. As another structural note, I think you introduce the three channel video in your introduction and then again in the same paragraph. or at least it feels that way.

    I think there might also be something more you can pick up from the works although i'm not sure 570 words is enough to lay it out here along with the other points you've made. Something about the methods of visual communication and faults of translation there in the photograph of what looks like fabricated dice and the white on white print that describes a myth especially since the left and right channels of the video show the process of both. (although I'm not sure its these actual pieces, i tried to pay attention to the letters she picked out but I dont think I could)

  2. I also really enjoyed this show. I liked the austerity of the physical works next to which the video looked juicy and seductive (only by comparison). Anthony is right that there seems to be a rash of artists who are dealing with themes like, research, archive, the documentary. It might be interesting to say a little more about whatever this need to preserve might be. I found the video of the letterpress block to be riveting. I thought that all your points about language, communication, and the difficulties therein were extremely on point.

  3. There was something very bizarre about this show: On the one hand every time I tried to figure out reasons for some of the elements exhibited, I felt that there were a few unnecessary things. But when I was thinking of a show without them, it seemed even worse. The hypnotic quality of the video with the letterpress was very interesting. The boom of the research/identity art, has to do I think, with the need to identify as an individual within homogenized cultural landscapes, the internet, globalization etc.