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Odenbach’s oeuvre

April 11, 2019

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Two of the artworks on display at the exhibition.—White Star
Two of the artworks on display at the exhibition.—White Star

KARACHI: German video artist Marcel Odenbach (born 1953) has been creating visuals that disturb and awaken (to reality) viewers at the same time. The variety of themes that he has homed in on over a period of decades ranges from institutional violence to the hard-to-grasp creative process to sporting activity –– life with all its manifestations.

An exhibition of his works that is under way at the Alliance Francaise de Karachi in collaboration with the Goethe Institut is a sharp reminder of how an artist with a sensitive soul and a keen eye looks at the world’s shortcomings and, with a latent desire to improve them, presents the versions that in his view can make people add constructive value to their lives.

The exhibition contains two kinds of artworks: video installations/tapes and works on paper. Let’s talk about the latter first. The images on paper primarily deal with colours and their ability to depict the various conflicting aspects of existence. The example of the game of football is a cogent one where classes, ethnicities and nationalities come together to play a sport, occasionally without tearing down those man-made barriers.

But Odenbach is at his best with videos — this means it’s where he shakes the conscience of the viewer. In a piece called ‘Standing is not Falling’ (1989), he combines disparate images to create a moving tale where the perfunctory and the extraordinary effect with equal force. Imagine looking at a close-up of someone having a haircut, and then not too long into the film, by virtue of superimposed sequences, a man being killed in the middle of a road by soldiers. Utterly unsettling. The fact is, Odenbach wants us to feel it: both the pain and the indifference that life makes us succumb to, sometimes simultaneously. What does the artist want to achieve? He wants us to think. And after watching his material, the viewer does turn into a pensive being.

The show, which concludes on April 17, is produced by the Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen (ifA) in Stuttgart and curated by Matthias Muhling.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2019