Duet - Andrew Forster

The New Gallery, Calgary - October 7 to November 6, 2010

exhibition text by Tim Westbury

On March 24, 2004, Hussam Abdo, just 16 years old, made international headlines when he entered a checkpoint in the West Bank with 8 kilos of explosive strapped to his body. Suspicious Israeli soldiers directed their weapons at the boy, and startled, he raised his arms without detonating the suicide bomb he was wearing. A bomb disposal robot was sent out carrying a pair of scissors, so Abdo could cut himself out of the explosive vest. When he was later interviewed by the BBC and asked about the reason for his attempted suicide attack, Abdo replied "Because of the people." When this was repeated back to him in the form of a question, he simply responded, "They don't love me." 


In Duet, Andrew Forster's 2008 performative "echo" of this widely televised news event, viewers encounter a wall-sized video projection of Abdo's gestures being mimicked by an adult male performer - dressed in a suit and tie. Here the series of performed actions appear to be random and disconnected, devoid of either context or obvious intention; the looping video makes his disarming/undressing process seem to be a Sisyphean program of repetitive, unproductive labour. Eventually a second actor, a woman, enters the frame and begins to assist (or subdue?) him, also offering calming gestures occasionally to allay the man's obvious discomfort. This second performer seems to embody all that intervenes in the picture plane; the soldiers, the viewer and ultimately the relentlessly neutral eye of the video recorder. 


As demonstrated in several previous pieces, Forster often seeks to expose the innate communicative power of repetitive gesture. Duet dramatically liberates these actions from their original historical moment and geographical situation. In doing so Forster isolates and abstracts this series of movements, allowing the actors pas de deux (literally "step of two" in French) to begin to speak for itself. 


The endlessly unfolding narrative presented in Duet is complex and perhaps even opaque - but its structure suggests that cycles of violence tend to perpetuate, whether the human interaction occurs at the micro level of individuals or entire religious ideologies. Through this highly stylized recreation of a singular, emotionally complex occurrence, the artist's apparent ambivalence to the original source material mirrors the viewer's own difficulty in parsing the actions being portrayed in the video. It may even point further afield to a collective inability to comprehend how hatred becomes institutionalized to the point of terrorism.