May 12 | July 2, 2011
In his video Ping Pong (2009), Adel Abidin completely undresses a woman. In the piece, she lies on a ping pong table, in place of the net, and suffers the blows of a heated match between two male players. Her body is marked where the ping pong ball strikes her skin.
The underlying concept of the piece is the notion of the suffering of the innocent. Suffering that always afflicts outsiders when some power wants to demonstrate its might, to seize things unjustly and to subjugate others. The woman in the work is, according to the artist, an image of the humanity that is trampled, damaged and caused to suffer when superpowers wage their wars.
One inevitably wonders why Abidin has chosen a woman as the victim in his work. Why not a man? Would we look at the piece differently were it a helpless male instead, serving as the net? Perhaps the woman can be seen as a kind of Christ,like figure, a surrogate sufferer who accepts the blows on our behalf.
The setup of the male players and female net and the marks on the woman's skill, is also reminiscent of stoning as a form of punishment. The umpires of the game look on from the sidelines, faceless, as if they were judges who have passed sentence and are now observing the execution of the punishment. Here a theme of guilt enters the work. What is the woman's crime? Is it her nakedness, existence, humanity or femininity that is the reason for the penance? The work seems to contain many intersecting levels that shift with one's viewpoint, sometimes subconsciously and at other times consciously. For it is not the woman who is the criminal, but the men.
The woman on the table in Ping Pong covers her genitals and breasts with her hands. Her white skin and ethereal apperance bring to mind the famous enchantresses of art history, such as Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538) and Manet's Olympia (1863). The sub missive seeductiveness of the Renaissance Venus is replaced by the self'conscious stare of the Romantic Olympia. The goddess of love has become a woman awaiting her lover. Yet in both works the woman's body is flagrantly on offer, revealed by the gaze and accessible to the viewer. In Abidin's piece the woman is literally beaten. The history of sports and games is associated wlth the history of warfare, the exercise of martial skills. The violence almed at the woman in Abldin's work is concealed by the game, as If the players cannot see anyone on the playing field, as if they do not actually know what they are doing. The mechanlsm of war operates in the same way, through blind destruction, causing suffering and death to thou, sands of men, women and children. Victims must remain unseen, anonymous, unrecognised, otherwise the destruction of human beings could not go on. Abidin's work intriguingly presents two different level: the cultural level of sex and nudity and the very universal level of humanity and suffering. How do these levels interect? Are not sex and nudity also universal and are not humanity and suffering also cultural phenomena?
The powerful tension of the work reflects intercultural points of intersections. A work of art funcions as a mirror in which we see ourselves, our environment and our age. It shows things we would not otherwise see, or which we mightotherwise consider givens.