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Reading Rämistrasse #120: Juan Barcia Mas on Roman Selim Khereddine at Sentiment - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Reading Rämistrasse #120: Juan Barcia Mas on Roman Selim Khereddine at Sentiment

The first thing you see on the silk screens at Roman Selim Khereddine’s show at Sentiment is a dog tied to a treadmill, running.(1) The silkscreens – six in total – are made from video screenshots the artist has found on the internet, a recurrent method in his practice. They run through the space, suggesting an oversized and enveloping film roll, though discontinuous and interrupted by the inconvenient position of the exhibition space’s architectural elements. Muybridge’s studies of motion come quickly to mind. Yet the artist is refusing to capture the dog’s full movement, since his series is composed of two repeating, identical frames. The audio piece that starts every 10 minutes is taken from the video too.

It is also not the first time the artist engages with the dog-human relationship, and, more broadly with the human relation to non-humans, definitely a hot topic in times of environmental collapse. In her review of Can’t Have it All at BINZ 39, Anneke Abhelakh describes 'the rough and rude behavior' of dog owners at a dog market in Casablanca that appeared in one of that show’s video installations.(2)

At first glance, the video frames at Sentiment convey a similar atmosphere of cruelty and abuse. The dog’s glowing eyes and his open mouth showing teeth and tongue might be read as signs of exhaustion. The machine's aesthetic does not help either: it looks self-made, rudimentary and somehow grotesque, a sort of torture instrument. Together with the augmented, disturbingly rattling sound of the treadmill in the background, the images might lead us to think about the exhibition as adopting a critical and denouncing stance towards potential abuse. However, more careful observation of the depicted scene could lead to a more ambiguous interpretation.

Roman Selim Khereddine, Untitled 4, 2023

Image : Philipp Rupp / Julien Gremaud, Courtesy of the artist and Sentiment

Behind the dog’s treadmill, there is another one, made for humans. Myself, and I bet most of you reading this text, go to a fitness studio to use one of these or even have one at home. Sales of treadmills and stationary bikes have been soaring during and after lockdown.(3) In the age of post-work and self-optimization, they have become a must-have, together with technologies such as Zoom. What binds both of them is the extreme flexibility they offer – 'erasing' place and distance – or the binding availability they demand. The individual owning the treadmill in the photograph does not even seem to find time to walk their dog. Or, they might just be unable to meet the running requirement of the dog’s breed, a type of pit bull, I believe. Dogs, as domesticated animals, depend to some extent on the care of humans. There is a relationship of dependence between both species and a history of co-evolution, so Haraway.(4) If humans get a machine for themselves to run, it makes sense that they get another one for their 'best friend'. The fact that we know that the owner(s) are dependent on the treadmill’s technology themselves to stay fit, might excuse the fact that they got one for their dog.

Many of us would not pity a human on a treadmill or think of it as an act of violence and abuse. The fact that we might pity the dog could have the underlying assumption that they have not chosen to be on the treadmill – surrendering to both the machine and the human. Now we could ask ourselves if we really want to be on the treadmill. Plot twist!

Domesticity might be seen, in a certain sense, as a state of captivity. The word’s origin 'domus' is shared by power-related terms, such as 'to dominate'. However, it is both the dog and the human that find themselves in the confined enclosure of domestic life. In Life and Prison, Catherine Malabou reflects on the state of captivity as the epitome of life. 'In a certain sense, life in prison just reveals life as prison', she writes.(5) Seeing a dog bound to a treadmill might then reveal life on a treadmill. The repetition of the frames in the gallery enhances the feeling of mechanization and futility, which could have been further stressed.

The dog's destiny seems bound to the destiny of its caretakers, be they human or machine. If being free is a human ideal to strive for, should one then desire 'freedom' for dogs? I wonder what that would look like. It is hard to imagine an outside to their relationship of interdependence with humans. That could result in a cruel act of torture.

Roman Selim Khereddine, Big House Narrow Grave, 22 April–28 May 2023, Sentiment, Murwiesenstrasse 45, 8057 Zürich

(1) The work might be a response to Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003), by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The performance, held in Beijing, consisted of eight American pit bulls tied to treadmills facing one another. They could only run forward, yet unable to touch each other. The work unleashed a heated debate on animal abuse. Futher information can be found here: www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/29/can-mistreated-dogs-ever-be-considered-art
(2) Anneke Abhelakh on Roman Selim Khereddine at Binz 39, Reading Rämistrasse #99
(3) Hamza Shaban, The pandemic’s home-workout revolution may be here to stay, The Washington Post, Washington, 7 January 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/road-to-recovery/2021/01/07/home-fitness-boom/
(4) Donna Haraway, The companion species manifesto. Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Chicago 2003, p. 29.
(5) Catherine Malabou, Life and Prison, e-flux Architecture, In: Confinement, October 2020, www.e-flux.com/architecture/confinement/351041/life-and-prison/

Reading Rämistrasse

If art criticism is losing ground, we must act. That’s why we created space for criticism – Reading Rämistrasse – on the Kunsthalle Zürich website and publish reviews of current exhibitions in Zürich. What is published here does not represent the opinion of the Kunsthalle Zürich. Because criticism has to be independent.

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