Aslan Goisum at Emalin

This solo exhibition of new works by Grozny and Berlin-based artist Aslan Goisum is something I have tried, in vain, to get out of my head in the several days that have passed since seeing it. At the risk of over-animating and humanising a body of work, it knows it's good, and Emalin's crisp, brilliantly self-aware space atop a Pret a Manger in Shoreditch, provides ample opportunity to enjoy the work from various angles. The exhibition is visible within the space, naturally, but also holds a presence from the busy high street when looking up, and thirdly from the Overground train window, as you pass between Hoxton and Shoreditch High Street stations. Given this striking level of visibility, there is something of a responsibility for Emalin to deliver a certain standard to its often very public audiences. 'The Sum of Silence' is introduced by the gallery as the artist "seeking to convey experiences of existence without reducing them to stories", and this feels right, it feels comfortable, and it feels like that which is missing from our thinking around both the quotidian and our legacies. Instagram, for example, is now just a selection of stories and ads, a constant scroll of numbness. Every story is the same as the next, probably neither aesthetically nor contextually, but with everything stripped of real authorship, the fleeting content loses meaning. 

Installation view: Aslan Goisum, The Sum of Silence, Emalin, London. 18 March - 22 April. Image courtesy of the gallery.

In 'The Sum of Silence', although we can recognise the motifs and iconography at play, mostly expressed sculpturally, there is no doubt that they are grounded in work that belongs to Goisum. So much minimalist falls flat through a contemporary lens, and some would argue this has been the case for some time, due to its inability to rigorously speak to its audience. While Goisum's pieces aren't minimalist per se, they bear a simplicity that gnaws at the mind, desperate to take you elsewhere. Pieces making up the 'Object' series which dominates the gallery have been cited as abstractions of low fencing found in cemeteries across the Eurasian Inland Empire. They are incredibly, and surprisingly, satisfying, both to look at and to think about.

Installation view: Aslan Goisum, The Sum of Silence, Emalin, London. 18 March - 22 April. Image courtesy of the gallery.

In replicating cemetery fencing, the artist has employed a smart technique in that the works are both confining and revealing. In replicating them, as opposed to using found objects, they are stripped of a certain sinister, violent context. Whilst they have a certain regulated design that is so recognisable that it is barely registered as a design object, the grounding of the gallery space reminds us that this is, indeed, an artwork, while the "experiences of existence" element continues to ring true. No reductions to stories, as there are infinite tales adjacent to such objects. One of the most enjoyable parts of this is that it feels refreshing and pure. You don't have to spend a huge amount of time gazing at the sculptures, because you already know and understand them; however being in the space is certainly a pleasant experience, and I found myself repeatedly gravitating towards the works, and buzzing around them. Splitting the space between the three mediums of sculpture, wall-based mixed media, and video, provides an optimum degree of structure. There is no over-stimulation in 'The Sum of Silence'; in fact, as the title implies, we are able to revel in the quietness. 

Installation view: Aslan Goisum, The Sum of Silence, Emalin, London. 18 March - 22 April. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Once the domineering nature of the 'Object' series is swallowed, it's time to explore the walls of the space, and upon one lies 'Spear'. As thirty mixed media books with manipulated cut-outs, they work incredibly well as something of a background piece to the steel displayed in the middle of the space, whilst also holding their own. The almond-shaped cuts made in the books do not reveal specific words, but an almost post-linguistic smear, again alluding to the artist's refusal to tell explicit stories. They have a viewer-friendly warmth to them, in that by being made from books, often seen as an expansion of the self, there is a certain intimacy present. Emalin says that "much like the architecture of 'Object', the gestures across 'Spear' enact the traces of life and extinction", and at a time that is constantly threatened by extinction on different scales, whether this is climate degradation or something lighter such as Cancel Culture, the shapes and traces that we leave behind are easily translated onto the softness of paper found in 'Spear', and transcend to the skin and emotional connections alluded to in Goisum's video piece, 'Touch'. 

Installation view: Aslan Goisum, Touch, 2022. Single-channel HD video, colour, sound on 15", 4:3 screen. Duration: 0:47. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Several implicit themes coexist in the show, with one being bodily experience. The sharp edges, corners and aesthetics of the 'Object' series are affronting and confrontational towards the body, while the video 'Touch' flirts between the voyeuristic and the sensual, as it follows skin-on-skin action, in a curiously, but somehow necessarily, anonymous style. Emalin is very well lit, but in less than a minute, 'Touch' is engrossing enough so as to feel like one has entered a stranger's dark bedroom. In placing the viewer in the midst of sharpness and hardness (through the 'Object' series) before softness and fleshiness, we are reminded of our humanity, and the ways in which we possess the versatility to be, and feel, different things without having to explain and justify why. In the tell-all culture of documentation via social media, this is something of a privilege, but one we must exercise. 

Installation view: Aslan Goisum, Spear, 2023. Books, mixed media, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Aslan Gosium, The Sum of Silence, 18 March - 22 April 2023. Emalin, London.

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