Sometimes we are eternal
27 OCTOBER 2023 - 28 APRIL 2024
Adagio, videostill, 2-channels video, 2023
Saudi American artist Sarah Brahim conceived her first solo show, Sometime we are eternal, as a walk through a galaxy, exploring those glimmers of infinity that appear at certain moments in our lives.
In his Ethics (1677), Spinoza argued that the spirit cannot destroy itself with the body, and that by knowing this, “we know by experience that we are eternal.” (1) Three hundred years later, French philosopher Alain Badiou added the word “sometimes” to this proposal: “sometimes, we are eternal.”(2) With this adverb, he situated eternity in time. “Sometimes” suggests a sensation, a moment, and a new relationship between the finite and infinite, between universal truths and specific bodies. Eternity could then be defined as a form of infinity in a finite world: the possibility of being brought to a standstill within ourselves, in the inner experience of our own infinity. In Sometimes we are eternal, Brahim sets out to retrace the past ten years of her life, looking back across the temporal distance that separates this project from an event that changed its course: the tragic loss of a loved one. By “making a stop in time that is also the construction of a new time”,(3) the artist explores the ins and outs of what she calls the “intrabody” and of the surrounding universe. Trained as a dancer, Brahim gives her artworks the appearance of a pas de deux, an intimate dialogue between the dancer and her alterities, in which the form of the exchange remains fluid: this “dialogue” is that of her interiority, between a body that transforms itself and another that transmits, one that abandons resistance for acceptance and another that embraces embodiment. Perhaps this is how the suture between the finite and the infinite operates: the artist allows us to observe, perceive, and understand her as she becomes the subject of different forms of this infinity, an immanent trace within human finitude.
But how can we be transformed by our own gestures, in our bodies, by invisible forces, without fixing the contours? Brahim is interested in transformation, in the localization and dislocation of the self through the body, seeking “a constant rebalancing of the relationship between vertigo and precision,”(4) which could be one of the central articulations of her work, in that it does not imply an absolute but places events on a spectrum of entering and leaving a state of consciousness.
The artist is certainly inspired by dancers and thinkers who, in the 1960s and ‘70s, thought of dance as a heightened experience of life, a search for symbiosis of body, consciousness, and environment. Anna Halprin, considered as one of the pioneers of modern dance, developed a practice that included “tasks” to accomplish, simple actions repeated over and over to focus on the body’s perception and sensitivity. As a result, her pieces moved out of the theater, into the streets, into nature, where she also explored, thanks to the minimalist architectures designed by her husband Lawrence, the use of these dance protocols to help people cope with emotional stress. Around the same time, the philosopher and movement practitioner Thomas Hanna published Bodies in Revolt (1970), in which he defines “soma” as the entire living human process, the body perceived from within, concentrating both mental and physiological events into a single process—essentially, the way in which one’s history, thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations come together and are incorporated and manifested in the experiential body. These precedents suggest a possible interpretation of the “tasks” that Brahim explores in her videos and photos: walking, breathing, rising, falling... Simple choreographic texts, to which are added intermediary elements such as light, water, and sound. Body as memory, body as medium, body as reincarnation: our presence in the world, the trace we leave on it transforms the protocol of walking into the score for a landscape. In this way, the ten works in Sometimes we are eternal are each small nuances of a larger theme, in which each work almost speaks of itself. Suspended bodies, breaths, imprints, rhythms, and rituals mingle and follow one another, in installations that extend these back and-forth movements from the physical body to the “intrabody,” the imperceptible, the spiritual, the distant. The architecture fades away, leaving an expanse as abstract as a dance studio, mental, resilient and luminous, offering the spectator a sense of spatial uncertainty. By immersing ourselves in this sort of landscape, we come to see it as a resource, without focusing on its material dimension: to contemplate it, to anchor ourselves in it, in order to acknowledge it as a space of experience and dialogue, where an intimate collaboration can take place.
The exhibition is closely connected to the place for which it was conceived, the Villa Heleneum, which was built by a dancer, and in which transparency, the presence of water and uncontaminated landscape, surrounds the works, conceived as a collection of fragments, abandoned memories, portions of objects and gestures, readings and sounds. In her creative process, the artist also often refers to the work of Italian architect Aldo Rossi, for whom the question of the fragment in architecture was crucial, composing her creations with inserts or relics of time, symbols of a certain continuity of form, morsels of pre-existence capable of connecting us with what has gone before.
Born in 1992
Lives and works between Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Portland (USA), New York (USA), and Milan (Italy).
Saudi-American artist Sarah Brahim trained at the San Francisco Conservatory, the London School of Contemporary Dance, and Oregon Health and Science University. Stemming from a concrete, physical practice and an analytical understanding of the body, Brahim adopts a holistic approach in her research, in which the center—the body—is taken into account in all its forms, without hierarchy. Influenced by a variety of pluralist, social, philosophical, and architectural practices, her work demands to be approached from different angles and through different branches of knowledge. For example Tap dance is at the same time a deeply sentimental dance for the artist, referencing her early training, but it is above all bringing together movement, displacement, ascent, rhythm, and instrument.
Combining video, installation, performance, photography, textiles, and sound, Brahim’s immersive and inclusive work uses the body as medium, inviting viewers to examine their own bodies’ capacity to transform through experience. Favoring large-scale, complex multi-screen video installations, Brahim notably presented a 14-meter-high video installation in public space for the Noor Riyadh Festival. Located under a bridge, this outsized installation, titled De Anima (2022), questioned the notion of link and light through both its context and its content. For the 2022 Lyon Biennial, Manifesto of Fragility, Sarah Brahim presented two series: a video installation, Soft Machines/Far Away Engines, comprising eight screens scattered around the space, reflecting on breath and the phenomenon of transcendence through an improvised dance, projected on a 1:1 scale; and a more intimate series of cyanotypes printed on textile entitled Who We Are Out of the Dark, which refers to research into the epigenetics of gestures and bodies.
Sarah Brahim’s work has been presented at the Islamic Biennale (2023), the Biennale de Lyon (2022), the Diriyah Biennale (2022), and the Noor Festival Contemporary Light Art (2022). In 2023, she was in residence at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in New York and received the Baroness Nina von Maltzahn Fellowship for the Performing Arts.
She has collaborated, as a performer, with Ohad Narhin, Lea Anderson, and Ori Flomin. She is shortlisted for the Richard Mille Art Prize 2023 and will be exhibiting at the Louvre Abu Dhabi November-February 2024.
Portrait by Mia Krys