Tala Madani’s solo show offers relief from the aggressive nastiness of her sadistic characters and their hellish world but, while the mood shift is palpable, it’s still far from redemptive. Legions of tiny male nudes in neon colors on black canvas spelling out the letters of the alphabet are an irresistible lure. But when the letters form words and phrases like in Men R Hot with Fire (2010) (where the ‘t’ is depicted on fire) or in XO with Stripes (2010), they don’t communicate brotherly love. Dehumanized by lack of distinguishing characteristics and gruesome contortions, the characters are no longer perpetrators of abuse; instead, responsibility for their treatment lies with the artist.
Yet a stop-motion animation of a dancer — a standout from the show’s other violent videos — suggests that Madani’s inspiration comes in part from the human body’s astonishing range of movement. This injection of sincerity into Madani’s sinister world is counteracted by cautionary pieces like a giant composed of letters, Leviathan (2010), who hints at the abusive power of language; and an eye exam chart populated by human letters, Eye Exam (2009), which begs the question of what we really see in the world around us. Taking on communication itself as a subject matter, Madani keeps a critical eye while making a welcome break from the claustrophobic world of her past work, opening up promising new directions.
Originally published in Flash Art International, no 272, May/June 2010.