Press Release

Ali Cherri: Humble and quiet and soothing as mud

SI presents Humble and quiet and soothing as mud, Ali Cherri’s first solo exhibition in the United States, which pivots on mud as the primordial material of civilization in creation myths, cultural artifacts and ecology.

From ancient Sumerian mythology to Jewish folklore, Maori and Chinese creation myths to Hindu and Yoruba cosmogony, humankind has time and again been narrativized as originating from mud. Houses, pots, and other vessels made from clay were instrumental to the beginnings of societies, as they were used for cooking, heating and gathering food. It is from the aqueous solution covering the Earth, where water and soil met, that the first single-celled organisms emerged, birthing every living creature on Earth today.



International exhibitions

International Archives 2nd half of 2023

Ali Cherri and Guillaume Dénervaud

Swiss Institute New York (USA)

13.09.2023 - 07.01.2024





On the first floor of Humble and quiet and soothing as mud, a newly commissioned sculptural installation is fleetingly animated by a choreography of moving lights, retelling the myth of Gilgamesh in a scene surrounding the fabled figure with other characters from the epic poem. In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh’s rival-turned-companion Enkidu is formed from clay and water to help the semi-mythic king of Uruk on his ventures to achieve immortality. The bodies of Cherri’s sculptures are composed of mud, with masks and fragments of found objects serving as their faces. Cherri buys these sculptural fragments in auctions, where prices fluctuate with changing desires for the objects on sale, mirroring their economic value as cultural artifacts and their political potency in recent discussions of reparations. These objects, which are often forged and then smuggled abroad, are less a question of cultural authenticity for Cherri than about the perpetuation of a lived tradition—an unfixing of these objects from the grips of archaeological time. Yet mud is the material that best preserves archeological finds. What memories might be held by its shifting topographies?

Featured on the second floor is Cherri’s three-channel video installation Of Men and Gods and Mud (2022), for which he was awarded the Silver Lion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Shot at the Merowe Dam on the Nile River in Northern Sudan, the camera follows a group of brick makers as they shape these fundamental building materials from mud. The construction of the dam—the largest hydropower plant in Africa—in the early 2000s, led to the displacement of more than 50,000 people, social unrest, the destruction of ecosystems, and the submersion of cultural sites and artifacts. In Cherri’s video installation, the gargantuan power plant looms over the arduous manual labor of the brick layers, giving rise to an allegorical tale that merges land and water, drought and deluge, destruction and creation. At a moment when water conflicts and environmentally fueled population displacements are on the rise, Cherri’s work merges past aesthetic imaginings and present planetary catastrophes as a portal for more livable futures to emerge.

Swiss Institute gratefully acknowledges the Ali Cherri Exhibition Circle: Carla Chammas, Galerie Imane Farès, Sami Khalifé, M.D., Laura Lati, and Elisa Nuyten.

This exhibition is organized by Stefanie Hessler, Director, and Alison Coplan, Senior Curator and Head of Programs.

Ali Cherri (b. Beirut, Lebanon) is a filmmaker and visual artist based in Paris. His work has recently been exhibited at the 15th Sharjah Biennale, Sharjah (2023); the 5th Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India (2022); La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2022); and Manifesta 13, Marseille (2020). In 2021, he was Artist in Residence at the National Gallery, London and in 2022, he participated in the International Art Exhibition of, The Milk of Dreams, for which he received the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Participant.

Guillaume Dénervaud: Ozoned Station

SI is pleased to present Ozoned Station, an exhibition by Guillaume Dénervaud (b. 1987, Fribourg, Switzerland). Dénervaud’s works are often composed in dense, though congruous, arrangements of ambiguous motifs that evoke plant matter, machine parts or cellular structures. Anchored by a sequence of gateway-like paintings, Ozoned Station features visions of systems and environments that collapse distinctions between the organic and the built, the microscopic and the galactic, the future and the past. Comprised of new work, this exhibition marks the artist’s first in a U.S. institution.

Techniques of worldbuilding used in fantasy and science fiction films and literature, including the works of Mark von Schlegell, Renee Gladman and Hayao Miyazaki, are of interest to Dénervaud, whose paintings and drawings often allude to the transfer of energy and the development of life forms, or what life might regenerate following catastrophe. To develop these bio-machinic fantasia, Dénervaud uses architectural drafting stencils now rendered obsolete by computer-aided design programs, applying vivid color via pigments made from the exoskeletons of insects, minerals, and plants, amongst other organic materials.

The exhibition invites visitors to linger and gaze into its kaleidoscopic networks, each of which possesses a harmony that suggests dreamy inertia. People rarely appear in Dénervaud’s work and when they do, they are usually suspended within the apparatus depicted. In Ozoned Station, each painting presents an opportunity to be subsumed by unfamiliar cycles of growth.

This exhibition is organized by Daniel Merritt, former SI Curator and Head of Residencies.

Guillaume Dénervaud (b. 1987, Fribourg, Switzerland) lives and works in Paris. He studied at the École des arts appliqués, Geneva and at HEAD, Geneva. Dénervaud’s solo shows include Surv’eye, Centre D’édition Contemporary (CEC), Geneva (2021); Inversens Clinic, Alienze, Lausanne (2019); and Spectrolia Corporation, Hard Hat, Geneva (2018). Group exhibitions include La main-pleur, Fri Art Kunsthalle, Fribourg (2022); Des corps, des écritures, Musée d’art Moderne de Paris (2022); Aquarium, Maison Populaire, Montreuil (2022); Les formes du transfert, Les Magasins Généraux, Paris (2021); and L’Oranger, LiveInYourHead, Geneva (2017). Dénervaud participated in Swiss Institute’s residency program in New York City in 2021. His work is in the collections of the ICA, Miami, MAMCO, Geneva and the Musée d’art Moderne de Paris.

Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Courtesy of Swiss Institute

Exhibition 13 September 2023 - 07 January 2024. Swiss Institute, 38 St Marks Pl - New York, NY 10003 (USA). T +1 212 925 2035. Hours : Wed/ Thurs/ Fri 2-8pm, Sat 12-8pm, Sun 12-6pm. Admission is always free. 





Ali Cherri and Guillaume Dénervaud, Swiss Institute, New York, USA

© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2023. All Rights Reserved