Melik Ohanian: In the Desert of Images

19 October – 23 November 2012

Curated by Nida Ghouse


In the two works on view for this exhibition at the Mumbai Art Room, Melik Ohanian explores the specificity of place and the multi-plicity of time, through a very particular approach to image and landscape. 

In his work Invisible Film (2005), Melik Ohanian projects a pre-existing motion picture into the air of a desert. The release copy of Peter Watkin’s 1971 psycho-drama-cum-pseudo-documentary Punish-ment Park is essentially screened without a screen during sunset, back onto the landscape of El Mirage, the dry lakebed in the San Bernardino Desert of California, where the original film was shot.


A lone 35 mm projector stands in the lower left hand corner of the frame in an empty desert location with its reels turning. The colour of the ground deepens, the sky tints over time, a stray bird flies by. As the pink of the sun settles, a beam of light can be seen emanating from the machine. It cuts across an expanse that is slowly bleeding into black. Throughout the 90-minute video, the soundtrack of Watkins’ film, which plays out the moral and political indignation of the anti-war counter-culture of the Nixon-'Nam years, can be heard. Punishment Park, which was highly contro-versial when it first came out, was censored in the United States, kept from any serious circulation, for over 25 years.


Ohanian’s is a conceptual gesture that amplifies the object-hood of cinema, making it the subject of the work.  What is “seen” in the video recording is the reality of a place at a given point in time, onto which a cinematic representation of that same place from an earlier point in time is being projected. The image that is being projected, and the image of the projector, are both ab-sorbed infinitely and into the night. Has Ohanian set up an apparatus for the compression of time? The image from this prior moment—i.e. the image from Punishment Park—is not visible, but the film can be heard. Materially speaking, if light is comprised of packets of photons, then the particles are present in the picture, which is to say that the image is there.

In A Territory of No Event – comment (2007), an image of a place is presented, again and again, alongside a litany of legends that have come to define that place. The image is of a desert patch, of some-thing that might be called nothing. The legends are about a place, close to the Mapimi Basin in Mexico, known as la Zona del Silencio (the Zone of Silence), where in 1970, a missile launched from a U.S. mili-tary base lost control and landed. Ohanian grew interested in the place and began this project after years of looking for a location on the surface of this earth where nothing could be recorded. It had long been said that radio signals don’t always operate in la Zona del Silencio; sound broadcasting de-vices tend to malfunction. There is interference from the atmosphere such that stories have taken on the shape of cosmic dust and there are times when the reality of what is being transmitted itself disappears.


In this work, two slide projectors operate side by side simultaneously. Ohanian sets up a device through which image and text seem to provide contradictory descrip-tions of the same place, a geo-graphic location that is believed to have close connections to both the future and the past. Is this then a work about the transference of place across time? From the image it seems there is nothing much to record of this territory, and the text suggests that there might be a magnetic force field moving somewhere around the site that prevents anything from being recorded. The tales that the text tells cannot be seen in the image, but they might have hap-pened, or perhaps one day they will.


In this exhibition, there are only two still frames of the desert on display, with an open invocation to all the images that might inhabit it.


About the artist


Melik Ohanian was born in France in 1969, and lives and works in Paris and New York. His work has been shown in many solo exhibitions including: Galerie Chantal Crousel and Palais de Tokyo, Paris; South London Gallery, London; De Appel, Amsterdam; IAC, Villeurbanne; Yvon Lambert, New York; Museum in Progress, Vienna; and Matucana 100, Santiago de Chile. He has participated in many group exhibitions, in particular the São Paulo biennial (representing France), the Berlin and Sydney biennials in (2004), the Moscow and Lyon biennials (2005), the Gwangju and Seville biennials (2006), the Venice Biennale  (2007), and the Sharjah Biennial  (2011). Ohanian's work can be understood in terms of physical and conceptual territories that focus on the concept of time. Drawing on research and scientific and philosophical methodology he has developed a body of work that uses a wide range of mediums. His installations examine the operative mode of the exhibition and extend beyond the usual boundaries of images, in their spatial and temporal dimensions. By placing the viewer in an exploratory role, the artist highlights the complexity of temporal intervals, which, in more or less obvious ways, govern our relationship to the world and others.


Works in the exhibition


Invisible Film, 2005 

Video projection, HDcam on DVD, with surround 4.1 sound, monitor with subtitles of the original film Punishment Park © Peter Watkins, 1971,  duration 90 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris



A Territory of No Event - comment, 2007

Two synchronised slide projections, 160 images, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris