Atlas Unlimited (2018-2020)

Since 2011, visual artist Karthik Pandian and choreographer Andros Zins-Browne have been exploring the image of revolution in the wake of the Arab Spring. Narratives of movement—figurative and literal, political and aesthetic, confessional and speculative—have woven their way through their long standing project, Atlas Unlimited. The work unfolds in a succession of “acts,” as sculpture and performance trace the flows of people, art, and artifacts across geographies and cultures in the past, present, and future. Temporary architectures and sculptural fragments depict monuments, tents, border walls and mise-en-scènes from Cairo, Marrakech and Palmyra to Aalst, Myanmar and the US-Mexico border. They seem caught in a constant state of flux as a cast of builders–sculptors, painters, restorers, curators, preparators, performers, and even a carnival crew–inhabit, erect, maintain and dismantle them in the exhibition space.

While at work, they also turn to visitors to share stories of displacement, settlement and reconstruction, interweaving personal testimonies with fictionalized accounts. Staged in the seams between truth and fiction, sculpture and performance, fragment and whole, Atlas Unlimited enacts the itinerant realities of migration. Aruna D’Sousa wrote of the work that, “parafictional approach makes clear something very true: that a world in which some bodies cannot move is a world of impossible fragmentation, of incomplete narratives, of archaeology, of interrupted memory, of endless repetition of cycles of reconstruction, destruction, and reconstruction again.”


ACT I - Carnival: September 29, 2018. Netwerk, Aalst
In the wake of the Builders’ reverie, Zakaria tells the story of his journey to Belgium.

ACT II - Leave Me Alone: October 26, 2018. Netwerk, Aalst
A real controversy arises during a walkthrough of a fictional Biennial.

ACT III - Blood From A Stone: December 14, 2018. Netwerk, Aalst
An unveiling ceremony in Palmyra 2028 reveals cracks in the foundation of New Syrian freedom.

ACT IV - Europa: December 16, 2018. Precarious Pavilions, Antwerp
Zakaria narrates his story through sculpture on a walkaround the Antwerp Harbor.

ACT V - Plaisance: February 1, 2019. Logan Center Gallery, Chicago
A contemporary Columbian Exposition

ENTR’ACTE: March 11, 2019. The Graham Foundation, Chicago
Delivered by archaeologist Dr. Tasha K. Vorderstrasse (Oriental Institute, Chicago) this lecture performance concerns a fragment of a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in the year 2040. “Entr’acte” is produced in collaboration with emerging Syrian theater-maker, Sami Ismat.

ACT VI - Strike: March 14, 2019. Logan Center Gallery, Chicago
Grievance, solidarity and a return to reverie as the exhibition ends and the Builders tear it down.

ACT VII-X: October 10 - November 3, 2019. 80WSE Gallery, New York.
Zakaria Almoutlak is a Syrian sculptor living in Belgium. He worked in his father's atelier in the city of Homs before participating in the Syrian revolution beginning in 2011. The works of forged ancient sculptures from the atelier exist – uncredited – in the collections of several prominent museums. Almoutlak fled to Europe in 2015. Atlas Unlimited: Acts VII–X renders the banalities and atrocities of his life through sculpture and vocal performance. Artist Karthik Pandian and choreographer Andros Zins-Browne have been working with Almoutlak since 2017, incorporating fragments of his story into the previous acts of Atlas Unlimited.

In Belgium, 2018, Almoutlak carved a sculpture from a block of limestone before destroying it in the finale of Act III. In Acts V–VI, a conservator pieced the shattered body of the sculpture back together in Chicago. Over the four weeks of the exhibition at 80 Washington Square East, the sculpture was disintegrated and reanimated, yet again. Refused entry to the U.S. due to the 2017 travel ban, Almoutlak’s presence was conjured by the voices of Ganavya Doraiswamy and Aliana de la Guardia, who will be singing for the duration of the show. Drawing on karnatik, operatic, and pop vocal traditions, the singers evoke the convulsions of Almoutlak’s life through a libretto co-authored by Pandian, Zins-Browne, and Almoutlak.

Atlas Unlimited could not have been realized without the work of designer Casey Lurie, conservator Daniela Murphy Corella, and vocalists Aliana de la Guardia and Ganavya Doraiswamy.

Photos Sarah Smolders, Lisa De Neef, Gitanni Creative, James Ryang,