Elias Sime: Tightrope

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Focusing on the work of contemporary artist "Elias Sime, Tightrope" features more than two dozen works of art showcasing brightly-colored sculptural assemblages rooted in both the figurative and abstract modes of modern Ethiopian art.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The exhibition begins with Elias Sime’s earlier stitched canvas works. These works are from the body of work that immediately preceded and overlapped with the earliest tableaus in the “Tightrope” series.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Elaborately sewn surfaces layered with found objects such as bottle caps, buttons, and repurposed fabric, these works highlight the underpinnings of Sime’s investigations.

Cactus 2 (2003/2004) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Focusing on sewing techniques and the use of unconventional materials, with a strong emphasis on color and texture, they are representative of the work Sime was creating in the years leading up to the “Tightrope” series.

Ants and Ceramicists 11 (2009/2014) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Three of the works on view are from the “Ants and Ceramicists” series, which the artist began in 2003.

What appear at first to be simply lines of intricate stitching are revealed, upon closer inspection, to depict hundreds of ants working in harmony—a commentary on the resiliency and collectivism of both ants and traditional artisans.

Ants and Ceramicists 6 (2009/2014) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

For Sime, the worlds and systems of nature and technology are intimately linked. The materials he uses to make his works—electrical wires, motherboards, keyboards, and transistors—often suggest the forms of landscapes and figures, which can be seen throughout the exhibition.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Look closely, you will find a flattened bottle cap stitched onto the bottom left or right corner of each of the stitched canvas works. This represents the artists signature for this series.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Sime’s use of material is intentional. For example, weaving and embroidery are a significant part of Ethiopian culture and traditionally done by men. Therefore, Sime uses multiple color of yarn in his work but, because he acknowledges himself as a contemporary artist there is a great deal of expression through pattern and material in reaction to his environment that emerges.

"Aremoch" (2004)

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Sime’s entre into using computer and electrical components discarded from the United States, France, China, and Ethiopia, that are found throughout Africa stems from his awareness of how technology profoundly impacts the environment.

The artist spent over a decade amassing the electronic components to create several of these works that essentially appear to reflect the landscapes in which they negatively influence as e-waste.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

While the electronic components that Sime uses to make his works come from various parts of the world (primarily the United States, France, and China), they end up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the Merkato, one of the largest open-air markets in Africa, where the artist purchases them from.

Sime has a longstanding relationship with sellers from the market.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In this gallery the breadth of material that Sime engages with becomes very evident. In addition to computer detritus we see the influence of artisan communities in his ceramic sculptural installation "Bareness" surrounded by large-scale works resembling an array of techniques and scales designed to look like various landscapes.

Tightrope 3 (2009/2014) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope 3" (2009–14)

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In the work "Tightrope: On the Edge" (2105), and others in this section of the gallery, Sime combines an interlocking network of computer detritus from different eras in computer manufacturing history and applies it to a wooden surface.

Tightrope: On the Edge (2015) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: On the Edge" (2015)

Tightrope: Noiseless 23 (2019) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: Noiseless 23" (2019)

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Here we see the intersection of a range of materials Sime works with including computer mother boards, wire, computer keys, ceramics, and found/reclaimed wood. Together they reveal different types of abstract and more representational patterning that resemble figures, landscapes, and even mosaic-like forms.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Computer keyboards are introduced to the exhibition in these two works. The residue left on their surfaces from years of use provide an array of variation in depth and texture.

"Tightrope: Familiar Yet Complex 6" (2016)

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The large installation of ceramics on view in the exhibition, titled "Bareness" (2014), reflects the artist’s ongoing interest in multiplicity and his dedication to collaborating with local artisans.

Bareness (2014) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Each element of "Bareness" is an upended vessel. Through their physical properties—each has feet and an aperture or other sculptural element—intend to explore the vulnerability of humans.

While all the vessels are the same basic shape, they vary in size, color—owing to the pit-fire process—and certain details, and some are chipped and fractured, conveying both our shared humanity and our uniqueness as individuals.

Tightrope Surface and Shadow 2 (2016) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Tracy L. Adler, curator at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, wrote in the Introduction of the catalogue published in conjunction with this exhibition: “Expertly braiding and twisting electrical wires into textile-like surfaces with gestures akin to brushstrokes, Sime creates a sense of movement and energy that evokes various organic phenomena—a rising wisp of smoke, clouds in the sky, light reflecting off the surface of water, a bird’s-eye view of a landscape.”

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Sime’s work elicits the significance of the human trace and memories through his use of material.

Tightrope: Silent 2 (2019) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In "Tightrope: Silent 2" (2019; arranged along diagonals) and "Tightrope: Silent 1" (2019; a grid of horizontal and vertical rows) the artist has fashioned thousands of computer keyboard keys together into a monochromatic grid.

Patterns emerge from the residue left on the surface of the keys by those who have handled them, initiating questions of where these key pads may have originated, what was communicated with them, and how they’ve taken on a new life.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The works of Elias Sime are an exercise in patience: sometimes he searches for materials for years to complete a tableau in a specific palette.

Tightrope: Familiar Yet Complex 1 (2016) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: Familiar Yet Complex 1" (2016)

Tightrope: Noiseless 2 (2019) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

To realize "Tightrope: Noiseless 2," the artist collected rust-colored wire, a color not often found in cable bundles, for over a decade. The vast, variegated brown surface recalls scorched earth, but in the lower left corner, a cluster of flowers burst forth angularly, demonstrating that even barren terrain can produce new, dynamic life.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The scale and varying direction that the wire and keyboard materials are applied often give the appearance of large-scale textiles. Given Sime’s experience with creating with Ethiopian fibers and his knowledge of the linear patterns found in West African kente cloth and stripweave designs.

Tightrope: Behind the Beauty (2017) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: Behind the Beauty" (2017)

Tightrope: The Dominant (2017) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: The Dominant" (2017)

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Sime’s monochromatic and multi-colored designs in this image emphasize his ability to move skillfully between abstract motifs and imagery related to nature and the natural world.

Tightrope: Familiar Yet Complex 2 (2016) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: Familiar Yet Complex 2" (2016)

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

"Tightrope: Silent 1" and "Tightrope: Silent 2" make their debut in this major exhibition. They’ve retained their resonance of being communication tools now carrying with them the markings, oils, and blemished from their journey to Sime’s studio.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The finale of the exhibition shows works that relate directly to figures as wells as influences of the human hand in communicating ideas.

Tightrope: In Boxes (2017) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

For example, the square configuration of braided wires in "Tightrope: In Boxes" (2017) resemble stitched squares on a quilt or examples of West African strip weaving, which in turn communicate visual narratives.

Tightrope: (9) While Observing . . . (2018) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The portrait orientation of "Tightrope: (9) While Observing…" (2018) has the appearance of a portal, or space to look through, or even that of a cameo where a portrait could exist.

Elias Sime: Tightrope (installation view) (2020) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Sime’s “While Observing…” works are keen reminders of our abilities to visualize and absorb information through the process of observation. Everything is intentional in Sime’s work, and while we may not know where he derives the exact shapes, blobs, or forms that appear their amorphous appearances read then as those which hold our own experiences.

"Tightrope: (1) While Observing..." (2018)

"Tightrope: (5) While Observing..." (2018)

Tightrope Whirlwind (2017) by Elias SimeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

While some forms are vague, the mirroring of Twitter’s signature bird logo in "Tightrope: Whirlwind" (2017), the final work of the exhibition, reemphasizes Sime’s metaphorical associations with human connection.

Patchworked together in a sea of undulating wires he stages his images within landscapes of technology as yet another reminder of the beauty and destruction that his held in the balance.

Credits: Story

"Elias Sime: Tightrope" is organized by the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York. © Elias Sime, courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York

Photo of Elias Sime by Brett Moen.

A full-color catalogue is available in conjunction with this exhibition.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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