Places of rememberance

LANDSCAPE AS, EVERYTHING IN LANDSCAPE. Landscape as body as form, landscape as idea as space as surface as culturally coined, subjective perception as visible detail of the surface of the earth as spot as orb as planet as model as relief as where earth and heaven collide. Landscape for centuries a topic of painting, painting always part of the landscape.

Landscape as primer as foreground as background as underground as prime cause. Landscape as picture of memories as playing area as area of time zones as recreational area as war zone as investment, landscape as spirit as emotion as scene of narration as nausea as open-air stage as inspiration, landscape as clot without sparks without wit without zest. Painting as cane as instrument as lighter as scrub as fire accelerant as smoke screen as abstraction as necessity as landscape.

Landscape as drifting area as building ground as street as motorway as mining region as biosphere reserve as farmland, grasslands, hinterland as wine-growing region as seascape as lunar landscape as wasteland as childhood memory as venture as landscape of longing as winter scenery as territory of horror, landscape of mind, spring scenery as fruit-growing region as mountainscape as back country as homeland as land surveyors and archaeologists field of activity as hunting grounds as space for meditation as archaeologists insight in layers as biographical territory of gradual conditioning.

Painting as appropriation of the world as landscape as heaven as hell as cosmic space as pre-Big Bang as evolution. Daro’s painting, as sauce as primeval soup as lava flow as magma as plate on the ground as scribbles on canvas as recipe as pet as grandfather’s and grandmother’s updated gene pool and again as landscape painted after Caspar David Friedrich. The landscape painted then by Caspar David Friedrich, again removed in layers by the sculptors of landscape rain, sun, wind, storm. A stream of lava that moves forward like paint on canvas.

Landscape as autumn scenery as volcanic landscape as heath as desert landscape as steppe landscape as sport region as bird paradise as depression as projection screen as summer scenery as pleasure garden as freedom as Garden of Eden as transit nightmare as limbo as disaster zone as force of nature as stereotype as reality as depiction. Painting as cave painting as hand on wall as animal on rock as truth on stone. Daro’s drawings, vast as landscapes, barely a horizon barely sharp edges, once like a sandstorm – 1.5 x 5 meters – that blurs, blesses and conceals the landscape like a veil. Another time accusing, in their quietude, deathly silence with the dead bodies in the landscape as Daro’s »Guernica« as his memorial for his former neighbours who fell victims to Saddam Hussein’s revenge in Halabja on March 16, 1988; landscape fogged in mustard gas by accomplices and turned into the grave of everybody living there. Landscape as cave as coast as death strip, apple grove, cherry blossom orchard as nether land as virgin landscape as marshland as universal landscape as urban landscape as ideal as battleground. Landscape as terrain of »Old Masters« as romanticist field of specialists as enlightener’s zone of misery; landscape as painting of expressionists and impressionists as Dadaists retreat as plein air painting, landscape as American Land Art, as made by Europeans as invented by Africans, staged by Asians, populated by Australians, created for Adam and Eve, used, kicked out.

Owed to gravity and atmosphere and Garden Eden’s apple tree, filtered by Daro’s mind, his emotional, mental and synapses system, driven by his heart, blood, circulatory system, performed with his body by means of his hand and the brush applied as paint on canvas, landscape is: painting.

Christian Stock
Artist and curator, Vienna


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IN 1719, DANIEL DEFOE’S NOVEL »THE LIFE AND STRANGE SURPRIZING ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE« WAS PUBLISHED. The author combines the fact-based fiction of his narrative with numerous details of authentic shipwrecks, so producing the style-forming classic of colonial utopia. The obsessively busy and adventurous Crusoe had set sail for Guinea – in search of cheap »Negro slaves« for his plantation – when he experienced the meanwhile world-famous shipwreck on a lonely island close to the American coast,

Why was I reminded of this particular book when I looked at Daro’s paintings? Not the reflections of a British seafarer far away from his homeland interested me. What fascinated me in this story was Robinson’s walking along the beach, and to his aghast, unexpectedly finding traces. No sooner had he settled down in his forced new homeland, than the impression of a human footprint catapults him out of his roughly-hewn, righteous new selfsufficiency. The footprint is not his own – he is confronted by the danger of unknown intruders. A fatal choice: what is worse – loneliness, or the threat of the unknown?

The story of the artist, Daro and the traces with which he finds himself confronted, is quite a different one. He has no benevolent author to support him and bring the story to a lenient end. He, himself is the author and the displaced person all at once. Besides this, Daro’s »change of location« is not motivated by greed and adventurousness: the distance from his country of origin was involuntary – migration, an escape from political and personal repression, the flight of a Kurd from Iraq in1985. This »uprooting« marks the beginning of his artistic work on show today. It provides him with the basic theme, which he works on at very different levels. We see abstract, or almost abstract paintings (mainly of the past two years), large canvases where the paint is generously applied in an informal, expressive and gestural style. Layer after layer of colour is painted, one over the other, partly concealing and partly interlinking. Here and there and over again, signs and figures are scratched into the thick and mostly very dry surfaces. The colour tends to be subdued and earthy. Ochre, grey, brown and black are predominant. Here and there reduced dabs of red, or a generous calm green lend individual colour accents. Lines are prominent and add dynamics to the entire image. These earthy colours, the plaster and mortar, which Daro mixes into his binder make the paintings reminiscent of walls, or parts of these. One finds thick and unlevelled masses, cracks and flaws, scratches, and again and again signs and drawings – similar to those on the walls of houses: names, slogans, ornaments, defensive magic.

These paintings have nothing in common with the garish character of city graffiti. It is the titles that give us further information on the basic theme: several works turn out to be landscapes (here the title meets our desire for interpretation). One of the landscapes is named »Scorched Earth« – a painting prompted by Daro’s first journey home to the family he left behind in Iraq, where he found familiar landscapes completely devastated. Amongst the most noticeable early and formative experiences to initiate his paintings is the Dervish motif. Daro was interested in the ideas of Sufism and their performative rituals early on. Sufism is an ascetic-mystical branch of Islam; its Dervish orders wish to attain ecstatic unity with God via music and dance. Rumis’ »Songs of a dancing friend of God«, which has found its way on to the shelves of western deeper-meaning seekers, provided Daro not only with a spiritual home, but also with the fuel for their community feeling, their enthusiasm and their joy of life. His fascination for this movement becomes manifest in a series of works: »Soul Dance«, »Dancing Dervishes» and »Devotional Songs«. The circle motif reminds us of the rotation of the dancing dervishes.

Daro’s paintings are not simply about memories, reminiscences. They are about mourning, a task which will protect and convey loss. The world of childhood and youth is beyond reach in its literal sense – unlike that of people who remove themselves from their biographical roots by virtue of growing older, not by changing their location. With Daro, it goes beyond grief itself and is about the objectification of physical and psychological archetypes and situations of extreme intensity of feeling, as in the painting »Soul Dance«. And his paintings are fundamentally about the securing of evidence, of traces.

But how can a blank canvas secure evidence? By definition, this is the white wall, the tabula rasa, the white speck on the map, or like Robinson Crusoe’s beach smoothed by the waves: empty, most certainly without signs, ready to be marked. Daro insists that it is his task to clear the canvas in a metaphorical sense, to remove each layer that blocks our view. What kind of traces is Daro uncovering? After what has been said, it should be clear that it is not about anything as simple as the footprints which Robinson discovered on the beach.

Daro finds the traces of human presence in the landscapes, or in the form of ecstatic and elusive figures, in himself, in his memory, in his imagination, his intuition. This differentiates his work from that group of artists, to whom the term »Spurensicherung « (securing of evidence or clues) was first applied: in 1977, the art historian Günter Metken published the book »Spurensicherung «. In this, he introduces a series of artistic approaches, which seek what he calls »the careful exploration of cultural origin and networking. These artists collected commonplace trace elements, which they presented very cautiously – in amateur photos, austere photography as could be found in an inventory ledger or as samples in a vitrine, as models or classification series, such as is known in archaeological or ethnological museums. In a formal view, there is hardly any correspondence between this »securing of evidence« in the Seventies and Daro’s painting. Conceptually, however, connections can be found; Gunter Metken wrote about the approach to the securing of evidence: »It corresponded to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times and the search for roots and integration after the dispelling of war and post-war issues and mindless rushing ahead. Reflection on memory, collective and particularistic, seemed vital for survival in an ahistorical media and slogan landscape. This last sentence in particular – when applied to a different time and a different war – can be applied to Daro’s situation. And this situation is not only of a personal nature – is it not a matter of one person changing, or having to change his place of residence. Migration is a mass phenomenon, and many traditional classifications have been subject to transition in this way. The art world is also reacting to this new situation: the director of Documenta 11 in Kassel in 2002, the European-Western World major art exhibition, for example, is Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian living in the USA. The program of the Gallery Sur is taking these changes into account in its own way by working decidedly against the North/South divide. In Günter Metken’s example, we have seen that the term »Spurensicherung« or the securing of evidence can be made use of when looking at art and when we forget that this term is derived from the police-solving of crimes on account of tell-tale fingerprints or other evidence. (This, after all, would be a precarious association when speaking of the paintings of a Kurd in Austria.)

In 1983, a number of essays by the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg were published under the overall title »Clues«. Ginzburg tells of the advantages to be had by approaching the object of examination with instinct: a good nose, a good eye, and intuition, irrespective of one’s being an art historian or a hunter, whether one is Sherlock Holmes or Sigmund Freud – whereby the term intuition is not meant as a supernatural ability. Ginzburg refers to the »Firasa «, the ability of the Sufis, »to be able to venture directly from the known to the unknown on the basis of circumstantial evidence «. This form of intuition, according to Ginzburg, is common worldwide and has nothing to do with a higher knowledge as the privilege of the chosen few only. Should this be correct, then it is exactly the right method in which to follow Daro’s intuitively composed paintings and their traces.

Prof. Dr. Theo Steiner
art critic and philosopher
Heidelberg and Berlin