Volume XI, 2012
“History breaks down into images, not into stories” — states Walter Benjamin in his final text, Passagenwerk. In an era of short-living and over-dosed imagery, this statement becomes even more challenging, more thought provoking: how many histories are there to be remembered, how many versions of one incident? What is worth being considered? What kind of ruptures and divergences exist between word and image? Palestinian artist Steve Sabella has chosen to visualise one history – his very own.
The power of image and narrative to indicate an underlying story is a prevalent aspect of his work. Since 2006, the artist has created around half a dozen different series, each documenting a different state of mind during his very personal experience of being ‘exiled’ from his home country. Apparent in his early work, it manifested itself clearly with the series Exit (2006), went through In Exile (2008), In Transition (2010) and Euphoria (2010) to Beyond Euphoria (2011). The titles indicate the content of each series – the fragmentation and de- fragmentation of a traumatised, un-rooted individual; his voice making his collage works a visualisation. Sabella is now presenting his most recent series entitled Metamorphosis. It is conceived as an ongoing project, which the artist is planning to add to indefinitely, in the future. Whatever his state of mind and emotional situation, it will find its way into this body of work. Again, Sabella has chosen a much-telling title for this work: metamorphosis describes a process, with no clear ending of its ‘morphing’ process, nor a clear definition of its beginning or end. It defines a process rather than a fixed result. The term ‘metamorphism’ applies to “the process by which one shape is transformed into another, especially in Surrealism and other tendencies in 20th-century art.” Revived in the 19th century, the concept of metamorphosis encompasses literary sources from Ovid to Dante Alighieri to Wolfgang von Goethe. While for Goethe, metamorphosis meant more a process of evolution; in the writings of Ovid, it could also describe a miraculous process of transformation. «From the world of nature to another sphere of existence.» It is this miraculous process of transformation, which the artist tries to capture in his collages. For Sabella, Metamorphosis has a rather personal meaning: “The way I understand metamorphosis is that the rebirth will still remember or carry with it some burdens of the past, given that there is no DNA change. I do perceive my life in a more mature way now.”
The artist doesn’t narrate sequentially, but rather arranges his works in multi-layered, repetitive structures of motifs – he doesn’t morph one object into the shape of another. His motifs for this series are powerful symbols of Palestinian life, yet in his arrangement of them, the artist de-connotes them. He aims for a new visual experience – scattered images, at a second glance, reveal new, underlying structures. ..