Paul Maheke at Chisenhale Gallery

Chisenhale Gallery presents a new commission and the first major solo exhibition in a UK institution by artist Paul Maheke. Comprising an immersive installation occupying the entire gallery, A fire circle for a public hearing develops Maheke’s ongoing engagement with the potential of the body as an archive in order to address how history, memory and identity are formed and constituted.

Maheke explores the tension between hypervisibility and erasure. Incorporating installation, video, sound and performance, the exhibition alters and adapts throughout its duration. Curtains resembling back-stage theatre sets are installed across the gallery and function as both props for performances and as a way of delineating space, while a wall mural outlines a speculative cosmology of interconnected worlds. A sound work, composed in collaboration with artist Sophie Mallett, plays on a loop and acts as a companion to a silent video depicting Maheke’s dancing body – present and persistent, but not always fully visible. The gallery doors are removed, and windows revealed, adjusting interior and exterior space.

Within the exhibition, performers deliver a series of daily choreographies. Combining spoken word, movement and dance, the performers embody different characters, such as the ghost, the drag king and the oracle. Presented in three parts, the performance repositions fragments of art history and popular culture, working from pre-existing texts, images, music, performance and film. Felix Gonzalez Torres’ performance, Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) (1991), is reformatted and repeated, alongside gestures sampled from Michael Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour rehearsals. Daily performances start at 3pm throughout the duration of the exhibition and last for 45 minutes.

A fire circle for a public hearing seeks to consider how acts of visibility and invisibility serve to question the presence and absence of marginalised narratives in dominant histories, inviting visitors to assert their own understanding of possible pasts or futures. By speculating on worlds and life elsewhere, Maheke’s new exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery becomes a public site to re-articulate and reinvent forms of relationality and representation, as much as a device for developing a new lexicon for thinking about identities outside of identity politics.

As part of the commissioning process, a programme of discursive events has been devised in collaboration with Maheke, including talks and performances at the gallery and offsite events at local schools. Maheke’s exhibition continues the programme for 2018, which includes major new commissions by artists Lydia Ourahmane, Banu Cennetoğlu and Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Through his work, Maheke raises complex questions concerning how knowledge is produced, exchanged and consumed, themes which recur throughout Chisenhale’s programme for 2018.

Paul Maheke's exhibition was produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery and Vleeshal Center for Contemporary Art, Middelburg and supported by Fluxus Art Projects and Joe and Marie Donnelly. With additional support from Gaia Art Foundation and the Paul Maheke Supporters Circle. With thanks to Galerie Sultana, Paris and Davidoff Art Initiative.