The Hindu Kush mountains divide Afghanistan and make up a section of the Himalayas. They’re some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes in the world. For example, Kabul sits in the foothills of the Safed Koh range, home to the famous Khyber Pass--the same route to Pakistan used by invaders from Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great. Today, though, most people associate the region with the brutal fighting it has seen during the US tenure in Afghanistan.
British artist and filmmaker Tacita Dean wanted to include footage of the storied mountains in a new film, so earlier this year she commissioned a cameraman in Kabul to visit the region and collect video. Though it’s photogenic land, Dean apparently wasn’t happy about the footage. She abandoned her film and turned to a medium that couldn’t be more different from live motion: chalk and blackboard.
Relief is a series of chalkboard murals that Dean pulled from her discarded Afghanistan footage. The drawings depict the craggy landscapes in extreme wide angle, spanning entire walls of the gallery. Handwritten notes in the artist’s scribble read “narrative direction” and other filmmaking terms, as if the huge murals were ripped from an early storyboard for the abandoned project.
The series opened last week as part of the German art fair dOCUMENTA (13), which is taking place in the small town of Kassel until August. The drawings are installed in a decommissioned bank on a back street of the town, which anchors Relief in the 19th century. Though the interior of the building has been turned into generic gallery spaces, the intricate brass stairs and balustrade have been left alone. It’s a brilliant move on the part of dOCUMENTA’s curators, combining dignified architectural details and expansive, dusty, hand-drawn wilderness.
[Relief is on view until August 16th; Images courtesy of the artist and Nils Klinger.]