Mahmood Kaiss: New Validity
Curator: Tamar Gispan-Greenberg
Mahmood Kaiss’ solo exhibition focuses on the new working processes that have occupied Kaiss in the past two years. At its center stands a cluster of sculptures made of metal pieces of motor vehicles meant for scrap. Kaiss, who has worked in wood and concrete thus far, chooses to give “new validity” to parts of vehicles that have been demolished in accidents or were banished from the roads due to old age. At his hand, the car parts, particularly the damaged metal fenders, undergo a series of “treatments” including hammering, welding, and painting, and become full-fledged sculptures that stand on their own in their setting. The artist’s point of departure for his engagement with this “new material” was the automobile junkyards near his home in northern Israel. These “graveyards,” with their suppressed content of literal or symbolic death, attracted his attention and fascination.
The clean and astonishing formalistic outcomes, although seemingly detached from their damaged originals, preserve the memory of the source material by leaving behind allusions to some of the blows that the metal sustained, notwithstanding its rich and colorful mantle. The flaws and nicks in the metal serve Kaiss as a basis on which to apply the sculptural craft to the material, allowing the artist to plunge into continuous unstructured work, changing, unplanned and spontaneous, that yield abstract outcomes true to the latent possibilities of the material and the paint.
Damaged or new cars have been central in the works of many artists, such as John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, César Baldaccini, and Ron Arad, to name a few. The vehicles on which their works are predicated, either as a theme or as raw material, touch on matters such as consumer and pop products, readymade, and death, among others.
In his current sculptures, Kaiss chooses to breathe new life into vehicle parts that have lost their usefulness. He recycles the old “damaged” material—objects meant for scrap and demise—and makes it functional again. By so doing, he subverts the existing order. The outcomes—inert sculptures—bear memories of both life and death like monuments akin to organisms that move in space and form relationships with themselves and with the observer.
Engaging in the memory and, above all, the form of material is recurrent in Kaiss’ works—from the series that he produced from burnt matches (2011–2012) to those made of poured concrete (2015–2016) and up to the wood installations that concurrently deconstruct and preserve the memory of the ornament (2012–2019).
The wall relief, a suspended installation made to fit the wall of the gallery, allows observers to lose themselves in it for a moment and commune with the memory embedded in the material. The observer’s distorted reflected image blends into the vehicle parts with their metallic coat of paint and vanishes in the blink of an eye, like a breeze or a fleeting memory.