The Current Situation: An Interview with Yara El-Sherbini

Laura-Jade Klee interview Yara El-Sherbini about her New Art Exchange exhibition, The Current Situation.

Yara El-Sherbini’s art playfully raises provocative questions that challenge general knowledge and cultural expectations. The central feature of her solo-exhibition at New Art Exchange is a new commission entitled ‘The Current Situation’; a buzz-wire game subverted into the form of a world map filling the expansive gallery space.

In the dawn of the public opening, 9 May 2014, Laura-Jade Klée speaks with Yara El-Sherbini about The Current Situation and the rich array of ideas that exist beyond the fun and games.

LJK: ‘The Current Situation’ is an artwork to be played with. Visitors are invited to navigate a wire loop around a metal outline of a map. Is this physical interaction important to your work?

YES: I’m using play as an entry point to engage people in re-questioning the division of land. I think, for me, the two elements are social and political awareness in the world in which we live in, and play as an accessible point of discussion, so that people can create a debate and dialogue with a social and political context.

LJK: What is your interest in world borders within this work?

YES: World borders are not something that has been the main focal point in past works, but what I am passionate about is politics; getting people engaged with knowledge production. When you are looking at a map it is about re-questioning how these borders were decided. How we have been taught what we know about the world through history lessons and geography lessons? What is it that we really know about how the world has been divided?

LJK: What do you hope that people will be thinking or experiencing when they engage with your work?

YES: Of course there are a number of ideas, but it is really about creating a platform for people to generate their own thoughts about geopolitics. I think there are different levels of entry into this artwork. Visitors may think about why these borders exist and who decided to put them there. Who established them? Why are there so many straight lines in Africa? Did someone sit down with a ruler and a pen? Really it is about that relationship between power, land and geopolitics.

LJK: Some of the borders you selected are not depicted in world maps. Why include them?

YES: Many borders are still being fought over and decided upon. These contested zones are just as important as the borders that are established. People are literally fighting and dying, giving their life over for the cause they believe in. As an artist I have the choice to include them, so I have included every contested border that I could include in regards to the limitations of the materials I am working with.

LJK: Do you think people will choose particular borders for particular reasons?

YES: I think so. In my interpretation of what happens, I think people will go to places they have a relationship to; they’ll look for their country of origin or a place they’ve been on holiday. I don’t think people will go to it randomly; I think there will be a conscious awareness.

It is going to be interesting to see how people interact with it; if they do it for a second, if they do it for 10 minutes, and what the challenges they set themselves. As a player, there is an element of performance in the work. Either you are navigating the world or you are a voyeur watching people playing against each other in a sense.

LJK: When someone accidentally makes contact with the metal frame there is a disconcerting buzz sound, a vibration in the player’s hand, and the room floods with red flashing lights. What effect do you intend for this to have on the viewer?

YES: It was definitely about making an artwork that creates an awareness of the power that lies in borders, which is emphasised by the tension that people may experience trying to navigate certain land.

LJK: The Current Situation is the name of your new commission, but also the title of the whole exhibition. Is there a common underlying theme central in connecting these works?

YES: They were all works that talk about, literally, the current situation in which we live today- the politics, power relations and multi-culturalism. For example, a sound recording playing through New Art Exchange’s tannoy system deals with politics of migration and the assumptions that people make. It is about the here and now in a global context.

Yara El-Sherbini’s exhibition, The Current Situation, runs at New Art Exchange, Nottingham, until 7 September 2014.

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