Tarik Kiswanson, Cradle, 2022. Resin, fiberglass, and paint, 175 x 64.8 cm. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery

Tarik Kiswanson


Bonniers Konsthall

“Becoming,” a survey of Tarik Kiswanson’s new and recent work (on view through June 18, 2023), immerses viewers in an ethereal, poetic realm. While these meditative works convey solitude, stasis, and detachment, they also—like life’s transitory stages—embody transformation. All of these considerations stem from Kiswanson’s background. As the Swedish-born child of Palestinian parents, who traveled from Jerusalem to Jordan by way of North Africa and then relocated to Halmstad, Sweden, he grew up balancing at least two cultures and languages. In addition, Swedish immigration authorities changed the family’s surname, Al Kiswani, to Kiswanson, to give it a Swedish ring. 

With this upbringing, likely punctuated by confusion, discontinuity, and isolation, it is no wonder that Kiswanson’s works appear to float unmoored, not only expressing aimless drift, but also actualizing how time drags on and underscoring the need to clutch on to personally significant objects and events. The “Recall” series (2020–23)—including The Accident (2023), which freezes the moment when a ballpoint pen fractures, and the blood-containing In my blood (2020)—confirms the importance of such touchstones, conserving and commemorating them in blocks of transparent resin. 

Kiswanson, who is also a published poet, has explained that throughout his life, he has “used sculpture and writing to explore transitory and interstitial states of the human condition.” The first room of the exhibition confirms the multifaceted nature of his practice, which also includes performance, drawing, sound, and video. Here, the small collage Homebound (2020) conveys the promise of a new home through a telescopic view of a map of Halmstad from a ship battling a stormy sea. The Window (2023), on the other hand, presents an image of temporary confinement. While the anonymous hand pressed against frosted glass in this little drawing is quite realistic, its owner’s body is just a blur. These diminutive pieces contrast sharply with the life-size Cabinet (2019), an austere, elevated space containing three metal filing cabinets, and the more ambiguous Cradle (2022)—the first of several cocoon-like forms in the exhibition. Rising to the top of the gloomy crawlspace under Cabinet, this resident-in-waiting bides its time as the immigration process chugs tediously to its conclusion. 

Further references to levitation appear in The Fall (2020), a video installation, and other works. Time clearly drags for the boy detained after school; he decides to push his chair backward, but never experiences the thrill of crashing. The unconnected Shatter (2020), a soundscape, supplements and completes The Fall’s silent and slow-motion projection as the sounds of objects breaking, muted Arabic music, and periodic tapping intimate the boy’s frame of mind. 

The Cradle (2023), in contrast to the semi-obscured presence of the first cocoon, seems to rise freely; it dominates the airy space and pins a crib to the ceiling. Like Homeland, this floating mode of transport echoes the hopes and fears associated with the future. The source of The Cradle—a small color photograph that inhabits a nearby alcove, also forms its second part, revealing Kiswanson’s expectant mother leaning against his original crib. Three additional cocoons—all titled Nest (2020–21)—manifest a cryptic symbiosis, with their skins matching the color and texture of the walls. Placed at various heights in different parts of the room, they form a counterpoint to the “Recall” sculptures, which reside on the floor. Juxtaposing incubators and archive, this dichotomy situates viewers between the future and chapters drawn from the artist’s past. A similar sense of intermediacy is produced by Robe (2016), a large and highly polished stainless-steel panel with cut and bent elements that mirrors the architecture and everything else in the space. Making viewers aware of two realities—the actual one and a fragmented, alternate version—the reflectivity also acts as a foil to thwart understanding of the panel’s physical structure. 

The processes of acculturation and coming to terms with one’s complex history are perhaps most lucidly represented by Passing Mother (2022). Created by layering images of clothing—Kiswanson’s hoodie, his mother’s embroidered Palestinian dress, and a 17th-century Swedish bodice from the Hallands Konstmuseum’s collection of textiles—the work links diverse ways of living. The fact that this ghostly image was made with a chest x-ray seems especially significant, calling attention to the heart and humanity in general, reminding us that we all breathe the same air.

“Tarik Kiswanson” will be on view at the Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg, Austria, (July 15–December 17, 2023). His work will also be featured in the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2023 exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (October 4, 2023—January 8, 2024).