Contemporary Practices Art Journal
Steve Sabella takes pictures of London out of his windows. After that he makes replicas of an image’s fragment, transforming it into the tesserae of an overwhelming mosaic made of visual wild splinters. No horizon, no sky, just warped and disjointed walls, where we must plough through somehow. The exile becomes a permanent situation, now untangled from its physical place and present circumstances, and becomes a condition that has been exiled from its self and must be lived through.
Steve Sabella – Photography 1997-2014 | Hatje Cantz & Akademie der Künste
Hubertus Von Amelunxen
In Exile is a cut through the place, a cut in the place, and a clear decision. The series consists of five, large-format almost square color images. Only when the viewer comes close to the images does a concrete figure emerge from the oscillating pattern of dislocated, upended, or bent fragments. The five images share the morphology of dislocated fragments shaken into an order, the ontological foundation of the place seen from an intermediate space and cast off In Exile exhibits hermetic structures, blind windows, protrusions of disappointed transparency. And like In Exile and Euphoria, a rhythmic movement is at work in the images; now an arabesque sweep moving across the image, now a clearly contrapuntal arrangement, so that the images correspond to an almost musical writing, a score or notation.
Palestinian-born artist Steve Sabella could well be a younger, more alternative, more artistic version of the late Edward Said. Like the literary exile who lived in an enclave of a world he had created for himself on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, surrounded and consumed and embedded in the construct of texts that deconstructed the reality he struggled with, Sabella is one who lives in an equal state of alienation – confined to an exile that transcends place: London, and rather is contained in the bounds of his mind. A mind that like Said’s did deconstructs only to rebuild again, but in this case, using a terminology of visual narratives
Sabella's reconstructed fragmentations of the two sides of the same windows represents his metaphor's embodiment of 'home' and 'exile'. By allegorising what Bachelard went on to call "the dialectics of here and there'; Sabella gave a visual body to the "awareness of simultaneous dimensions" that Edward Said wrote in his description of the experience of the exiled.
When Boullata encountered the photographer’s early work in 2002 for the first time, Sabella was still into realistic portrayals of the local landscape, with a good eye for meaningful and symbolically charged details. By 2007, he had created his first abstract series, which he entitled In Exile. Two years after leaving his home city and country, the artist had given his sentiment of estrangement and alienation a powerful visual translation. While there was no focal point in these new series, the clear attempt to structure and compose as if to bring order into a photographic world still remained, which was and is so closely linked to Sabella’s own biography.
His message in a nutshell: ‘Alienation is the new world syndrome.’ Steve Sabella’s images are without horizon: the abstract landscapes layer many images of one window over each other hundreds or thousands of times. It took Sabella a year to create five pieces using this process, and the result is a disorientating but visually arresting new landscape with no sky and no respite.
A leading figure of the new wave of Palestinian artists, Steve Sabella is reworking the image of Palestinian art. Conceptual and psychological, his photomontage series In Exile challenges the traditional approach to the Palestinian question. How are a million small pictures of dark windows mounted one to the other related to Palestine? The artist's explanation strikes us as a laden one.
In Steve Sabella’s haunting work In Exile, images recurrently depict a somber but meticulously constructed exile. Each image seems to repeat and proliferate images of houses or apartments, as if they are settlements or homes artificially constructed and imposed. The images are imbued with the dark colors blue and gray, brown and black
Steve Sabella Photography | Foreword | Hatje Cantz & Akademie der Künste
In this series Sabella shifted from what Susan Sontag calls “a photographic way of seeing” to one of cubistic imagining. As such, he shot multiple images of fenestrations and of his daughter by a window, taken from different angles. Each shot ends up like a mere unit within a larger composition that interlaces the different shots in a tessellation of a monochromatic pattern, which recalls the structuring of the arabesque.
Boxart Gallery | Verona
Sabella’s collages may appear like Cubist images, deconstructed and reconstructed, from the three-dimensionality of the “real” to the two dimensionality of photography. And this takes us back to Bergson, not coincidentally the theoretician of Cubism, for whom the “real” as applied to time does not coincide with scientific measurement of it, but rather with a subjective stream in which any clear distinction between past and present is lost.
Following Steve Sabella’s path through his projects In Exile (2008), In Transition (2010), Euphoria (2010), Beyond Euphoria (2011), Metamorphosis (2012) and finally Independence (2013), the onlooker has access to a unique view of the psychological struggles the artist faced in his condition of up-rootedness. In each series except Independence, Sabella used a particular collage technique, piecing together fragmented photographic images taken from multiple perspectives. Sabella has likened this meticulous process, the careful re-arranging and twisting of forms, to painting rather than any classical use of photography.
Steve’s window pieces are an example of his artistic approach, how he studies images and finds loopholes where he can jump from one dimension to another.
Somehow, as the saying goes, ‘It’s got to get worse to get better’, and Sabella’s continued art practice made a positive impact on his psyche. In short, art seemed to have rehabilitated him and In Exile was born. The series deals with fragments and embodies Sabella’s attempt at ‘picking up the pieces’ of his self. Featuring spliced windows, In Exile’s subject matter metaphorically takes on themes of entry and exit, openings and closings, inside and outside. He was relieved, but unaware of what would come next until a chance discussion with a friend in dubai in 2010 became the proverbial Pandora’s Box and Boom!