‘A Thousand Faces’ is a site-specific commission by Abu Dhabi Art across two venues: Al Jahili fortress in the city of Al Ain and at Qasr al Hosn in Abu Dhabi.The title of the exhibition references anthropologist Joseph Campbell’s text The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a comparative mythology that questions the shared narratives across different cultures.
Artist Oliver Beer’s project interrogates an idea evoked in the Louvre Abu Dhabi collection, that of universal creativity that “transcends individual cultures of civilisations, times or places”.
At Al Ain, the labyrinthine rooms of Al Jahili fort will house a vibrant series of new video works, titled ‘Reanimation Paintings’. 1,000 children each contributed a drawing to this monumental communal animation project conceived by Beer, based on paintings from the Louvre Abu Dhabi collection.
Each child was asked to copy and reinterpret a painting, using their imagination. These new drawings were scanned and printed onto 16 millimetre film to create a single static animation loop of each artwork.
The film is projected in the same format as the original works of art. Thanks to the differences of the children’s interpretations, the work becomes a vibrating canvas, its surface constantly changing and recreated. The films engage with the collection in a plural reimagining of each artwork. Alongside these films hangs one of Beer’s signature ‘Two-Dimensional Sculptures’, featuring a dissected and recomposed body of an oud – a musical instrument that has historically traversed borders. There are also ancient swords and daggers of diverse origins, covered in musical graffiti using the scores of a radical 12th century woman composer, Hildegard of Bingen, whose music has crossed centuries of cultural change.
At Qasr al Hosn fort, a further chapter of Beer’s ‘Reanimation’ project uses fragments of animated films of Aladdin from three continents, remixed and reanimated. Beer isolates a famous sequence from the story, when the genie emerges from the magic lamp. The artist uses his reanimation technique, passing three historic versions through the hands and minds of children of diverse backgrounds in this region. The films that come together are Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), a Japanese anime fantasy Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1982) and Walt Disney’s Aladdin (1992).
Together, the works of ‘A Thousand Faces’ – each layered with subtle historical and aesthetic references – interrogate the idea of universal creativity and how individual actions and gestures contribute to the culture of which they are a part. Beer says of the exhibition: “The images we make, the stories we tell and the songs we sing are in a constant state of flux and exchange; but certain ideas and tropes seem to recur across civilizations, and are constantly borrowed, transformed and subverted. Our cultures are rapidly shifting … The thousands of individuals who have contributed to the ‘Reanimation Paintings’ are each essential to the work. Their individual efforts become subconsciously perceptible within the whole, absorbed into a flickering communal creative work.”