Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs ladder
Kader Attia’s instillation occupies the first room in the Whitechapel gallery; this room used to be the old library and as such the work can be viewed as a pathway to the rest of the gallery’s art work because the entrances to the other exhibits lead off from this space. Also Attia’s piece “Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs ladder” makes references to the old library because it contains objects such as books, articles and artefacts, which the viewer can use. This sculpture was commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery and, as suggested by the title, it refers to the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder. In the Bible Jacob had a dream of a stairway resting on the earth and leading to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending.
In the exhibition the ladder is placed in the middle of the installation and could be seen as the stairway to heaven. Attia has put mirrors on the celling above the cabinet with lights reflecting upwards perhaps to suggest heaven. In that case is he equating heaven with access to knowledge?
Perhaps this work reflects his interest in medical surgery; this is illustrated by his use of marble sculptures of wounded, disfigured WW1 soldiers who have had surgery. These ethereal sculptures are juxtaposed with the regimented room full of books on astronomy, science and religion. Perhaps Attia’s message is if we study these texts and use them there will be no more wars.
Kader Attia was born is Paris in 1970 and was one of seven children in and Algerian family. He lived in the Christian west and also the Islamic Magneto, which gave him a feeling of displacement of living in two different cultures and a feeling on not belonging anywhere (diaspora). His work always has a religious and multi-cultural reference.
In a previous exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (2007), Attia exhibition ‘Ghost’, which could be viewed as a provocative instillation of a group of Muslim women in prayer, their bodies as vacant shells, empty hoods and made from tin foil – a domestic, and throw away material. Perhaps Attia did this to demonstrate the vulnerability of the human condition.
Attia’s childhood experiences culminate in the exhibition ‘Documents,’ where he highlights the different procedures in medical surgery in the East and West and how different cultures practice medical care.
The ‘Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs ladder’ can be seen as an interactive, Modernist installation with objects and books in different languages and each artefact tells a story of science and religion, and demonstrates Kader Attia multi-cultural background. The exhibition works as the interactive modernist piece, it is interesting and complex. The viewer will be blow away by the scale of the work and also the complexity that makes the piece different.