New Glances through Old Holes

There is a famous saying by Goethe: Kunst kommt von Können—Art comes from artisanship. Lukman Ibrahim’s work demonstrates what this means. Born in Syria in 1973, he learned, first in his homeland and after 1990 in Germany, a wide variety of arts—arts in the dual sense of the word as both artisanal and creative production, which contracted to constitute creativeness in the emancipation of the fine arts and the concept of the artist it engendered and as it is continuing to develop today. The results are in part—we need only remind ourselves, for example, of the square in front of the Kunsthalle in Bielefeld—miserable welded sculptures. For Lukman Ibrahim, the craftsmanship involved in the technical realization of a work is never secondary. Rather, the innovative solution of such problems is the one foot firmly on the ground, without which one cannot stand on the other, the creative one.

Thus in the ensemble of dancing dervishes one sees figures that Ibrahim has not only created himself, but which he has thought through up to the details of their technical manufacture. The shapes of the female Muslim warriors, who under their robes are flawlessly beautiful, not only arose out of the artist’s imagination—even though, of course (just imagine), it makes the artist seem like a Pygmalion in a harem—they also owe their creation to complex considerations with respect to production engineering: while Ibrahim approached other artists with this challenging issue, it was not until he spoke with engineering experts in Paderborn that he was able to solve it.

In terms of the theme, Ibrahim’s work continuously inquires into the meaning of symbols and the possibility of shifting them. If the Federal Eagle can also be—and is—constructed out of Coke cans—how the artist got hold of so many in view of the rapid disappearance of the aluminum can is his secret—its meaning changes. Of course, allusions to global capitalism, economic imperialism, and the like, which are time and again employed in order to cause a sensation, seem to suggest themselves. However, this kind of attribution is not Ibrahim’s issue. It is—and this is where the wheel that started rolling when I mentioned the dual meaning of art comes full circle—the dependence of the meaning of a symbol on its material and its character. By combining symbols in this way, by shifting and overlapping them, Ibrahim makes reference to the dissolution of fixed systems of reference, shows the movements of links between signified and signifier that were freed in the game, opening up different perspectives. He lets the viewer cast new glances through old holes, which in the end literally throws them back on themselves, perhaps leaving behind previously unknown impressions on their perception of self and the world. They have an effect similar to looking through the wrong end of a spyglass—one does not decrease the distance in order to look more closely at something in the world, but one enlarges something close by in order to look at oneself.

This glance, which places the concrete into perspective and deflects back onto the viewer, puts Ibrahim’s work in the proximity of the mythical, which along with art shares the possibility of experiencing the sensorily concrete develop into endlessness without subsuming the work as an entity under the general. In doing so, his art makes the theological field of experience again accessible to thought. This sympathetic relationship between art and myth becomes completely concrete in Ibrahim’s dervishes—figures that dance themselves into a trance, that reflect the mythological ritual into art and by doing so make the dual character of seriousness and game perceptible that art and myth have in common.

In the latter—the game—all of the outlined aspects of Ibrahim’s work—the myth and the shifting of the symbols, which deflect back onto the viewer—agree, and in particular the shifting—in its commonality with humor, whose foremost task it should always be to represent concealed similarities or relationships, be it only in the conjunctive case—refers to the last perspective: the humor in the artist’s work, which with skeptical irony maintains its freedom in the face of an all too rigid definition.

Björn Vedder
translation by Rebecca van Dyck, Hannover