Artist: Michael Rakowitz
Venue: Rhona Hoffman, Chicago
Exhibition Title: The Breakup
Date: January 11 – February 22, 2014
Note: The Breakup, a ten part radio program originally broadcast from Ramallah in 2010 that also appears in this exhibition, is available here.
Full gallery of videos, images, press release and link available after the jump.
Michael Rakowitz, The Breakup, 2012/14. HD Video, 16:9, Sound, Color. 00:50:00.
Michael Rakowitz, Inshallah at Sabratha, 2012. Video. 1:29 loop.
Videos and images courtesy of the artist and Rhona Hoffman, Chicago. Photos by Robert Heishman.
“The Beatles are not just what Rakowitz thinks about; they’re what he thinks with.”
In The Breakup, Michael Rakowitz conflates the break-up of the Beatles with the breakdown of Middle Eastern relations, questioning the essence of human and diplomatic relationships and the possibility of repairing torn connections. The multi-dimensional project evolved from a 10- episode radio program commissioned by the Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem, and broadcast over the Palestinian Radio Amwaj in 2010. Listeners who initially tuned in to the prime-time airing, likely waiting at checkpoints to cross contentious borders on their way home from work, heard Rakowitz dissect the dissolution of the Beatles. Interwoven with historical events, the narrative takes its audience from John Lennon’s 1940 birth amid the Blitz to the band’s dénouement and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coincidental death in 1970. Mined from hours of tapes recording the “Fab Four’s” conversations during their final days, Rakowitz’s archaeological study reveals the band’s desperate attempt to reconstruct unity through performing in an exotic location. The come-back concert idea, which sparked Rakowitz’s allegory, went as far as the band booking amphitheaters in Tunisia and Libya before it collapsed into a miserly rooftop performance. The account relayed in The Breakup addresses much more than a fan’s nostalgia for his favorite band; “you know, like when a song about lost love can be about a lost country.”
Rhona Hoffman Gallery’s first solo exhibition with the Chicago-based artist marks the third iteration of The Breakup, begun with the 2010 radio program and expanded into a 2012 exhibition at Lombard Freid in New York. In the gallery, the project exists as a multimedia presentation with video, drawings, memorabilia, collage, and installation that guide viewers to Rakowitz’s frenzied quest for understanding. The radio program broadcasts live; vitrines with found objects and memorabilia physically manifest the connections between players in the collapse of Middle Eastern countries and Beatles characters; and Rakowitz’s film The Breakup screens in the upstairs gallery. Disseminating the project beyond the exhibition, a re- issued, limited edition vinyl LP record contains Palestinian band SABREEN’s cover of five of the Beatles’ late songs, selected to form a poetic meditation on collaboration and collapse.
“Get Back,” the last song the Beatles played in their final Rooftop Concert, presents the stakes at hand in Rakowitz’s quest, underlined in the radio program when he as narrator repeats a phrase heard in the ’69 tapes: “you mustn’t try and get back what you had.” The artist’s own family migrated to the United States after his grandfather was exiled from Iraq in 1946, and his practice addresses Middle Eastern relations through work that functions beyond the fine art context. Entering the arena of life, politics, and rock & roll, The Breakup investigates nostalgia and fanaticism and asks the central question: “Why not? Why must it be so impossible to get back, to get back home?”