• Shows
  • May 29, 2013

Nadim Abbas’s “Tetraphilia”

NADIM ABBAS, installation view of

The Fondation d’ entreprise Hermès

Before beginning a tour of “Tetraphilia,” Hong Kong artist Nadim Abbas said something to the effect that his exhibition is without meaning, a statement both true and false. Two dense documents, each offering a different approach to understanding the show, are prominent on a gallery wall, and one of these documents defines the project as “the neurotic obsessions of the hobbyist with the floor plan of a swimming pool cum garden landscape. It is here that the sublime and the kitsch are reunited in sacred matrimony, and it is here that [the artist has] attempted to plumb the formless articulations that govern the workings of the ineffable (Tetragrammaton).”

The lofty pronouncements contrast with the show’s works, which include advertisements for fish food, a pyramid made of Tetra Pak cartons and, on a table, a pyramid of marshmallows. Around the gallery are images of tetras, a type of brightly colored aquarium fish, as well as a “pool ladder” sculpture, entitled Tetra-Safe, No Splash (2013). But not all is banal: animations of molecules such as tetracycline and tetrahydrocannabinol float across video screens. A photograph of a pufferfish and recording of soprano opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini constitute Lady Sings (2013). A sign is devoted to the word tetratrivia.

“Tetraphilia” makes certain demands on the viewer, while also suggesting a multitude of possible entry points to the works. The show purports to tell the story of the word “tetra,” derived from the Greek word for four, “not just by stringing together more words, but also with objects, images, tastes and sounds.” Although Abbas's ideas uniting the sublime and the kitsch are interesting, the gallery experience is like listening to four important speeches at the same time. Carefully structured and meaningful concepts, moreover, are obscured by the unintelligible distractions of the exhibition’s support materials, which lack a statement unifying the works on display. 

And although it is a brilliant experience for the exhibition-goer to play Tetris on a Gameboy in a gallery above Orchard Road, Abbas’s stated goals are rather more serious. Yet, instead of plumbing “the formless articulations that govern the workings of the ineffable,” the artist merely floats upon the intellectual equivalent of a brightly colored inflatable pool toy. “Tetraphilia,” it turns out, has no tetractys—tetractys being the harmony in which the Sirens sing, a quality this show sadly lacks.

Nadim Abbas “Tetraphilia,” was on view at Foundation d'entreprise Hermès, Singapore.

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