Let me start with a caveat: the object of exchange in Lee Mingwei’s artwork isn’t strictly a book, it’s an envelope containing a story. I wanted to discuss it though because the artwork itself is irresistible.
The work, which is essentially a performance takes place in a beautiful, modernist garden designed by the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. As visitors mill around the garden a performer quietly (and seemingly randomly) invites one of the guests to take a seat in the garden and admire the view, listen to the gentle sound of the flowing water and watch the world go by.
Years ago, inspired by the Bell Jar, I read Silvia Plath’s diaries. The salient memory of that labour was how artfully she translated even the most banal daily event, giving a literary sheen to often underwhelming everyday existence. Al Saadi works the same kind of magic here, but in a visual way.
The artist’s work comprises brief handwritten diary entries stored in small readymade containers such as cigarette tins and chocolate boxes. Although I can’t read his texts, the look of the scrolls and concertinas in their characterful tins each seem to tell a particular story.