Le Superflu (Zurich Art Prize 2021)
curated by Sabine Schaschl
In 2021, the Zurich Art Prize, awarded annually by Museum Haus Konstruktiv and Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, goes to Sonia Kacem (b. 1985 in Geneva, lives and works in Amsterdam). This Swiss-Tunisian artist is the 14th winner of the renowned award. Endowed with CHF 100,000, the prize comprises an CHF 80,000 budget for the production of a solo exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv and CHF 20,000 in prize money.
In her artwork, Sonia Kacem distinguishes herself with a heightened sensitivity towards materials that she extracts from the everyday consumer cycle: These include very different kinds of processed products, sometimes obtained from second-hand or online stores, such as sun awnings or everyday textiles, but also substances and commodities like vinyl, paint or wood, which she discovers by chance or obtains directly from the respective production sites. The artist uses them to develop large-scale installational and sculptural arrangements, in which she plays with our expectations regarding the nature and function of the materials. Kacem is particularly interested in exploring different varieties of abstraction, transitions undergone by surfaces and volumes, or questions of scale. Her presentations open up a wide range of associations and hybrid cultural contexts. Formally, they refer to various periods and styles from art history and reflect influences from minimal art just as much as those from the Italian baroque or from Arab Islamic art.
For her exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Kacem has continued her long-running engagement with color, pattern, decoration, ornamentation, calligraphy and the gestural. Her solo exhibition on the first two floors of the museum is closely linked to her 2019 six-month studio residency in Cairo, and particularly to the subsequent period, which was shaped by having to live and work in seclusion in Amsterdam due to the pandemic. In Cairo, the artist researched Middle Eastern non-figurative art more deeply, with its calligraphic, geometric and floral forms, whose function and significance differ from those of abstraction in the Western history of modernist art and culture. Kacem processed such research, as well as everyday impressions from that North African metropolis, in photographs, short videos and watercolors. Back in Amsterdam during lockdown, Kacem was able to use the latter in particular as a rich source of inspiration for development of a new group of wall-mounted objects, whose scale points to the domestic context in which they were produced. These are presented on the second floor, together with two earlier groups of works. On the first floor, after the artist’s thorough examination of the museum’s architecture, an immersive installation unfolds expansively – also inspired by her illustrated notes from Cairo, which thus conceptually form the common thread that connects the two exhibition spaces.