Oliver Beer was born in 1985 in the United Kingdom. He studied music before attending the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. His background in both music and fine art led to an early interest in the relationship between sound and space, particularly the voice and architecture. He has translated his research into fascinating performances in which spectators take part by the mere fact of their presence, and he makes sculptures and videos that embody, literally or metaphorically, the plastic expression of this subtle relationship and the way the human body experiences it. Within and alongside his work with sound, Beer creates subtle and diverse sculptural, installation and film projects, whose provenance sometimes seems biographical, but in which his play with universal – often intimate – concerns draws on shared emotions and perceptions.
Beer's work has been the subject of many screenings, as well as solo and group exhibitions, notably at the Met Breuer, Metropolitan
Museum, New York, Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Musée d'art contemporain, Lyon; Modern Art Oxford; WIELS, Brussels; the Ménagerie de Verre, Paris; and the Hebbel Theatre, Berlin. Beer has also held residencies at the Palais de Tokyo, the Watermill Centre, New York, and the Fondation Hermès, Paris.
A Thousand Faces is a site-specific commission by Abu Dhabi Art across two venues: the historic fortresses at Al Ain – in collaboration with the Louvre Abu Dhabi – and Al Qasr. The title of the exhibition references anthropologist Joseph Campbell’s text ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’, a comparative mythology questioning the shared narratives to be found across different cultures. Oliver Beer’s project interrogates an idea evoked in the Louvre Abu Dhabi collection, that of universal creativity that ‘transcends individual cultures of civilisations, times or places’.
At Al Ain, the labyrinthine rooms of the fortress will house a vibrant series of new video works called “Reanimation Paintings". Over 2000 children each contributed a single drawing to this monumental communal animation project conceived by Beer – based on paintings from the Louvre Abu Dhabi collection. Each child was asked to copy and reinterpret a painting using their own imaginations. These new drawings were then scanned and printed onto 16mm film to create a single static animation loop of each historic artwork. The film is projected in the same format as each original work of art. Thanks to the differences of each child’s interpretation, the work becomes a vibrating canvas, its surface constantly changing and being recreated. The films engage with the collection in a plural reimagining of each artwork. Alongside these films hangs one of Beer’s signature Two-Dimensional Sculptures featuring the exploded and recomposed body of an oud – a musical instrument that has historically traversed borders – as well as ancient swords and daggers from diverse origins musically graffitied with scores from a radical 12th Century female composer whose music has crossed centuries of cultural change.
At Al Qasr fortress a further chapter of Beer’s Reanimation project sees fragments of animated films of Aladdin from three continents remixed and reanimated. Beer isolates the same iconic sequence from the story, when the genie erupts from the magical lamp, using his reanimation technique to pass three historic iterations through the hands and minds of the children from diverse backgrounds growing up in the region. The films that come together are Lotte Reiniger’s ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ (1926) a Japanese anime fantasy ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’ (1982) and Walt Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ (1992).
Together the works across both sites – each layered with subtle historical and aesthetic references – interrogate the idea of universal creativity and how individual creative gestures contribute to the culture of which they are a part. As Beer says of the exhibition: “The images we make, the stories we tell and the songs we sing are in a constant state of flux and exchange; but certain ideas and tropes seem to recur across civilisations, and are constantly borrowed, transformed and subverted. Our cultures are rapidly shifting… The thousands of individuals who have contributed to the Reanimation Paintings are each essential to the work. Their individual efforts become subconsciously perceptible within the whole, absorbed into a flickering communal creative work’.